A recent report has revealed news of large shipments of Russian arms to the island of Fiji. This has understandably raised several questions about what was actually included in those shipments, and why they were being shipped.
According to The Guardian,
A secretive shipment of weapons and military hardware donated by Russia to the military of Fiji may be an “opening move” in a battle for influence in the Asia-Pacific region, security experts have said. The 20-container shipment—sent by the Russian government to its recently forged ally—was unloaded from a cargo ship in Suva last week. It will be followed by Russian military personnel arriving in the archipelago nation next month to act as “trainers” for the new arsenal.
“The manifest of the arms shipment remains unknown. It is believed to contain mainly small arms, but opposition politicians, concerned by the secrecy of the transfer, have speculated it may include a helicopter, heavy weaponry or non-lethal munitions intended for domestic crowd control. Fiji has said it will formally unveil the weapons in February, but some in the country are skeptical the entire arsenal will be publicly revealed.”
It is doubtful that the full contents of the shipments will actually be revealed, even though the Fijian government has stated that they intend to be transparent. According to them, the weapons are meant to re-arm Fijian peacekeepers who are supporting United Nations causes around the world. To explain the Russian troops who are also present, they are reported to be training and advising the Fijian forces.
From the Russian perspective, their motive is reported to be “transactional” in nature.
From an American perspective, neither of these explanations are likely to be true.
What are the more realistic motives of Russia in this arming operation?
First, the strategic location of an island like Fiji is of critical importance to Russia (and China, for that matter). With the U.S. controlling Hawaii and Guam, Fiji would be a critical piece of land in the vast Pacific Ocean for a Russian forward operating base. That forward location would give them more convenient access to American-held islands, as well as to the continental U.S.
The U.S. 7th Fleet, part of the United States Pacific Fleet, is assigned to the waters from the north of Fiji all the way up to mainland Japan. Having a military presence in Fiji would allow Russia to have back-door access to the 7th Fleet area of operations.
Additionally, 7th Fleet’s command and coordination force for the area, Task Force 71, includes all Naval Special Warfare (NSW) units and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Units (EODMU). The flagship command and coordination vessel for Task Force 71 is the USS Blue Ridge. It would make a nice target for the Russian “heavy weaponry” that has potentially been shipped to Fiji. One must also consider the threat of Russian naval vessels that could port there if Russia were to claim it.
Another interesting aspect to the strategic value of this location is related to satellite-jamming technology in the region. During Desert Storm in the early ’90s, the U.S. sold Yemen some of that technology. Yemen reverse-engineered it and sold it to Russia, our then-recent Cold War nemesis. Although Russia is not the only nation conducting cyber warfare against the U.S., they are certainly among the culprits. For those who have been paying attention to the increased amount of drone and plane crashes in recent years, you can largely thank satellite jamming technology, courtesy of Russia, Iran, China, and various other countries who are hostile to the U.S. 7th Fleet is also responsible for the defense of South Korea, which is a key location for U.S. satellite communications and jamming defense.
One SOFREP source, an active U.S. Army officer, confirmed finding one of the Russian-made jamming devices along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan while on deployment in recent years. It makes sense when you realize that satellite communications for the U.S. military’s Pacific Command run from the mainland United States to Hawaii, Guam, Japan, South Korea, and finally, to commanders in Afghanistan. Holding Fiji would allow the Russians to more easily wage their cyber warfare in the region, which in turn would affect communications and satellite technology (i.e. drones) for the entire Pacific Command.
It may be years down the road, but it is pretty clear that Russia and possibly China are looking to expand their military footprint on a permanent basis. Do not be fooled, Russia has no interest in arming Fijian forces for the sake of being compassionate. They have their own best interests in mind. This is calculated strategy by Russia.
According to Doctor Paul Buchanan, director of 36th Parallel Security Assessments and intelligence consultant to U.S. government security agencies, “Fijian officers will now study at Russian military academies. It strikes me that we could see in 10 to 15 years, regular visits by Russian naval ships to Suva. And perhaps in 20 years, China and/or Russian being granted forward-basing rights in Fiji. I think this is an opening pawn move in what’s going to be a much longer chess game.”