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Vietnam’s Dangerous Courtship with Washington

On the eve of Obama’s visit to Vietnam events point towards moves for a realignment of Hanoi’s policies away from Russia and China.

Andrew Korybko

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President Obama’s upcoming visit to Vietnam will take place amidst increasing American tensions with China. Beijing recently scrambled a couple of fighter jets after an American naval ship sailed dangerously close to one of its disputed islands in the South China Sea, which was just the latest in a series of multiple provocations that have taken place all across the region ever since the US declared its Pivot to Asia in October 2011. As part of the US’s plan to “contain” China, the Pentagon envisages constructing a multilateral “China Containment Coalition” all across East, Southeast and South Asia, with the most active core of this prospective coalition being a Vietnamese-Philippine naval alliance.

With the election of Rodrigo Duterte as the President of the Philippines and his willingness to pragmatically negotiate with China, it is looking less likely that Manila will play as critical a “containment” role as the US had initially anticipated.

In response to this surprising shift in regional geopolitics, the US is expected to intensify its military-strategic relations with Vietnam, and President Obama’s visit might be just as important a catalyst for Hanoi’s pro-American pivot as Defence Secretary Carter’s visit to India was last month. Considering this, it is important to take a look at Vietnam’s recent moves with regards to China and explore the military-related avenues that it has to expand if it is to enter into a “containment” partnership with the US.

Redirecting Away From Russia

To start off, it is important to educate the reader about Vietnam’s massive arms buildup over the past couple of years.

According to the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Vietnam was the eighth-largest arms importer in the world for the period 2011-2015, importing a whopping 699% more weaponry during this same period than it did in the preceding five years.

The overwhelming majority of these weapons – 93% – were Russian-made. Moscow’s willingness to supply weapons on such a scale to Vietnam bespeaks of Moscow’s traditional role in balancing rival foes, in this case Vietnam and China.  Moscow has followed the same pattern of balancing between other regional foes such as Armenia and Azerbaijan and India and China.

In and of itself this ought to mean that Vietnam’s large increase in weapons imports should not be a cause for alarm.  This is because in line with its policy of balance Russia’s weapons supplies to Vietnam are intended to reinforce the status quo between Vietnam and China in the South China Sea rather than upset it.

What is more worrying however is that Vietnam is now beginning to look elsewhere for its weaponry, in a way that might threaten the strategic balance between Vietnam and China,  just as Dmitry Medvedev warned might happen between Armenia and Azerbaijan if either of them did something similar.

The discrete presence of leading US weapons companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin at a large defence-related gathering in Hanoi this week shows that the US is indeed aggressively angling to eat away at Russia’s market share in Vietnam, provided of course that the restrictions the US Congress has imposed on weapons sales to Vietnam are progressively lifted.

Vietnam is encouraging these US moves.   Its Foreign Ministry has just announced that it would “welcome the United States’ acceleration to fully lift the lethal arms sales ban”.

Following In India’s Footsteps

It’s unclear why Vietnam, which has enjoyed decades-long military-technical cooperation with Russia, should be dissatisfied with its existing Moscow-provided weapons and should feel the need to solicit more weapons from its former American foe.

In just the same way that India is slowly moving away from Russian weapons, so too Vietnam might be preparing for a similar “transition” (or “rebalancing” as Vietnam’s media and its international supporters like to call it) away from reliance on Moscow.

As the saying goes, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, so it is questionable why both of these countries should feel the need to turn to the US for more weapons when arms cooperation with Russia has always been very good.

The only explanation is that Vietnam, like India, is being courted by the US as part of the “China Containment Coalition”, and that Washington wants to ‘seal the deal’ with both of its newfound partners through a series of highly profitable and symbolic arms contracts.

The restoration of full US-Vietnamese relations, including in the military sphere, might appear as a superficially welcome sign for all other countries that are currently experiencing Western sanctions.   It would however be a pyrrhic victory.   

Since there is no legitimate reason why Vietnam would resort to importing weapons from the US when it can get from Russia all the weapons it needs to maintain the strategic naval balance with China, the only reason why Hanoi is now reaching out to Washington is that it must be genuinely interested in falling in with the US anti-Chinese strategy in a way that can only upset the regional balance with China.

US-Vietnamese collaboration against China is not just occurring out of the blue.   Hanoi has already received $18 million last year to purchase US patrol boats after US Senator John McCain pushed through legislation to loosen the arms embargo. Adding another element to the mix, Vietnam is party to the restrictive TPP trading agreement that its top export partner is pushing for throughout the region.

In other words, Vietnam has already agreed to align itself with the economic component of the US’s hegemonic Pivot to Asia, so that it predictably follows that it should do so in the military sphere as well.

Losing Balance

It is too early to say Vietnam is fully pivoting towards the US at the expense of its traditional Russian ally.  Clearly however Hanoi has thrown in its lot in with Washington in pursuing the shared objective of “containing” China.

Even if Vietnam were ever to make such an anti-Russian decision, it would take a long time for it to transition its entire military from using Russian to US weapons. 

More likely, Hanoi wants to cooperate with the US to send a signal to China whilst simultaneously strengthening its future bargaining position with Moscow.  After all, if Vietnam really wanted to break with Russia, it would have complied with US’ demands last March and barred Russia from using its airfields for military refuelling.

Instead, it appears Vietnam is looking to walk a geopolitical tightrope, balancing its historical military ties with Russia with its recent economic ones with the US.

Nonetheless, though it will take time, if Vietnam’s present pro-US course continues then the two former foes could surprisingly end up very close allies in the next decade, united by a shared desire to “contain” China. The fact this is just a hyped-up marketing gimmick from the US military-industrial complex is neither here nor there.

The most logical consequence of Hanoi’s progressive shift towards Washington will be that its relations with Beijing will suffer.  As for the US, once it senses that its dominant position in Vietnam has been restored, it will inevitably pressure Vietnam to distance itself from Russia too.

Given the series of Hybrid Wars that the US has been waging all across the world lately, it is to be expected that the US will employ some elements of this strategy in one day blackmailing Vietnam to follow the course it wants for it. Although the exact scenarios cannot be foreseen, one possibility might be for the US to exploit the TPP’s on-paper labour regulations to  foment a Colour Revolution movement in Vietnam that disguises itself as a “Solidarity”-type workers’ union to exert grassroots pressure on the Vietnamese authorities.

Concluding Thoughts

Every country has the sovereign right to choose whoever it wants to cooperate with in strategic, military, economic, and other affairs.  Countries such as China and Russia cannot however help but be alarmed by Vietnam’s recent intensification of its relations with the US.

Were it not directed against any third party, then the US-Vietnamese Strategic Partnership (as historically odd as it may seem considering the Vietnam War) would not be a threat to anyone.  The trouble is that it is intended as a threat, specifically against China, but with a long-term intention of weakening Russia’s position in Southeast Asia as well.

Moscow’s and Beijing’s diplomats will react calmly, with Russia probably avoiding direct mention of these developments at all.  However there is no doubt Moscow and Beijing are worried and will be watching events closely to see what happens next.

If Washington ramps up its relations with Hanoi in response to Duterte’s victory in the Philippines, and and seeks to replace the Philippines with Vietnam in its Pivot to Asia strategy, then this could shift the centre of the regional confrontation with China that the “containment” strategy entails from the South China Sea to the Indochinese mainland.

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Some Russian monarchists want Tsar Vladimir Putin

Latest news from Russian monarchists highlight the debate over bringing the Russian Empire back to life in modern times.

Seraphim Hanisch

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A December 13 report in The Wall Street Journal shone light on a notion that has been afoot in the Russian Federation since the fall of Communism in 1991 – the restoration of the Monarchy as the form of government, complete with a new Tsar of all the Russias.

Of course, some of these monarchists have a top contender in mind for that post, none other than President Vladimir Putin himself.

This idea has long been used in a pejorative light in the West, as various shadowy and not-so-shadowy elements in the American media speculated over the years that Mr. Putin was actually aspiring to become Tsar. This was thrown around until probably the time that the Russian president spoke, lamenting the fall of Communism, and since then the prime accusation has been that President Putin wants to bring back the Soviet Union.

This is not true. It also does not appear to be the case that the Russian president wants to be Tsar. But the monarchists are not fazed in the slightest. Here is excerpted material from the WSJ piece, with emphases added:

The last time term limits forced Russian leader Vladimir Putin to step down from the presidency, he became prime minister for a few years.

This time around, a group of pro-Kremlin activists have a different idea: Proclaim him Czar Vladimir.

“We will do everything possible to make sure Putin stays in power as long as possible,” Konstantin Malofeyev, a politically active businessman, said recently to thunderous applause from hundreds of Russian Orthodox priests and members of the country’s top political parties gathered at a conference outside Moscow. They were united by one cause—to return the monarchy to Russia…

Even among those who want a monarchy, however, there are splits over what kind it should be. Is an absolute monarchy better than a constitutional monarchy? Should a blood line be established or should the czar be elected? For those who favor male succession, would it be a problem that Mr. Putin reportedly only has two daughters? Some have even suggested others besides Mr. Putin should accede to the throne.

There is a very keen interest indeed among some in Russia that propose various options as to who might best become Tsar in the event that the Monarchy is restored.

Grand Duke George Mikhailovich Romanov and his mother, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna of Russia, together with Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, head of the Russian Orthodox Church Department of External Relations

One candidate that has received significant attention is a man by the name of George Mikhailovich Romanov. He is an actual member of the Royal family, the heir apparent to Maria Vladimirovna Romanova, Grand Duchess of Russia. There are other heir apparents as well, and the issue as to who it should be has not been settled among the surviving members of the Romanov family.

The restoration of the Russian monarchy is unique because to carries strong religious significance. As far back as the 8th and 9th centuries, A.D., a host of saints and prophets appear to have foreseen the advent of the Soviet times and the restoration of the Tsar after their conclusion.

Some such prophecies are attributed to anonymous sources, but some are named. Here are two with rather extensive editing, so please go to the site linked for the fullest description of the prophecies.

Monk Abel the Prophet (+1831).

In a conversation with Tsar Paul I (+1801), after prophesying the destinies of all the Tsars from Paul I to Nicholas II:

“What is impossible for man is possible for God. God delays with His help, but it is said that He will give it soon and will raise the horn of Russian salvation. And there will arise a great prince from your race in exile, who stands for the sons of his people. He will be a chosen one of God, and on his head will be blessing. He will be the only one comprehensible to all, the very heart of Russia will sense him. His appearance will be sovereign and radiant, and nobody will say: ‘The Tsar is here or there’, but all will say: ‘That is him’. The will of the people will submit to the mercy of God, and he himself will confirm his calling. His name has occurred three times in Russian history. Two of the same name have already been on the throne, but not on the Tsar’s throne. But he will sit on the Tsar’s throne as the third. In him will be the salvation and happiness of the Russian realm.”

“Russian hopes will be realized upon [the cathedral of Hagia] Sophia in Tsargrad [Constantinople]; the Orthodox Cross will gleam again; Holy Rus will be filled with the smoke of incense and prayer, and will blossom like a heavenly lily.”

And from one of the most famous saints in Russian history:

St. John of Kronstadt (+1908):

“I foresee the restoration of a powerful Russia, still stronger and mightier than before. On the bones of these martyrs, remember, as on a strong foundation, will the new Russia we built – according to the old model; strong in her faith in Christ God and in the Holy Trinity! And there will be, in accordance with the covenant of the holy Prince Vladimir, a single Church! Russian people have ceased to understand what Rus is: it is the footstool of the Lord’s Throne! The Russian person must understand this and thank God that he is Russian.”

“The Church will remain unshaken to the end of the age, and a Monarch of Russia, if he remains faithful to the Orthodox Church, will be established on the Throne of Russia until the end of the age.”

What may surprise those in the West is that there are a great many people in Russia and in Orthodox Christian countries in general who take these prophecies quite seriously.

Interestingly enough, when the idea of restoring the monarchy was brought to President Putin’s attention, he regarded the idea as “beautiful” according to Lt. General Leonid Reshetnikov, but also expressed concern that it would lead to stagnation within the country.

A second statement, this one by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, noted that President Putin does not like the idea of bringing back the monarchy, but offered no comment on the conversation with Mr. Reshetnikov.

The idea of restoring the monarchy is not completely absurd. Britain overthrew its own monarchy in 1649 during that country’s Civil War, but it was restored shortly afterwards under King Charles II. Spain cast aside its monarchy in 1931, with its king, Alfonso XIII going into exile, but after sixteen years this monarchy, too, was restored.

Both of these monarchies have become largely ceremonial, with most governing functions carried out through some kind of Parliament and Prime Minister. It is therefore not clear what a ruling monarchy in Russia would look like.

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US confirms pullout from INF treaty, Moscow will respond if missiles placed in Europe – deputy FM

Moscow will respond to possible attempts to place short and intermediate range nuclear-capable missiles in Europe if the US decides to go on with this plan.

RT

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Via RT…


Washington has confirmed its decision to withdraw from the INF treaty is final, Russia’s deputy foreign minister said, adding that Moscow will ‘take measures’ if American missiles that threaten its security are placed in Europe.

“Washington publicly announced its plans to withdraw from the treaty (the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) already in October. Through the high-level bilateral channels it was confirmed to us that this decision was final and wasn’t an attempt to initiate dialogue,” Sergey Ryabkov told the Kommersant newspaper.

The Deputy FM said that Moscow will respond to possible attempts to place short and intermediate range nuclear-capable missiles in Europe if the US decides to go on with this plan.

“We’ll be forced to come up with effective compensating measures. I’d like to warn against pushing the situation towards the eruption of new ‘missile crises.’ I am convinced that no sane country could be interested in something like this,” he said.

Russia isn’t threatening anybody, but have the necessary strength and means to counter any aggressor.
Back in October, President Donald Trump warned that Washington was planning unilateral withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty because “Russia has not adhered to the agreement.” The US leader also promised that the country would keep boosting its nuclear arsenal until Russia and China “come to their senses.”

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Washington will suspend its obligations under the treaty within 60 days if Russia does not “return to compliance.”

Signed in late 1988, the INF agreement was considered a milestone in ending the arms race between the US and the USSR.

In recent years, Moscow and Washington have repeatedly accused each other of violating the INF deal. While the US has alleged that Russia has developed missiles prohibited by the treaty, Russia insists that the American anti-missile systems deployed in Eastern Europe can actually be used to launch intermediate-range cruise missiles.

The deputy FM said that Washington “never made a secret” of the fact that its INF treaty pullout “wasn’t so much about problems between the US and Russia, but about the desire of the Americans to get rid of all restrictions that were inconvenient for them.”

The US side expressed belief that the INF deal “significantly limits the US military’s capabilities to counter states with arsenals of medium-range and shorter-range ground-based missiles,” which threaten American interests, he said. “China, Iran and North Korea” were specifically mentioned by Washington, Ryabkov added.

“I don’t think that we’re talking about a new missile crisis, but the US plans are so far absolutely unclear,” Mikhail Khodarenok, retired colonel and military expert, told RT, reminding that the Americans have avoided any type of “meaningful discussion” with Moscow in regards to its INF deal pullout.

While “there’ll be no deployment of [US missiles] in Europe any time soon,” Moscow should expect that Washington would try to void other agreements with Russia as well, Khodarenok warned.

The INF deal “just stopped being beneficial for the US. Next up are all the other arms control treaties. There’ll be no resistance from the NATO allies [to US actions],” he said.

“The neocons who run Trump’s foreign policy never have liked arms reduction treaties,” former Pentagon official Michael Maloof told RT. “The new START treaty which comes up for renewal also could be in jeopardy.”

“The risk of a new nuclear buildup is really quite obvious” if the US withdrawals from the INF treaty, Dan Smith, the director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told RT.

“I think the relations between the great powers – the US and Russia as well as the US and China – are more difficult than they’ve been for a long time,” he added.

However, with Washington having indicated that it wants China to be part of the new deal, “there are still possibilities for negotiations and agreement,” according to Smith. Nonetheless, he warned that following this path will demand strong political will and tactical thinking from the leadership of all three countries.

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US Pressures Germany To Ditch Huawei Over ‘Security Concerns’

This news will likely not go over well in Beijing, which is still struggling with the US and Canada over the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

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Via Zerohedge


First it was Australia, New Zealand and Japan, now the US is pressing the German government to refuse to use equipment manufactured by Chinese telecom giant Huawei as Europe’s largest economy seeks to build out its 5G infrastructure.

According to Bloomberg, a US delegation met on Friday with German Foreign Ministry officials in Berlin to talk about the security risks presented by Huawei’s equipment, which the US says is vulnerable to spying. The meeting in Germany follows a report from late last month claiming the US had launched an “extraordinary outreach campaign” to warn its allies against using Huawei equipment (while its vulnerability to Chinese spying has been cited as the reason to avoid Huawei, it’s also worth noting that the US and China are locked in a battle for who will dominate the global 5G space…a battle that Huawei is currently winning).

Germany is set to hold an auction early next year to find a supplier to help expand its 5G network. The Berlin meeting took place one day after Deutsche Telekom said it would reexamine its decision to use Huawei equipment.

US officials are optimistic that their warnings are getting a hearing, though any detailed talks are in early stages and no concrete commitments have been made, according to one of the people.

The US pressure on Germany underscores increased scrutiny of Huawei as governments grapple with fears that the telecom-equipment maker’s gear is an enabler for Chinese espionage. The Berlin meeting took place a day after German carrier Deutsche Telekom AG said it will re-evaluate its purchasing strategy on Huawei, an indication that it may drop the Chinese company from its list of network suppliers.

France is also reportedly considering further restrictions after adding Huawei products to its “high alert” list. The US has already passed a ban preventing government agencies from using anything made by Huawei. But the telecoms equipment provider isn’t taking these threats to its business lying down.

U.S. warnings over espionage are a delicate matter in Germany. Revelations over the scale of the National Security Agency’s signals intelligence, including reports of tapping Merkel’s mobile phone, are still fresh in Berlin five years after they came to light.

Huawei is pushing back against the accusations. The company’s rotating chairman warned this week that blacklisting the Chinese company without proof will hurt the industry and disrupt the emergence of new wireless technology globally. Ken Hu, speaking at a Huawei manufacturing base in Dongguan, cited “groundless speculation,” in some of the first public comments since the shock arrest of the company’s chief financial officer.

This news will likely not go over well in Beijing, which is still struggling with the US and Canada over the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. In an editorial published Sunday, the Global Times, an English-language mouthpiece for the Communist Party, warned that China should retaliate against any country that – like Australia – takes a hard line against Huawei. So, if you’re a German citizen in Beijing, you might want to consider getting the hell out of Dodge.

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