Beijing knows that Kremlin’s “turn to the East” is only a contingency plan and that Russia’s heart is always with the West. Hence it will be watching closely the incipient signs of rapprochement between Russia and the West

While the rhetoric of Russia-China entente remains couched in lofty words – “friends forever” (Vladimir Putin) – their strategic discourse is becoming nuanced lately.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on June 23

The Chinese and Russian pundits agree that the raison d’etre of the “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination” between the two countries rests, quintessentially, on their need to push back at the United States.

In an overview on President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Beijing, a leading voice in Chinese foreign policy debates, Shen Dingli, underscored that “China is a realistic country, and it is aware of the power of leverage… China’s wisdom since ancient times will not be lost in the current era.”

Shen saw no conceivable reason for China to spurn Russian overtures, which help to “counterbalance” the US-Japan alliance “against the backdrop of the accelerating” US re-balance strategy. He added:

  • Moscow is now using the same strategy to maintain its own national interests. If there is a way that can help it resist the threat from the US while preserving a certain degree of mutually beneficial collaboration with Washington, cooperation with Beijing is the way forward… Indeed, the Kremlin’s “turn to the East” is only a contingency plan, which was basically put into effect under pressure… Russia’s collaboration with China is more a matter of expediency, instead of a “strategy’”.
  • Russia’s heart is always with the West. Its biggest hope is to earn the respect from the West and integrate into the Western hemisphere… If the next US president shows more respect to Russia and is less tough toward Moscow, the Kremlin’s “turn to the East” will very likely swing to the West.
  • In the meantime, Russia is also on guard against China… Due to the different core values of the two sides, cooperation… is mostly aimed at third parties. Yet history has proven numerous times that any collaboration based on considerations aimed at a third party will be bound to change with the times.

Interestingly, Chinese Communist Party daily Global Times (which featured Shen’s frank assessment) followed up with some useful advice of its own to Washington: “Forced by the US’ relentless efforts to squeeze China and Russia’s strategic room, Beijing and Moscow have to deal with the US back-to-back… The US is unable to beat down the Chinese dragon and the Russian bear at the same time.”

Curiously, Russian pundits also agree with Shen’s perspective. They too see the dynamics of Russia-China summits as a reflection of big-power politics. From their viewpoint, while Moscow should continue to steer clear of the US-China rivalry, it cannot but take advantage of it, since the tension with Washington is “making the Chinese side more forthcoming to Russia’s needs and worries.”

For example, it was only the stepped-up pressure on China by President Barack Obama during his Asian tour in 2014 that finally goaded Beijing to cave in to the Russian demand for much higher prices for the gas to be pumped into the 2,500-km Power of Siberia pipeline, in a mammoth $400 billion deal.

Equally, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which aims at breaking out of the geopolitical encirclement by the US, needs to pass through the Eurasian space, and it could be turned to Moscow’s advantage if only China is made to work in a multilateral setting.

Hence the idea of a “more extensive Eurasian partnership”, mooted by Putin at the recent meeting of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. To quote Putin,

  • We think that the (Russia-led) EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union) can become one of the centers of a greater emergent economic area… Now we propose considering the prospects for more extensive Eurasian partnership involving the EAEU and countries with which we already have close partnership – China, India, Pakistan and Iran… and certainly our CIS partners, and other interested countries and associations.

But China is unlikely to share its exclusive prerogatives over the Belt and Road and is instead pushing ahead bilaterally with the partners it handpicks such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan or Pakistan and Iran – or for that matter, Georgia and Serbia.

President Xi Jinping has described as a “major achievement of the Belt and Road Initiative” the 20-km Qamchiq Tunnel connecting Ferghana Valley with the rest of Uzbekistan (billed as the longest railway tunnel in Central Asia, piercing the formidable Qurana Mountains), which he inaugurated a week ago.

After all, what is the “additionality” Moscow could have brought into the Qamchiq Tunnel? Technology? Capital? Expertise? Work force?

China needed none of that. To cap it, Beijing enjoys close ties with the leadership of Islam Karimov.

The bottom line is, China cannot be blamed in reaching its important strand of “realist thinking” that Russia is a bird of passage, which is perennially seized with the urge to migrate back westward in search of an assured habitation there, rather than take up habitation in the tough Asian neighborhood.

Significantly, bang on the eve of Putin’s visit, Fyodor Lukyanov, well-known Kremlin pundit, wrote in the government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta that a “thaw” is possible in Russia’s relations with the West, and the “atmosphere has changed”. He wrote,

  • The voices of those opposing the anti-Russian sanctions have become louder (in the West)… The Russian side is also showing more interest in reactivating cooperation and making social-economic issues the focus of discussions… If there are no drastic escalations in Ukraine, the sanctions regime will begin to be disassembled in January 2017.

Lukyanov rationalized that the “pseudo-ideological confrontation” between Russia and the West created a contrived atmosphere of adversarial relationship, whereas, in reality, there was “no contradiction in ideas worth mentioning” as in the Cold War era.

Therefore, “a balanced development in both directions (between Russia and the West) is not only normal but also completely necessary.”

Lukyanov summed up:

  • All that remains is for Russia to attempt to convince everyone – including itself – that there are no zero-sum games in the modern world. However, black and white movies are appreciated by movie bluffs only, whereas for everyone else, they are outdated.

Lukyanov is taken very seriously in Beijing – and that might alone probably explain the sharp commentaries in the Global Times.

Unsurprisingly, Moscow is jockeying for space to maneuver as a long sunset seems to begin in the west. The curtain is coming down on the Obama presidency and the European project is getting caught in great disarray.

The heart of the matter is that Moscow also feels disappointed that the economic ties with China have slowed down. Trade has shrunk sharply (from $100 billion in 2014 to just over $60 billion last year) due to a combination of factors such as the devaluation of Russian currency, fall in oil prices and western sanctions.

Ambitious projects envisaging massive Chinese investment have stalled, and Moscow’s hopes of tapping China as alternative to western financial institutions have proved unrealistic insofar as Chinese companies and banks cannot but be wary of the likely negative impact on their business prospects in the western market.

The Associated Press reported that at a recent Russia-China forum held in Moscow, while officials extolled “unprecedented” closeness in the relationship, businessmen and experts were reserved. The Russian tycoon Viktor Vekselberg reportedly voiced criticism that Chinese companies have shown little interest in investing in Russian industries.

Beijing will be watching closely the incipient signs of rapprochement between Russia and the West. But in real life, it may little cause to worry about Moscow’s passion for technicolor adventures in the cinemaland.

Simply put, trust Washington to not only to have a weakness for black and white movies – especially, cowboy films – but to insist that the European allies like them, too.

 Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes the “Indian Punchline” blog and has written regularly for Asia Times since 2001.

(Copyright 2016 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

M.K. Bhadrakumar

M.K. Bhadrakumar is a former diplomat who served for more than 29 years as an Indian Foreign Service officer with postings including India’s ambassador to Turkey and Uzbekistan.

Join the Conversation

391 Comments

  1. Have you ever thought about adding a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is fundamental and everything. Nevertheless imagine if you added some great pictures or video clips to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and clips, this website could undeniably be one of the greatest in its field. Excellent blog!|

  2. Having read this I believed it was really informative. I appreciate you spending some time and energy to put this informative article together. I once again find myself personally spending a lot of time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worth it!|

  3. An impressive share, I simply given it into a colleague who wadd doing a bit of analysis in it. And he the truth is purchadded me breakfaddt add a result of I found it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the treat?! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to discuss it, I feel stringly about it and love reading extra in it topic. If possible, add you change into experience, would you mind updating Vegus weblog with more details? It is extremely useful for me. Large thumb up for it blog post?!

  4. When someone writes an article he/she retains the thought of a user in his/her mind that how a user can be aware of it. Therefore that’s why this paragraph is great. Thanks!|

  5. Have you ever thought about writing an ebook or guest authoring on other websites? I have a blog based on the same topics you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my subscribers would value your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e mail.|

  6. Howdy would you mind letting me know which webhost you’re utilizing? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different web browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot quicker then most. Can you suggest a good hosting provider at a reasonable price? Thank you, I appreciate it!|

  7. I was wondering if you ever considered changing the structure of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?|

  8. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed information. Excellent read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  9. I like the valuable info you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your weblog and check again here frequently. I’m quite sure I’ll learn many new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next!|

  10. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed information. Excellent read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  11. I am really enjoying the theme/design of your blog. Do you ever run into any internet browser compatibility problems? A number of my blog audience have complained about my blog not operating correctly in Explorer but looks great in Opera. Do you have any recommendations to help fix this problem?|

  12. Have you ever thought about publishing an e-book or guest authoring on other websites? I have a blog centered on the same information you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my readers would enjoy your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an email.|

  13. Unquestionably believe that which you stated. Your favourite reason seemed to be on the net the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed even as other people think about concerns that they plainly don’t recognize about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the entire thing with no need side-effects , people could take a signal. Will probably be again to get more. Thanks|

  14. Hello there, You have performed an excellent job. I will definitely digg it and personally recommend to my friends. I’m confident they will be benefited from this web site.|

  15. I do not even know the way I stopped up right here, however I thought this publish was once great. I do not recognise who you might be but certainly you are going to a well-known blogger when you aren’t already. Cheers!|

  16. There will always be someone who will accompany you to fulfill your unfulfilled wishes, send you flowers, accompany you to watch the sunrise and sunset, accompany you to walk the Yangtze River Bridge to accompany you to play the carousel, and spend the rest of your life with you.

  17. Hey there this is kind of of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding experience so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!|

  18. Thanks for the marvelous posting! I genuinely enjoyed reading it, you can be a great author. I will always bookmark your blog and will eventually come back from now on. I want to encourage yourself to continue your great job, have a nice morning!|

  19. Nevertheless, it’s all carried out with tongues rooted solidly in cheeks, and everybody has got nothing but absolutely love for their friendly neighborhood scapegoat. In reality, he is not merely a pushover. He is simply that extraordinary breed of person solid enough to take all that good natured ribbing for what it really is.

  20. Hi there, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar one and i was just curious if you get a lot of spam responses? If so how do you prevent it, any plugin or anything you can advise? I get so much lately it’s driving me insane so any support is very much appreciated.|

  21. Hey there! Quick question that’s totally off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My web site looks weird when browsing from my apple iphone. I’m trying to find a theme or plugin that might be able to resolve this problem. If you have any recommendations, please share. Thanks!|

  22. It’s the best time to make some plans for the future and it’s time to be happy. I’ve read this post and if I could I wish to suggest you few interesting things or advice. Maybe you could write next articles referring to this article. I wish to read more things about it!|

  23. Lists are great for blogging. Lists can often be important, whether Happy New Casino 918KISS are sharing a recipe or explaining the steps to assemble a gas grill. Lists are a great way to visualize an overview of the information.

  24. When Vegus BET Thailand Football are writing, make sure that Vegus BET Thailand Football stick to what Vegus BET Thailand Football already know. Vegus BET Thailand Football want Vegus BET Thailand BET Thailand articles to be written with some level of expertise so that people will take Vegus BET Thailand Football seriously. If Vegus BET Thailand Football have to spend a lot of time researching, it will come out in Vegus BET Thailand BET Thailand writing that Vegus BET Thailand Football do not know much about the topic.

  25. Someone essentially help to make seriously posts I might state. That is the very first time I frequented your web page and up to now? I amazed with the analysis you made to create this particular post incredible. Excellent activity!|

  26. Thank you for every other fantastic article. The place else may anyone get that kind of information in such an ideal approach of writing? I’ve a presentation subsequent week, and I’m at the look for such information.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *