Russia Is the Most Dangerous Wild Card in the South China Sea

South China SeaRussia claims to be neutral in the increasingly volatile South China Sea dispute.

On April 14, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov asserted the Kremlin's opposition to "interference from third parties."

While this statement was aimed at the United States -- which has no claim of ownership in the region but has a military presence there to "enforce freedom of navigation" -- it also established Russia's own third-party "neutrality" in the dispute.

Then The Hague ruling on July 12 handed China a massive blow. The high court ruled that the disputed waters to which China and the Philippines both laid claim belonged solely to the Philippines. The tribunal also ruled that China's "sovereign rights" (read: historical) claims were inapplicable.

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While Russia continued to assert its alleged neutrality after the ruling, Money Morning's own Executive Editor William Patalon III, who's been reporting on the South China Sea dispute well before the mainstream media caught wind of it, says there's no doubt Russia is secretly scheming: "Russia - under [Russian President Vladimir] Putin - is getting more and more feisty - to the point that a New Cold War reality isn't out of the question."

And we've found evidence that the former Soviet Republic is actually the most dangerous wild card in the South China Sea dispute. In fact, it's been quietly siding with multiple Pacific Asian countries in the clash...

Russia: The Devil's Advocate of Eastern Asia

You see, Russia has been arming the entire Asian Pacific for a while now...

And it's been doing so clandestinely.

At least until earlier this month, when Putin bragged to the media that Russian-made weapons and military equipment exports topped $50 billion for the first time ever.

This announcement came just seven months after Russia signed a contract in December 2015 to deliver 24 Su-35 fighter jets worth more than $2 billion to China.

The Su-35 is the most potent version of the Flanker-series fighter jets built to date, and its  advanced technology rivals that of the stealthy Lockheed Martin Corp.'s (NYSE: LMT) F-22 Raptor - the West's most powerful fighter jet.

South China Sea
Montage showing the different phases of an acrobatic maneuver performed by a Sukhoi Su-35 piloted by Sergey Bogdan at the 2013 Paris Air Show.

Patalon also points out that Russia has close defense ties with Vietnam, too -- which happens to be another country claiming a stake in the South China Sea.

While this connection may seem counterproductive to Russia's increasingly warm relationship with China, Russia-Vietnam ties go back further than the South China Sea dispute - all the way to 1950, when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) established an embassy in Hanoi.

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In recent years, China's claims to the Spratly Islands (the key points of interest in the South China Sea) have prompted Hanoi to gradually deepen its strategic relationships with their Ruski friends.

And to prove its loyalty, Moscow sold Hanoi six Varshavyanka-class submarines and 12 new Sukhoi Su-30MK2 multirole fighter aircrafts in November 2014.

So Russia is arming China while it is also arming China's enemies.

A deceptive move indeed.

Because, bottom line, Moscow has one primary enemy it wants to defeat...

The United States.

In the End, It Will Be East Vs. West

"Here's where this latest installment of the ongoing South China Sea saga gets so interesting," Patalon notes. "[Russia] is helping to fuel an Asian-focused arms race that's staggering in magnitude. IHS Jane's says arms spending in the Asia-Pacific will climb 23% a year to reach $533 billion by 2020. That will put it on par with North America defense spending."

So China and Russia's mutual frustration with U.S. presence in the Pacific, especially with the recent THAAD installation, seems to have evolved into a two-versus-one scenario with the underdogs pairing up to parallel the alpha dog.

And the possibility that such an alliance could undermine American authority in the world is, of course, not ideal for the United States in myriad ways. But what Patalon finds most intriguing at this stage is the possibility for technological advancements to be made at a rapid clip. And en masse.

Because, according to Patalon, "this isn't just a numbers game -- it's also a technology drama. The South China Sea is home to a high-stakes technological race. And so stealth aircraft, aerial and seagoing drones, detection systems, and missile-interceptor know-how will just keep advancing."

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