Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: Russia’s Sanctioned Superyachts Seen As New Platforms For US Indo-Pacific Diplomacy

Now the West sanctions and sweeps up Russia’s high-end cruise ships, Russia’s luxe armada can go to work for the West as roving diplomatic posts or globe-spanning Presidential and Royal yachts. Putin’s flamboyant fleet served as unregulated floating embassies, offering Russians instant respectability, good security, and access to all the types of people Russia needed to make good things happen for the Russian state. But Russia’s water party is over. Many sanctioned Russian yachts are trapped in boatyards or otherwise stuck, are getting impounded and seized by Western authorities. Rather than take a moment to figure out how these unexpected new assets might be employed, Western authorities seem content to just shuffle these one-of-a-kind platforms “off the books” as soon as possible. The abrupt divestment is bad business. With the Russian State out of the luxe vessel market, the ships will likely sell for pennies on the dollar. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/craighooper/2022/04/30/russias-sanctioned-superyachts-new-platforms-for-indo-pacific-diplomacy/) The United States needs extra diplomatic presence in the South Pacific right away. In the strategically-located Solomons Islands—an island chain perched between the United States and Australia, Chinese diplomats exploited Western disinterest in the small, impoverished country, enticing the Solomons Islands into agreements that likely offers China an avenue to establish a forward military presence there. Lacking effective diplomatic representation, the United States was caught by surprise, and rushed a delegation to the country, promising, among other things, to re-open a long-closed U.S. embassy. Reopening the Solomons Islands embassy will take too long. But turning a luxury yacht into an ersatz floating embassy can be done quite quickly, and American diplomats, sailing aboard the luxury platform, can do an enormous amount of regional influencing in a way that China will be hard-pressed to match. The operational costs of deploying a luxury yacht into the southern oceans is tiny in comparison to the expense of losing out to better-established diplomatic rivals. The State Department will never have access to a well-appointed luxury yacht again.

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