Russia’s ‘Anti-West’ Alliance: Can Moscow’s New Partners Hold Together?

Russia’s ‘Anti-West’ Alliance: Can Moscow’s New Partners Hold Together?
Russian President Vladimir Putin (2L), China's then-Defense Minister Wei Fenghe (L), Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (3R), and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov (R) watch the parade of the participants of the Vostok-2018 (East-2018) military drills at Tsugol training ground not far from the Chinese and Mongolian border in Siberia, on Sept. 13, 2018. (Alexey Nikolsky/AFP via Getty Images)
Antonio Graceffo

Russia is building a “coalition of convenience” in its post-West world, but it may not weather the storm of competing interests.

Once attempting to integrate with the West, Russia’s foreign policy has undergone a dramatic shift since the early 2000s. From an initial period of cooperation, marked by the aftermath of 9/11, the annexation of Crimea in 2014 triggered a sharp divergence.

Ostracized by the West and expelled from key international institutions since the Ukraine invasion, Russia now finds itself forging new alliances with countries like China, Iran, and Serbia, among others. These partnerships, primarily founded on a mutual dislike of the West, are poised to unravel due to conflicting interests.

Russia was one of the first countries to pledge its support to the U.S. war on terror in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. At the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin was facing blowback from a brutal military campaign in separatist Chechnya, as well as accusations that the Kremlin had staged false flag terrorist attacks against the Russian people to drum up support for the war. This marked the beginning of a period during which Russia attempted to court the West and the United States, at least making a show of wanting to participate in the international rules-based order.
Russia’s initial support included intelligence sharing, allowing U.S. military flights over its airspace, and cooperating with its Central Asian allies to provide similar airspace access. While significant, it’s important to note that Russia did not initially commit militarily to the war in Afghanistan. By 2003, the newfound U.S.–Russia cooperation began to weaken. Russia strongly opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq without approval from the United Nations Security Council, viewing it as a unilateral power grab. However, Washington and Moscow found themselves on the same side fighting ISIS.
Throughout the late 2000s and 2010s, tensions escalated due to issues such as NATO expansion, missile defense systems, and cyberattacks. A pivotal moment signaling Russia’s shift toward prioritizing state objectives over global participation occurred with the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Domestically, crackdowns on dissent intensified, fostering an atmosphere of authoritarianism and repression that further distanced Russia from Western values and principles.
Since 2015, the United States and Russia have supported opposing sides in proxy conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Russia, while claiming to combat terrorism, bolstered the Assad regime in Syria, already criticized for human rights abuses, resulting in civilian casualties. The United States backs groups against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Russia directly engages through its military and the Wagner Group in Syria. The Yemen conflict is even closer to a direct proxy war due to the clear involvement of Saudi Arabia and Iran backing opposing sides.
The 2022 invasion of Ukraine led to Russia’s complete expulsion from the global community, forcing it to seek new alliances. Despite historical tensions like the Sino-Soviet split of 1960, Moscow has strengthened ties with Beijing, particularly in energy, trade, and military cooperation. Western sanctions against Russia have made China its primary economic supporter, although no formal alliance has been declared. And neither country would be happy to be the No. 2 in a new world order, implying that any alliance would need to be temporary.
Russia’s relationship with Iran has notably shifted. In the 2010s, Russia joined countries imposing sanctions on Iran for its nuclear weapons development. Since 2022, ties between Russia and Iran have strengthened, with Moscow increasing investments in the Islamic Republic and Tehran providing drones and battlefield support to the Russian military. Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, Russia has supported Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis with technical and logistical aid, enabling them to strike Israeli soldiers and ships. The sticking point in Russia’s relationship with its Middle Eastern allies is that while Moscow aims to tie down the United States in the Middle East, its allies want the United States out.
Russia’s diplomatic efforts aim to counter Western influence by building partnerships opposing Western dominance. Therefore, Russia actively seeks to distance the Central Asian Republics from the U.S. sphere. Sharing historical and cultural ties with Russia, these former Soviet republics consider Russia a significant economic and security partner. However, despite increasing trade and military cooperation with Russia, they maintain relations with the West.
Russia has been expanding its military presence and influence through arms sales and training in Africa, particularly in Egypt, Mali, and the Central African Republic. Motives include countering Western influence, accessing resources, and gaining diplomatic support. The Wagner Group has also been deployed in conflicts in these nations, backing governments friendly to Moscow.
In Eastern Europe, Belarus is the closest ally to Russia, with deep economic and political integration. However, Belarus’s dependence on Russia raises concerns about its sovereignty. Serbia has close ties with Russia due to historical and cultural links and shared opposition to NATO expansion. However, Serbia’s attempt to maintain friendly relations with Russia and the European Union may lead it to seek EU membership.

Russia’s cooperation with these nations varies, ranging from deeper economic or military ties to more limited and pragmatic relationships. The long-term impact of these relations remains uncertain, including their effectiveness in achieving Russia’s strategic goals and their sustainability. Internal economic and political challenges may limit Russia’s ability to maintain these partnerships. The war in Ukraine has significantly impacted Russia’s international standing, with Western sanctions affecting its economy and global engagement.

While factors such as internal stability, economic resources, and response to global changes influence Moscow’s diplomatic efforts, the alignment of Russia’s strategic interests with those of its partners is crucial. However, in most cases, this alignment appears unlikely to endure for long.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Antonio Graceffo, PhD, is a China economic analyst who has spent more than 20 years in Asia. Mr. Graceffo is a graduate of the Shanghai University of Sport, holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University, and currently studies national defense at American Military University. He is the author of “Beyond the Belt and Road: China’s Global Economic Expansion” (2019).
Related Topics