Australia’s Influence in the Region Threatened as Fiji Tilts

Dabur881 Fiji

Concerns are out on Fiji getting Russian military supplies. In January, several shipments of Russian weapons and equipment arrived in Fiji’s capital Suva. According to a leading security analyst, Russian arms to Fiji can be a threat to Australia’s influence in the region. They urge Australia to invest more in Pacific maritime security programs.

The Russian arms provoked criticism from the Fijian opposition parties. This is despite the government’s stand that the deal with Moscow is for its peacekeeping under the United Nations.

Some leading analysts said Russia has a long term agenda and its expanding presence would be a shock to both Australia and New Zealand. It is time the two countries think about how much influence they wield in their own backyard, noted Dr Euan Graham, Director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute, reports ABC News.

As soon as the Russian arms arrived in Suva Harbour, there was an uproar in Fiji. Opposition MPs and security analysts alleged the Russian arms deal was clandestine. Some feared the weapons could be used against Fijian citizens. But analysts see Russia’s engagement with Fiji is a clear move to gain a foothold in expanding its influence in the Asia Pacific region.

Russia’s bilateral ties with Fiji had a fillip when Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s visited Russia in 2013. He signed five agreements, including some pacts on military technical cooperation.

Ratu Isoa Tikoca, Fiji’s opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs sought an answer from the Fijian defence minister. Tikoca alleged that the weapons are meant for Bainimarama to exercise more control in the south-west Pacific.

Russia’s heightened interest in Fiji came after the latter started seeking non-traditional friends in the aftermath of international sanctions. The Russian tilt by Fiji occurred when Bainimarama led a military coup in 2006 and that invited sanctions from Australia, New Zealand and the US.  For Fiji, moving to Russia is another attempt to diversify patrons. It also wants to reduce the dependence on China, according to a report in Lowly Interpreter.

In 2014, Fiji and Russia marked 40 years of diplomatic relations. That time, Fijian Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola stated: “Russia is emerging as one of Fiji’s significant partners in its pursuance of its Look North policy.”  That was responded by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He said “deepening interaction with the island nations of the South Pacific is an integral part of the Russian agenda in the region.” The Russian agenda is about a new regional architecture in the Asia Pacific for “indivisible security.”

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