There is something going on with Russia and China that seems to defy traditional analysis – or does it? To begin with there was no reason for a Russian destroyer to challenge a larger American naval vessel by pretending it was seeking a collision in the Philippine Sea. In other words, the Russians were “playing chicken” on the high seas. At approximately the same time the Beijing government has sought to place greater controls on the legal and political life of Hongkongers. While there is no clear sign of coordination or even connection between the two events, the timing is concerning. The truth is that both circumstances would appear to indicate that both major world powers that purportedly exercise fierce control all their overt actions are far less in control than advertised.
Obviously, the Chinese have a larger issue with which to deal. The Russians simply might be trying to show they are not intimidated by U.S. naval superiority. In effect, Moscow would be acting childishly, though their insecurity is such they may not recognize this. On a more practical basis it is not unreasonable to assume the naval action was taken without higher official authorization. Unfortunately, that would indicate a serious lack of command and control. In any case none of this is good and it all presents a troublesome aspect of the behavior of a major nuclear power.
On the other hand, the Chinese have a serious problem in that the Hongkong population turned out en masse against the effort by Beijing to change existing accords and force the former British crown colony to send individuals charged with anything other than minor misdemeanors to mainland PRC courts for trial. This is the type of misstep that Beijing is supposed to be too sophisticated to take. The reason behind this action tends to indicate that the careful rue of Xi Jinping may be in the process of being undermined. It already has been noted that his highly publicized “good relationship” with Donald Trump has not been unanimously greeted with approval by leadership elements of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Is there something brewing there?
Moscow, on the other hand, has come to recognize their role as the feared adversary of the West seems to have lost its bite – and the leverage it previously had held. In an effort to regain its earlier power status, Russia has turned once again toward the enticing target of Africa. Having seemingly become satisfied with a marginal role in African affairs, Putin’s covert organizations have launched strong efforts to influence and gain control of various target sectors in both North and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Interestingly, a major role has been assumed by the very shadowy organization known as the Wagner Group. Reportedly the man running this enterprise is Putin’s close friend, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the rags-to-riches entrepreneur who put together the infamous cyber unit operation in his and Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg (Leningrad), as well as establishing several other technical cover companies. He now appears to be handling the activities of the Wagner Group’s operation in Africa that provides mercenaries and other military assistance to selected African nations and leaders.
The Prigozhin operation appears to have multiple ambitions. One of these efforts is to use willing African nations as entrepots for the purchase of items for which Russia has been blocked for strategic reasons. Finished goods and products are transported to a convenient African destination and then reshipped to Russia. This type of complicated deal is Prigozhin’s specialty. He also has fronted paramilitary operations under various consulting covers in Syria and Ukraine. While suspected, these same YP dealings have been rumored to have been active in assisting North Korean embargoed business dealings.
The Central African Republic (CAR) is a country with a strong Russian presence including having a Russian national security advisor assigned to the president. The CAR has been said to be the “strategic hub” for Moscow’s regional operations. Interestingly, the Chinese do not seem to have joint operations with their Russian friends in these and other areas but prefer to make their own “deals.” Meanwhile, many millions of dollars change hands under a plethora of “arrangements.” One can imagine the numerous devices used in the buying and selling (and renting) of strategic goods and services. If all this seems too arcane to be true, it’s important to realize that these activities are just the tip of the iceberg of covert political economic activities between and among Chinese and Russian numerous international operations. It follows logically that whatever one learns through the media is usually simply a reflection of a far larger and more complicated event. There is nothing new here; it’s gone on this way for generations. The problem for the United States is to separate the component elements, prioritize targets and then proceed to counter or simply defeat the “enemy” action in process. It is easy to say, but quite a bit harder to accomplish. The writer Ian Fleming, a former intelligence officer himself, created James Bond to deal with all these complications. It’s far harder to deal with reality.