In a new signal to Joe Biden ahead of next week’s meeting with Vladimir Putin, Russia has embarked on the largest military exercise on the high seas in the Pacific since Cold War times (1947-1991).
The two presidents will meet for the first time on the 16th in Geneva, under a veil of rising tensions between the world’s biggest nuclear powers.
`The laundry list is long: the civil war in Ukraine, the repression in Belarus, the cyber attacks attributed to Moscow by the US, the accusation of poisoning and arbitrary arrest of the opponent Alexei Navalni, among others.
Putin has made it clear in recent days that Biden’s aggressive rhetoric will not deter him and has announced fortifications near his European borders. It also saw the Navalni organization banned by the Kremlin-aligned Justice.
But by sending 20 ships and submarines, plus 20 long-range planes, to a point 4,000 km from his base in Vladivostok, Putin hints at another issue.
The Indo-Pacific is the central strategic quadrant of the 21st century, focused on the Cold War 2.0 initiated in 2017 by Donald Trump against Xi Jinping’s China.
Usually, the Russians are seen as a card out of the deck of this equation, even because of the economic difficulties that Putin’s country is going through.
That said, such an assertion ignores the recent revival of Pacific Fleet forces, based in Vladivostok and which has had some important bases in the region since the 18th century.
Furthermore, Putin elected the region as one of his priorities, not least because it is the most uninhabited in the country and is at the mercy of the economic weight of the Chinese. Finally, despite suspicion, there is a strong alliance between the Russian and Xi to contain Washington.
Thus, the exercise reminds Biden that Putin wants to play an active role in the region’s affairs, especially at a time when the American follows Trump’s aggressive policy against Beijing and has articulated the support of local allies such as Australia, India and Japan , in the Quad group.
The Japanese, for their part, have historical differences with the Russians. The two governments recently reopened talks to try to end territorial disputes on islands in the area, which date back to the end of World War II.
From a military point of view, the exercise was unique by today’s standards as it involved the operation of large ships such as the mighty Variag missile cruiser, the Soverchenni corvette, submarines and Tu-142 maritime reconnaissance planes without the support of coastal bases.
Coincidence or not, also on Thursday an American RC-135 spy plane was intercepted near Russian territorial waters in the Pacific by a Su-35 fighter.
In late 2020, there was an incident in which a Russian destroyer nearly rammed an American destroyer approaching waters Russia considers its own near Vladivostok.
In a planning document for this year, the Pentagon considered that the US Navy had to be more assertive and, therefore, should have more encounters of this type with Chinese and Russians.
Biden is already in Europe, where he has an agenda in the United Kingdom, participating this Friday (11) in the G7 meeting. Next week, he attends a meeting of NATO (Western Military Alliance) in Brussels and goes on to meet with Putin.