Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (right) greets his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during a meeting in Tehran, Iran, on July 19. Photo: EPA-EFE
Avigdor Haselkorn
Avigdor Haselkorn

‘Radical entente’ in Russia’s corner could be double-edged sword for China

  • Russia has affiliated itself with North Korea, Iran and Syria, whose anti-US activities are aligned with Moscow’s foreign policy goals
  • This informal grouping could pose a dilemma for China, which wants to prevent Russian defeat but also not prolong the war in Ukraine
Ominous new signs suggest Russia’s foreign policy could become even more extreme soon. In effect, Russia has affiliated itself with a grouping known as the “radical entente”.

The original “radical entente” emerged in the early 1980s and comprised North Korea, Iran, Syria and Libya. Its member states collaborated in a shared effort to resist the United States, harm its interests and expel it from the Middle East and East Asia.

To accomplish its strategic objectives, the entente employed three distinct types of mutual support activities: logistic, operational and joint efforts to stretch US forces thin.

For example, while welcoming Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega to North Korea, Kim Il-sung declared, “If the peoples of the revolutionary countries of the world put pressure on and deal blows at United States imperialism in all places where it stretches its talons of aggression, they will make it powerless and impossible to behave as dominator any longer.”

Muammar Gaddafi, then Libya’s leader, endorsed this scheme when he said on March 2, 1984, “We must force America to fight on 100 fronts all over the Earth. … Through the peoples’ war of liberation, we can force America to fight on all fronts.”

Libya, of course, is no longer in the group. However, Russia is increasingly joining forces with the entente. Moscow sees the coalition’s activities as in keeping with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s grand strategy of expelling the US from what the Kremlin calls its “near abroad”.

True, the leftover entente members are still pursuing their traditional anti-US goals. Yet, they are now also working to ensure Russian victory in Ukraine. The prospect of a Russian debacle altering the global balance of power and precipitating a new era of Western hegemony must have alarmed the entente’s leaders.
Recent mutual logistic and operational support activities between the new entente members aimed at harming the US and shoring up Russia are easy to see. For example, The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Russian forces had used Iran-supplied Shahed-136 kamikaze drones to carry out effective strikes on Ukrainian positions.

On August 9, Russia launched a Kanopus-V satellite on behalf of Iran. The satellite allows Tehran to collect high-resolution imagery to support its and its proxy forces’ operations against the US and its regional allies.


Iran tests drones amid US concerns the aircraft could be used by Russia in its war against Ukraine

Iran tests drones amid US concerns the aircraft could be used by Russia in its war against Ukraine
The long-term Russia-Iran strategic pact under negotiation, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said would elevate bilateral relations to “a new qualitative level”, could contain clauses allowing forces from one country to be deployed on the other’s territory. It is not inconceivable that, in an effort to deter possible attacks on its nuclear installations, Iran could ask Russia to station troops in the country.
A similar arrangement has been in place in Syria since 2015. That year, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, facing a nationwide rebellion and fearing a fate like that of Gaddafi, asked for Russia’s urgent military intervention. To aid in that task, Russia was granted long-term air and naval bases on Syria’s land, thus promoting Putin’s strategic goal of supplanting the US regional presence and staking a claim to the Middle East as a Russian zone of influence.

Today, Assad is trying to repay his debt to Putin. The New York Times reported on March 31 that a contingent of Syrian soldiers had arrived in Russia for military training before heading to Ukraine. This is a demonstration of the entente’s operational support function.

For its part, North Korea’s anti-US strategy involves equipping itself with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, some capable of reaching the US. It has also provided missile technology, chemical weapons components and nuclear technology to both Iran and Syria. In turn, Tehran is believed to have shared missile and nuclear technology with Pyongyang.


North Korea shows off nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles in new propaganda posters

North Korea shows off nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles in new propaganda posters
Citing a declassified US intelligence report, The New York Times said on September 5 that Russia was buying “millions of artillery shells and rockets” from North Korea for use in Ukraine. Recall that Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un recently exchanged letters in which they both called for “comprehensive” and “strategic and tactical” cooperation between their countries.

Combined, a new “radical entente” increasingly involving Russia is acting energetically to try to roll back US global influence and undermine its interests. It is also hard at work supporting Russia in its war in Ukraine. Consequently, proxy wars are already being waged by the big powers and increased odds of World War III could be closer at hand.

What about China? Presumably, any grouping like the entente working to degrade US power would be looked upon favourably by Beijing. China is seeking to fashion its own zone of influence in East Asia at the expense of the US. Likewise, the erosion in Russia’s superpower status as a result of its poor performance in Ukraine would be welcomed by China.

Russia’s Ukraine setbacks open doors for China in Central Asia

Yet, Russian news agency TASS cited Chinese media on June 15 as saying President Xi Jinping expressed his readiness to help settle the Ukraine crisis. During their meeting at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Uzbekistan, Putin even told Xi he understood Beijing’s “ questions and concerns” about his invasion of Ukraine.

It appears that China sees the continuation of the Ukraine conflict as potentially dangerous. It would thus view the entente’s efforts to shore up Russia as a double-edged sword – welcome in preventing a Russian defeat but unhelpful in prolonging the conflict.

Dr Avigdor Haselkorn is a strategic analyst and the author of books, articles and op-ed articles on national security affairs