Until the tragic day of February 24, almost any discussion concerning relations between Russia and the West implicitly or directly assumed the participation of some "third" subject of this difficult story. Most experts (it was not too decent for current politicians to say this) constantly noted that if Europeans and Americans were not too affectionate with a fastidious Slavic partner, then she would certainly prefer her old narrow-eyed boyfriend to them - but “push Russia into the arms of China” (this formula began to roam from one text to another since the early 2010s) as if by default seemed to be the biggest geopolitical mistake.
This approach was also professed by those who periodically flickered at the events of the Valdai Club, such as John Mearsheimer, who has long repeated in his assessments of American politics that
“What is happening today is nothing more and nothing less than the fact that we [Americans] are stubbornly handing over the Russians into the hands of the Chinese,”
and also that
“the Russians may well form an alliance with the Chinese - and given the current state of relations between Russia and China, everything is moving towards this,”
and even Henry Kissinger, who tried to turn US rapprochement with Russia in order to jointly confront China as the main foreign policy idea of the Donald Trump administration.
It was also followed by many analysts who could hardly be suspected of having connections with Kremlin propagandists. So, Ian Hill wrote that
“Today it is extremely important to seriously and directly build up relations with Russia, encouraging Moscow to balance the risks of excessive dependence on its eastern neighbor,”
and Charles Kapchan even claimed that
"The challenge facing Washington is to shift the Kremlin's strategic agenda by showing the Russians that increased cooperation with the West can help Russia mix the threats from a deepening partnership with China."
Such fears were to some extent understandable: since at least the mid-2010s, Russia has been perceived as a dangerous revisionist power, while China even earlier began to be considered the main economic rival of the United States (the rise of these two countries in the mid-2000s forced Western analysts to proclaim “ return of history" and geopolitical realism [see: Kagan, Robert. The Return of History and the End of Dreams , New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008]). U.S. relations with both China and Russia soured further during the Trump years — and since then, their alliance has looked particularly dangerous, as America’s two adversaries (led, as it has been repeatedly stressed, by authoritarian and even voice-acting leaders) could not to create no other alliance than directed against the interests of the United States and the West as a whole.
It must be admitted that there were numerous grounds for such a conclusion. Both Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have repeatedly criticized the "US-centric" world and presented their own countries as being at the forefront of the fight against Western global rules. Both Russia and China declared their rejection of “dollar hegemony” and sanctions policy, created their outposts in regions sensitive to Western interests, acted in unison in the UN while blocking initiatives proposed by Western powers. Practically on the eve of the war, during Putin's visit to Beijing, the leaders of both countries signed the nonsensical, but replete with provocative ideological formulations, "Joint Statement on International Relations Entering a New Era and Global Sustainable Development."
At the same time, two main questions remained not only unanswered, but even seriously and not posed - about how deep the Sino-Russian alliance is (the Treaty on Good Neighborliness and Cooperation between Beijing and Moscow obliges the participants "in the event of a risk of aggression" against one of parties... to “enter into consultations” on measures to mitigate this risk, but no more) and how serious the synergy of a potential alliance can be ( over the past ten years, Russian-Chinese trade has grown by more than 1.65 times, but mutual investment practically did not increase ).
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has, in my opinion, brought shocking results - and the shock was due to the fact that nothing much has changed. Russia, subjected to Western sanctions, naturally “moved towards China”, which, at least in words, remained its ally, condemning the “arbitrariness of sanctions” by the United States and NATO countries - but I would not say that something mutual followed from Beijing.
If you look at the situation that has developed after four months of the war, you can see the following: Moscow has become more seriously dependent on China in three ways. The first one I would call financial : in recent years, the Bank of Russia has seriously increased investments in Chinese securities denominated in yuan. If we compare official data on such investments with the statistics on the use of the yuan in the world as a reserve currency, it turns out that the Bank of Russia held almost a quarter (!) of all global reserves denominated in yuan. If before the arrest of Russian assets in the West, these funds amounted to about 13% of the reserves of the Bank of Russia , now they are at least a quarter, and if we talk about liquid assets, then even more. The Russian authorities can freely use them, for example, to finance Chinese imports.
The Bank of Russia held almost a quarter (!) of all global reserves denominated in yuan
The second should be considered trade : China is ready to continue to buy Russian resources in ever-increasing volumes (which is extremely important in the face of European attempts to impose an energy embargo): from April to June, Russian oil exports to China increased by a quarter, from 1.59 to 1.98 million barrels per day, gas supplies are growing through the Power of Siberia; China does not refuse purchases of LNG; in the coal trade, there is also a noticeable increase in trade turnover - but do not forget that Russian gas and oil supplies to China account for 15-18% of its total imports of these goods, and, what should be especially emphasized, their growth is taking place against the backdrop of ever-increasing price discounts , so this speaks more about the pragmatism of the Chinese than about their desire to help "a friend and partner."
After a certain decline (in March-May 2022, Chinese exports to Russia decreased by more than 40% compared to the previous three months), trade in technological goods also began to recover - most likely, by the end of the year, the share of Chinese smartphone brands in the Russian market will exceed 80 %; a similar bias will certainly be noticeable in other headings.
The third area of cooperation will be technological : China will almost certainly be Russia's main partner in the program of importing critical technological goods - from cars and parts to them to office equipment, from industrial equipment to mobile communication systems. In addition, there is no doubt that Beijing will try to participate in "parallel imports" by selling to Russia samples of Western products that did not fall directly under the sanctions, without disclosing the final "destination". However, all this is so natural for any major trade and economic partner that it can in no way be presented as evidence of the existence of a strategic alliance between the countries.
This is also evidenced by the fact that Beijing did not “move closer to Russia” after its invasion of Ukraine. China did not support Putin's "special operation", did not recognize the "sovereignty" of the "LPR" and consistently calls to stop the war and sit down at the negotiating table. According to some reports, he refused Moscow's request for military-technical assistance (although the very existence of such a request is actively denied by the Kremlin).
However, Chinese banks are known to have refused to finance deals with Russian oil companies; the Chinese authorities did not supply Russia with sanctioned spare parts for Airbus aircraft (although the latter are produced at a plant in Tianjin); the Chinese payment system UnionPay did not offer its cards in Russia to customers of banks that fell under the sanctions. Chinese leasing and transport companies have begun recalling containers used in Russia; Chinese technological giants began to officially wind down their business in our country, intending to import their products through the countries of the Customs Union; and the Chinese government notified the Russian side of the impossibility of landing at Chinese airports “stolen” from lessors of aircraft. Finally, China began to rapidly reorient itself towards those projects within the framework of the "belt and road" strategy in which Russia does not participate, planning to significantly expand the transit of its goods through Kazakhstan and the Transcaucasus to Europe.
Such a policy of China is based on the dominance among the Chinese elites of the assessment of the Russian war in Ukraine as a strategic mistake made as a result of the spread in the Russian elite of the illusory idea of “getting up from its knees” of the Russian Federation and the simultaneous “decline” of the United States and the West as a whole. Back in May, influential Chinese experts and retired officials from the ministries of foreign affairs and defense spoke quite openly in their circle that "Russia's positions in the Russian-Ukrainian war are becoming more passive and unfavorable, and its impending defeat is already obvious."
Back in May, influential Chinese experts publicly admitted that the impending defeat of Russia is obvious.
These sentiments are spreading more and more as the operation continues, and Chinese experts call it “de-Russification” the main trend in the modern world economy. I think that the adoption of the new NATO strategic doctrine, in which Russia is designated as “the most significant and direct threat” to the security of the alliance, was not without satisfaction in Beijing: in such a situation, part of the attention that in the same context has long been paid to China will shift to Russia, which will reduce tensions between China and the West (since the start of the war, it is worth noting that contacts between the leaders of the United States and China have intensified). Accordingly, neither Xi Jinping's correct refusal to visit Moscow in the near future, nor Beijing's relative distancing from Russian foreign policy initiatives, can come as a surprise.
Thus, the events that unfolded after February 24 marked, in my opinion, not at all the beginning of the decline of the Western world, as seen from the Kremlin, or not the defeat of NATO, which allegedly “became obvious from the very beginning of the special operation” , but the complete bankruptcy of the Russian-Chinese project alliance. It became clear that even in the face of a radical rupture of one of its potential members with the West, the other did not come to his aid, preferring to conduct business as usual; no military, financial, economic and technological "synergy" has arisen in this part of the world.
The war marked the complete bankruptcy of the Russian-Chinese alliance project
And while Anthony Blinken recently stated that "China's support for the Russian war in Ukraine" complicates US-China relations, I would not say that such "support" is explicitly taking place. What happened to the Sino-Russian alliance is what sometimes happens to a gambler who pretends to have a very strong trump card. If inexperienced opponents play against him, who may be afraid of a bluff, he can hit the jackpot - but if he suddenly shows his cards, he will lose. The alliance of Russia and China could frighten the world as long as it seemed to someone that the Russian army was really strong, and not a non-combat-ready rabble, which could only be replenished with criminals , and that in the event of a tough confrontation with the West, the two countries would unite, complementing each other economically, financially and politically.
It is now clear that China will not say a word, even if the entire Russian horde is crushed in Ukraine by Western weapons; will buy additional volumes of Russian oil for only 2/3 of its market price; and supply us with their high-tech products only if this does not break the ties of Chinese corporations with European and American suppliers. The union did not happen. The mountain gave birth to a mouse. The best-selling western horror story turned out to be a children's comic. Now, as Fareed Zakaria rightly argues , "achieving a victory over Russia looks like the best strategy for the West towards China." And this, in my opinion, is one of the main outcomes of Vladimir Putin's Ukrainian war that has not yet ended.