The Russian government has had little to say over the past ten days on the subject either of the April 1 collision between a U.S. Navy surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter or of the continuing diplomatic standoff between the two countries that has resulted. In its official pronouncements at least, the Russian government appears to have chosen a measured approach which both urges the two sides to seek a settlement and avoids directly criticizing either for the current conflict. Moscow has, at the same time, underscored its belief that a failure to quickly resolve the spy plane row could have detrimental effects on the broader security situation in Asia. This posture toward the U.S.-Chinese conflict was reflected in comments to the press last week by Aleksandr Losyukov, the man who oversees Moscow’s diplomatic policy in Asia. Losyukov expressed what he said were Moscow’s concerns that the row might cause long-term damage to U.S.-Chinese relations while also threatening stability in Asia. Losyukov, who described the April 1 accident as “regrettable,” also said that such “incidents do not help efforts to promote regional security.” He nevertheless expressed Moscow’s confidence that the United States and China would find a way to resolve their current differences over the affair.
Beneath the diplomatic boilerplate, however, Losyukov’s remarks appeared to contain a subtext which was perhaps not quite so evenhanded. In a reference to the April 1 collision, for example, the Russian diplomat said that “such military activity is unfortunately being conducted; our military has said that we also have to deal with it. It can sometimes create a threatening situation.” While Losyukov named no names, his statement presumably was directed at Moscow’s own irritation–one it shares with the Chinese–over the spy flights conducted by U.S. aircraft along Russia’s eastern borders. Russian air defense officials have frequently complained of the burden they say this sort of activity puts on them.
Losyukov’s most telling comments, however, pertained to an upcoming Russian-Chinese summit meeting at which the two sides are expected to significantly upgrade already friendly relations by signing a ten-year friendship agreement. Juxtaposed against his remarks on the spy plane row, his talk of the late June or early July summit meeting (the exact date has apparently not been set) reinforces an impression Moscow has long sought to convey, namely, that U.S. actions are pushing Russia into a closer partnership with China. Losyukov made this point directly with respect to U.S. missile defense plans, telling reporters that “China feels that its interests are threatened, [and] we feel that ours are…. This brings us closer together and has the opposite effect of the one intended” (Reuters, April 4; AFP, April 4, 6; BBC, Russian agencies, April 6).
But if Losyukov, in speaking directly of the U.S.-Chinese spy plane row, was judicious in his choice of words, the same was not true of a commentary published on the Kremlin-connected Strana.ru web site. That piece harshly criticized U.S. global military and intelligence policies generally, tying the April 1 spy plane accident to the February collision between a U.S. submarine and a Japanese fishing boat and arguing that both incidents were a logical result of aggressive U.S. military practices. The “primary fault” for these accidents, the Strana.ru piece said, “lay in Washington’s constant efforts to lurk either in the air or under the seas in close proximity to the far eastern coastline” in order “to collect intelligence information about Russia, China and North Korea” (Strana.ru, April 2). And while such blunt denunciations of U.S. security policy in Asia are unlikely to become a part of official Russian commentaries on the subject, it would not be a surprise if intimations of this sort are used selectively to stoke tensions between the United States and foreign governments, and to bolster Moscow’s now standard contention that U.S. “hegemonism” presents a threat to international stability.
BIG BUSINESS VERSUS LOCAL INTERESTS.