Russia’s Axis of the Sanctioned

October 6, 2023
Hanna Notte

The following is an excerpt from Foreign Affairs.

At first glance, the war against Ukraine appears to be a disaster for Russia. With most of its soldiers tied up fighting Kyiv’s forces, Moscow is struggling to station troops abroad. Russia has also had to redeploy to Europe some weapons and military systems it had positioned in Asia and the Middle East. And Moscow’s military sales, already in decline, are now in greater peril. Sanctions have deterred traditional Russian clients from continuing with their purchases, and Russia’s poor military performance has dampened enthusiasm among prospective ones.

These constraints and problems are real. But if Western officials believe, as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in June, that the war in Ukraine is “greatly diminishing Russia’s power, its interests, and its influence,” they should think again: Russia still has significant international sway. Moscow maintains steady defense contracts with most of its legacy customers, such as India and Vietnam, which rely on Russia to maintain their systems. Russia has had to move most of its soldiers and material to Ukraine, but it still has permanent air and naval bases in Syria, giving the country direct access to the Mediterranean and allowing it to harass U.S. forces in the Middle East. The Moscow-led Wagner paramilitary company controls several bases in Libya, which serve as a logistics hub for its activities in the Sahel. Wagner is set to continue operating in one form or another, even after its former boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was killed in a plane crash (likely orchestrated by Russian President Vladimir Putin). Moscow is also considering whether to use or establish additional bases in Africa.

In fact, for Russia, there’s an upside to newfound isolation: stronger, deeper defense cooperation with the many countries that are also hostile to the United States and Europe. This collection of countries—which stretches from Venezuela to North Korea—may not have much in common beyond shared enemies, and individually, none of them is especially powerful. But together, they can help the Kremlin sustain its war against Ukraine. They can also help other members further their own regional ambitions, increasing the odds of military conflict across the world.

Continue reading at Foreign Affairs.

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