Russia and the US share the fact that they are both Atlantic and Pacific powers although Russia is essentially a land-based power with the largest proportion of its land located in Asia. In fact, of all the countries around the Pacific, Russia has the longest coastline.
Russia’s Far East is an area double that of Europe inhabited by only 7 million people and that, because of its poor demographics, declining infrastructure and industry, is likely to see that population reduced by 2 million over the next 20 or 30 years. It is an area particularly rich in natural resources, and as the region develops by taking advantage of economic growth in China, links with Moscow will weaken and Russia may lose sovereignty over the long term.
Russians continue to see Chinese as underdogs and have failed to apprehend the major changes that have taken place in that country. Russia is also increasingly becoming dependent on Chinese labor, both due to the collapsing Russian demography and to the massive Russian immigration from Siberia to European Russia. For the numerous xenophobic groups present in Russia, this is a threat similar to an invasion. In many respects, this situation is similar to the one between Mexico and the US.
Russia, which traditionally has had a major European presence, is also now on a pivot to Asia as it wants to take advantage of the developments in Asia and wants Asian investors to modernize the Pacific provinces. It is, however, also concerned with the rise of China and the consequent fear of becoming its junior partner.
As things stand at present, Russia is the sort of partner China wants and that the US does not want.
Trade with East Asia has grown considerably, including with China – its most important trading partner – with whom it is progressing at the steady pace of 30% per year. It could increase even more were it not for the poor Russian infrastructure and the increased inability for Russia to supply machinery orders, leading Chinese corporations to substitute them by local production. Nevertheless, China is today Russia’s largest trading partner with trade increasingly being made in remimbi.
In May 2014, Gazprom signed a massive contract to deliver 38 billion cubic meters of gas per year over a period of 30years but at a rather low price. To expand its market share of the energy markets in East Asia, Russia would have to make large investments in new fields in Eastern Siberia. Rosneft has also agreed to deliver 365 million tons of oil over a period of 25 years.
Russia is China’s fourth largest supplier of oil and they could become the largest supplier should the projected pipeline be directed to China, rather than to Japan. Russian President Putin has decided that a gas pipeline the construction of which has just started, will deliver gas to Nakhodka, thus keeping its options open: shipments to Japan and eventually links to China and South Korea.
State-owned Rosneft has also committed to double its exports of crude oil and participate in the running of a refinery and gas stations in China.
Both countries are against a monopolar world dominated by the United States, and neither are democratic according to Western standards. They have, for instance, taken an identical stand in protecting Iran from UN sanctions.
However, further down in time, relations may not be as good as foreign (and particularly American) trained managers return to China and fail to see the attraction of a close relationship with Russia. Also as a long term issue, Russia knows it needs the US to keep China’s ambitions at bay.
Russian exports weapons to China in 2005. However, Russia has refrained from supplying long-range bombers equipped with missiles, as well as other sophisticated hardware that could threaten the US troops in the area. The two major reasons is the fear that one day they will be turned against Russia and that they could be copied.
While he two countries have conducted joint military exercises, Russia has indicated its intention of shoring up its Navy in the Pacific with the building of a submarine base on the Kamchatka peninsula.