China’s influence over Russia grows amid fighting Ukraine

It was a revealing moment during Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow: Standing at the gate of the Grand Kremlin Palace, he told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the two were “witnessing changes that have not been seen in more of a century, and we are pushing them together”.

“I agree,” Putin replied.

The comments, caught on a Kremlin camera over the shoulder of a bodyguard, offered a rare glimpse into Xi’s ambitions and relationship with Russia after more than a year of fighting in Ukraine.

While Moscow looks increasingly like a junior partner to Beijing, Xi is likely to offer a strong lifeline to Putin, his key partner in efforts to reshape the world to try to limit American dominance.

Xi’s unusually forceful statement capped more than 10 hours of talks in the Kremlin, which ended with lengthy remarks laced with flowery rhetoric about expanding “comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation” between Russia and China, vows to uphold an approach multilateral of global affairs and critics of Washington. .

In his closing statement, Putin praised the Chinese proposal for a deal in Ukraine, which the West all but rejected as a failure. The Russian leader also launched a series of initiatives that cemented his country’s role as a key source of energy and other raw materials for China’s gigantic economy. He proposed building new power pipelines, invited the Chinese to fill the niche left after the exodus of Western companies, and promised to boost the export of agricultural products to China.

Xi kept mum, avoiding any firm commitment on specific projects and mostly stuck to general and vague rhetoric about expanding ties.

“Many things that Vladimir Putin would have liked to have happened, in fact did not happen,” Rana Mitter, a professor of Chinese history and politics at Oxford University, told The Associated Press. “At no time did Xi explicitly say that she accepted Russia’s position on the Ukraine war over Ukraine’s position.”

In fact, there was “a sense that China was reserving the right to back away from fully supporting” the Russian position, Mitter added.

Moscow and Beijing said they would increase contacts between their militaries and organize more joint air and sea patrols and exercises, but China gave no hint of helping Russia with weapons, as the United States and other Western allies feared.

Speaking before a Senate committee on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China has so far heeded strong US warnings not to provide lethal material support to Russia in Ukraine. “We haven’t seen them cross that line,” he said.

A leading US Defense Intelligence Agency analyst said Beijing wants to be seen as a peacemaker and diplomatic heavyweight.

“So I think China would be very reluctant to be seen openly supporting Russia with lethal aid,” said Doug Wade, head of DIA’s China mission group. “It would undermine their entire narrative about their role in the world that they try so hard to sell.”

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby described the Putin-Xi relationship as “a marriage of convenience”, in which they join efforts to challenge US leadership, and the Russians “certainly They are the junior partner.” He added in a briefing earlier this week that Putin sees Xi as “sort of a lifeline” amid the fighting in Ukraine.

Many commentators argued that the summit marked Putin’s failure to get specific help from Beijing and cemented Russia’s increasingly subservient role in the alliance with China.

“China’s domination of Russia is complete,” tweeted Sam Greene, a professor of Russian politics at King’s College London. “Although there were undoubtedly agreements that we should not know about, there are no signs here of a significant increase in military support for Russia, or even a willingness on the part of Xi to increase diplomatic support. A hit and a miss for Putin.”

After more than a year of fighting in Ukraine and Western sanctions, Russia’s dependence on China has increased significantly. Facing Western restrictions on its oil, gas and other exports, Russia has shifted its energy flows to China and has greatly expanded other exports, leading to a 30% increase in bilateral trade.

Western price caps on Russian oil forced Moscow to offer it to China and other customers at a steep discount, but despite those lower prices, the vast Chinese market ensured a steady stream of oil revenues into the Kremlin’s coffers. .

As long as Russia can trade with China and other Asian states, it will face “no danger of running out of money or being forced to concede on the battlefield,” said Chris Weafer, chief executive of consultancy Macro-Advisory.

While it benefits handsomely from Moscow’s dire straits, Beijing will surely step up its support if it sees Russia dangerously weakened.

“The nightmare scenario for China is that Russia’s military collapse leads to regime collapse and the installation of some pro-Western government,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment.

Gabuev argued that Beijing is unlikely to provide direct military assistance to Moscow any time soon simply because it does not feel the pressing need to do so. “Russia is not doing very well on the battlefield, but obviously not losing it, so the need to support Russian military efforts so far is questionable on both sides,” he said.

More than munitions, tanks and rockets, Russia urgently needs China’s help to circumvent Western sanctions and keep high-tech components flowing for its arms industries and other economic sectors. Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin political analyst, predicted that China could be expected to act more resolutely to help Russia achieve them.

“Russia does not need weapons from China,” Markov wrote on his messaging app channel. “You need microchips and components, and they will come.”

Some observers say that while Beijing has been coy about supporting Moscow, it has a vital interest in propping up its ally to avoid being left alone in any potential confrontation with the United States.

Mikhail Korostikov, an expert on Russia-China relations, said in a commentary to the Carnegie Endowment that China has been closely watching Russia’s experience in dealing with massive Western sanctions. “For Beijing, a detailed study and partial use of the instruments and decisions used by Russia is a reasonable course in a situation where China’s confrontation with the West seems inevitable,” he said.

Korostikov noted that while Moscow’s dependence on Beijing grows, China’s room for maneuver is also shrinking.

“There is no alternative to Russia as a partner providing the resources that China will critically need in the event of an escalation in its confrontation with the West,” he said. “It helps to balance the situation and allows Moscow to hope that Beijing will not abuse its newly acquired economic levers.”

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