China-Russia “Limitless” Freindship
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 27 Apr , 2024

Alexander Gubaev on China-Russia Limitless Friendship

Alexander Gubaev, an expert on Russian affairs, not only termed the China -Russia  alliance “unholy” but he also cast doubt –‘Why the West Won’t Be Able to Drive a Wedge Between Russia and China’ ( April 2024). China and Russia are more firmly aligned now than at any time since the 1950s. The tightening of this alignment between Russia and China is one of the most important geopolitical outcomes of Putin’s war against Ukraine. The conscious efforts of Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin drive much of this reorientation, but it is also the byproduct of the deepening schism between the West and both countries. Western officials cannot wish this axis away.  Instead, the West should be prepared for an extended period of simultaneous confrontation with two immense nuclear-armed powers.  In a joint statement issued on February 4, 2022, Putin and Xi described ties between their two countries as a “partnership without limits.” That phrase won a lot of attention in the West, especially after Putin invaded Ukraine just 20 days later.

History of China-Russia Partnership

Yet the deepening partnership was not born in February 2022. Following the bitter estrangement of the Sino-Soviet split that spanned the 1960s to the 1980s, China and Russia have become closer for several pragmatic reasons. Both sides wanted to make the territorial conflict between them a thing of the past, and by 2006, their 2,615-mile border had finally been fully delimited. Economic complementarity also drove them together.   And as Russia grew increasingly authoritarian with Putin in charge since 2000, Beijing and Moscow teamed up at the UN Security Council, using their power as permanent members to push back against many of the positions and norms advocated by Western countries, including the use of sanctions against authoritarian regimes and U.S.-led pressure campaigns in regional hot spots such as Syria. China and Russia have also long shared a distrust of the United States, seeing Washington as an ideology-driven global hegemon that wants to prevent Beijing and Moscow from taking their rightful places in leading the world order and, even worse, that aims to topple their regimes.

Russia-China growing freindship and Ukraine War

Russia and China’s growing closeness is one of the most important outcomes of the war in Ukraine.  Since Xi’s state visit to Russia in March 2023, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and senior members of his team have traveled to China several times.  Throughout 2023, many senior Russian officials and CEOs of the largest state-owned and private companies shuttled to and from China. Senior Chinese leaders—especially those from the military and security sectors—have also made trips to Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Beijing for talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. It is notable that this traffic is mostly one-sided—senior Russian officials and business leaders are going to China much more frequently than their Chinese counterparts going the other way, a clear indication of Russia’s desperate need for China. The one exception is the military-security domain, where the visits of high-ranking officials have tended to be symmetrical and reciprocal.

Independent opinion polls suggest Russians View China Positively

The overall warming of attitudes to China is reflected in opinion polls, too, including recent data produced by the joint efforts of the Carnegie Endowment and the Levada Center, the independent Russian polling organization. At the end of 2023, 85 percent of Russians viewed China positively, where as only six percent had a negative opinion of the country.

How Russia assesses relationship with Foreign Powers

The Kremlin now assesses every relationship with a foreign power through a lens of three essential considerations: whether this relationship can help Russia directly on the battlefield in Ukraine, whether it can help sustain the Russian economy and circumvent sanctions, and whether it can help Moscow push back against the West and punish the United States and its allies for supporting Kyiv. Russia’s relationship with China emphatically checks all three boxes. Beijing is not providing direct lethal aid to Moscow in Russian invasion of Ukraine but China’s indirect support for the Russian war effort is indispensable. On the economic front, Putin’s war chest relies heavily on revenue from Chinese purchases of Russian exports. The clearance of payments in the Chinese yuan keeps the Russian financial system afloat, and imports of cars, electronics, and other consumer goods keep shops well stocked and ordinary Russians quiet. More telling, however, is Russia’s decision to firmly align with China in its geopolitical contest with the United States.

Moscow and Beijing do not want formal Military Alliance

Moscow and Beijing do not want to sign a formal military alliance, as senior officials on both sides have reiterated multiple times. Neither wants to have a legal obligation to fight for the other and be dragged into an unnecessary conflict. Still, two large nuclear powers that are on friendly terms standing back-to-back on the giant Eurasian landmass is a major headache for Washington. With the collapse of global nuclear arms control regimes and China’s rapid nuclear buildup, U.S. strategists will face tough choices about resource allocation: The United States will need to develop a strategic nuclear force that can at the same time deter two partnered rivals with vast nuclear arsenals.

China-Russia consider US as the Prime Enemy

A de facto nonaggression pact between China and Russia, and the countries’ shared perception of the United States as an enemy, could lead to increased coordination between the European and Asian theaters, further stretching U.S. resources and attention.  Putin’s anti-Western rhetoric that defines his invasion of Ukraine both as a rebellion against U.S. hegemony and “neocolonial practices” and as a bid to build a “more just multipolar world order” fails to convince the countries of the diverse global South (a group Putin grandiosely claims to represent), many of which look askance at Russia’s blatant disregard for Ukraine’s sovereignty and international law. The problem for the West is that many countries perceive its leader, the United States, to be just as cynical as Russia, thanks to Washington’s checkered legacy of interventionism and selective respect for international law.

Russia wants to replace its reliance on the West

Russia is on its way to replacing near total reliance on the West with reliance on China; it stayed afloat and has been able to wage an expansive war against a large country backed by NATO. Other countries wary of dependence on the West now see how Beijing can be a ready source of technology and payment settlement mechanisms, as well as a giant market for commodities producers. This is the most significant contribution of the Chinese-Russian alignment to the remaking of the global order. Moscow and Beijing may never sign a formal alliance, but the evolution of their relationship in the years ahead will increasingly affect the world and challenge the West. To come to terms with this development, Western policymakers should abandon the idea that they can drive a wedge between Beijing and Moscow.

US attempts to Dilute China-Russia Freindship

Under Trump, the National Security Council entertained the idea of a “reverse Kissinger” approach of engaging Russia, the weaker partner, but to no avail. Whereas former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger courted communist China during the Cold War by offering Beijing a normalization of ties with the United States, U.S. officials cannot extend a deal of that sort to either Moscow or Beijing at this point. Any hopes of peeling them away from each other are nothing more than wishful thinking. Certainly, the Sino-Russian relationship is not without its strains, and existing tensions may be exacerbated as China grows more confident and is tempted to start bossing around the Russians in a more heavy-handed way—something that no ruler in Moscow would take lightly. For now, however, Beijing and Moscow have demonstrated a remarkable ability to manage their differences.


If the China-Russia tandem is here to stay, Western leaders must build a long-term strategy that will help maintain peace by accounting for all the ramifications of having to compete with China and Russia simultaneously. For a start, the West will need to find the right balance between deterrence and reassurance with Moscow and Beijing to avoid dangerous escalatory situations that could arise from accidents, misperceptions, and miscommunication. Western governments should consider the second-order effects of the coercive economic measures they have applied to Russia and China and how retaliatory countermeasures further erode the fabric of globalization. And while they should not tolerate Russian and Chinese disinformation and attempts to subvert the functioning of international institutions, Western countries should seek to make some of these institutions, such as the United Nations and its related agencies, functional again even with Beijing and Moscow on board. When considering how to protect European and Asian security, rein in climate change, govern new disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, and address the challenges facing global financial architecture, Western policymakers must now reckon with the reality of an increasingly resolute Sino-Russian axis.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Kazi Anwarul Masud

former Ambassador and Secretary in the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh.

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