America has made little progress in Iraq and Syria, something Russia is determined to change apparently.
The Obama administration maintains that a lasting political solution requires Assad’s departure, but facing Russian military involvement, Iranian ground troops, Hezbollah military units, many armed jihadist groups, and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the United States confronts a convoluted situation that it seems unable to solve on its own. Because of these seemingly immutable facts, louder voices are demanding that the US basically leaves the ‘Syrian mess’ to the Russians and let it be a de facto ‘Afghanistan Redux.’ More careful consideration, however, reveals that analysis to be misplaced and faulty.
This camp’s basic logic rests on how ‘full-spectrum’ talks would demand the bringing together of so many sworn enemy groups (internal and external) that herding cats would prove more feasible. But there is also sinister realpolitik going along with these arguments: namely, that America should not counter Russian involvement but rather sit back and enjoy watching Russia get sucked into a conflict that might be the only real chance to significantly weaken Putin.
While no one should be surprised to hear that major global powers consider their own interests when becoming involved in the conflicts of other states, there is something disturbingly naïve with the above-mentioned arguments: Western commentators have too often brazenly declared across the Middle East and Post-Soviet space Machiavellian strategies in public while still hoping the nobler yet quieter motivations of freedom-enhancement were believed. Alas, they are not. Consequently, it does America no good to ‘hang back’ from Syria while Russia does all the dirty work, hoping the Russian Federation receives a devastating blow to its global power as President Obama talks eloquently about Syrian democracy. The only thing this does in real terms is create an environment of diplomatic insincerity that does far more damage long-term to American legitimacy than the possible advantages of a ‘weakened’ Russian state. On the ground, Russia’s reputation would still be rewarded for making the effort while America and the EU would look rather craven and manipulative.
These are not, however, the most serious errors in strategy. The premise that Russia would get sucked into a Syrian quagmire just as America has in Iraq and Afghanistan misses one very elementary but profound point: Russia is not in Syria to establish ‘freedom and democracy’ for the Syrian people. Rather, it just wants to return the region to a more recognizable status quo where the preferred regime is in place and the potential of radical Islamism seeping into Russia’s southern flanks is markedly reduced. This is what makes the often-heard Western criticism about Russian air strikes hitting not just DAESH  strongholds but also well-known rebel areas somewhat odd: Russia has never wavered on its principal position that the key foreign policy element to be handled in Syria is ‘fighting terrorism’. Russia was never interested in seeing the now stagnant ‘Arab Spring’ reach Damascus. And while it has also freely stated that there is no formal state love or personal preference for keeping Assad in power, Russia does demand that whatever regime is in place needs to be as committed to preventing radical Islamist groups from operating as Assad was.
This was always a sharp point of contention for Russia since the early days of the anti-Assad uprising. Russia never felt comfortable with the boast that the United States knew who actually made up the various ‘rebel groups’ and was equally certain that America was recklessly funding and arming people that could either be replaced by radical Islamists or be co-opted by them. Given that the rise of DAESH in the region is at least partially seen in Russia as a consequence of American strategy gone awry in Iraq and Syria, its skepticism cannot be so easily dismissed. Under such political chaos, Russia was quite happy with throwing its support behind Assad, no matter how heinous his own authoritarian rule might be. While it may have been unfortunately true that everyday Syrians would be hurt by a continued Assad tyranny, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs felt that would at least be an internal Syrian affair and not immediately destabilizing to the global community. The same could not be said for the resulting chaos if the Assad regime fell to a hodge-podge of amorphous rebel groups mixed with jihadists who dreamt of apocalyptic Caliphate fantasies.
This is the strange reality often missed in the West: Russia’s passion about eliminating radical jihadists is as fervent as American claims for promoting democracy. Thus, there is not really a Russian ‘political’ goal in Syria that mirrors the American one. Russia does not need a strong Assad or a competent Assad regime: it simply wants a return to the previous status quo where it had close ties to the governing regional powers and carte blanche permission to eliminate Islamic jihadists seen as legitimate threats. Therefore the criticism that Russia’s ‘strategy’ is doomed to fail because there really are not any groups to bring to the table to forge a pluralistic Syria is hollow. The reality is that Russia is not in the region to be the personal guarantor of such a goal. This level of ‘optimal fantasy diplomacy’ is what Russia usually criticizes the United States for and believes brings more problems than solutions. Ultimately, Russia only wants to make sure its larger regional interests remain intact and, concurrently, no jihadist groups have the ability to spread beyond the region and attack its people.
If America had its ‘Vietnam syndrome’ for at least a generation – where getting stuck in a complex and horrifically violent conflict dramatically influenced its foreign policy and military thinking – it is fair to say Russia has had its own ‘Chechen syndrome’, which for the same amount of time had influenced Russian strategic conflict thinking in much the same way. It has always drawn a direct line between the Chechen wars of the 1990s to 9/11 to the Taliban to the Madrid train attacks to the Boston Marathon Bombing to the Sharm el Sheik civilian airliner crash to the Beirut-Paris-Kenya attacks. For Russia this has always been a single elongated fight meant to unite the modern world in a death-match against zealots. It has always openly declared that this needs to be tackled by all sides and all countries, whether formally allies or adversaries. Which is why it has been so utterly frustrated with the United States: the one obvious partner that should share its distaste for such violent religious zealotry has always steadfastly refused to engage in real counter-terrorist partnership with it. What is Russia to assume about ‘gamesmanship’ and ‘strategy’ when it gets criticized for airstrike targeting but is rebuffed by the United States when asking for specific targets to hit or locations to avoid? How should the general public react to criticism of Russian motives as new voices begin to recognize the comprehensiveness of Russian strikes and that its air campaign might be working?
So when people like Simpson criticizes the conflict in Syria as a dilemma with no military endpoint because it is and can only be a fight to the death, they are unknowingly acknowledging the Russian argument that has been in play all along. And this is exactly why Syria could end up a ‘swamp’ that Russians are willing to get dirty in. When framed in the language of millenarian religious struggle harkening back to the vile barbarism of the Chechen wars, Russians on the whole are willing to fight if it might mean there will be no Paris tragedies in Moscow or St. Petersburg. For Russia this is not a battle about political systems or economic markets or global positioning (which is what it always accuses American ‘adventurism’ of being about), but rather a war over the very lifeblood of modern society.
So caution should be urged when critics claim impending Russian doom in Syria and an inevitable political quagmire. Syria is no Afghanistan Redux: Russia is not trying to ideologically claim the territory for itself in a move of proxy-prestige. Its goals are actually far more attainable and far more easily aligned with popular attitudes at home. It is not necessarily striving for a ‘perfect political solution’ that the whole world can get behind in order to claim personal victory: these are the lofty and often unrealistic foreign policy goals with which America pushes itself into a corner. Russia, in the end, can claim ‘victory’ if there is a local regime in Damascus partial to its interests and it continues to have the opportunity to kill jihadists at will there. In the Russian diplomatic mindset this matters because it means relevance on the world stage while having to worry less about creeping Koranic quasi-insurgencies across its own major cities.
Two things are certain as the battle rages on in Syria: assumptions about American foreign policy superiority need to be taken with a grain of salt, as there is as much rational geostrategic self-interest in America’s positions as there is with Russia’s. And when it comes to the fight against groups like DAESH, Russia has been rather uniquely candid about its purposes and goals, all while hoping America and the West would be willing to join in. Even if that never happens and the West continues to refuse such a partnership, it might not want to hold its diplomatic breath waiting for the ‘quagmire demise’ of Russia. Reports on the inevitability of Russia’s slow Syrian death may just prove to be greatly exaggerated.
In the end, the mistake the Western world has made for nearly two decades is that it has drawn up civilizational lines based on geography, political ideology, state/religious boundaries, and even economic strategies. These lines have allowed the world to divide itself into ever-smaller camps, making the civilian undersides of societies ever easier and more susceptible to extremist bloodshed and horror. In this battle Russia feels it should not be seen as the West against the Rest or white against color or the Global North against the Global South. It is about the Modern world fighting the Zealot world. Until leaders in the West embrace this reality and begin to smash their own self-imposed boundaries of nationalism, statehood, and geostrategy, they will constantly be putting themselves in a limited and exposed position against a radicalized enemy. And scenes like the ones played out in France, Lebanon, and Kenya will only continue. Hope at the moment does not seem bright: already less than two weeks after the Paris attacks and increased pressure from world leaders to consider cooperating in the fight against terrorist zealots,Turkey downed a Russian jet fighter that it claimed did not respond to ‘warnings about crossing into Turkish airspace.’ Worse still, initial reports are that the two pilots successfully ejected from the fighter, only to be shot at while floating to the ground via parachute. Incidents like this, in the face of a greater common enemy, means the Modern world is not taking the Zealot world as seriously as it needs to. It means that World War Z will continue to be lost.
For an explanation as to what DAESH actually stands for and where it comes from linguistically (while also being provided a compelling reason why the global community needs to shift off of the terms ISIS and ISIL and IS and exclusively use the preferred Arabic acronym DAESH) please see Oakley 2015.
Eight Principles of the “Greater Eurasian Partnership”
It is common knowledge that Eurasia is the largest continent on Earth, spanning over one-third of the planet’s total area. It is also the most populous, with over two-thirds of the global population calling the continent home. Eurasia has tremendous natural resources, from oil and gas to freshwater and fertile lands. The peoples of Eurasia can be rightfully proud of the fact that it was here that the oldest human civilizations first appeared, that they have managed to settle in both scorching deserts and freezing tundra, built huge cities and wonderful architectural monuments, laid extensive networks of railways and motorways, and made an invaluable contribution to human culture in all its aspects.
It would only be natural for the sprawling spaces of Eurasia to become united in a single system, where different geographic components would organically complement each other. It would be natural for customs tariffs and visa restrictions dividing our countries to become a thing of the past, for mutual suspicions, long-standing grievances and endless disputes to give way to mutual understanding, a multilateral balance of interests, and an awareness of our common historical destiny. Such a union would primarily benefit the peoples of the Eurasian continent, who would be able to expand their horizons, shed their old fears and biases, and gain radically new opportunities for economic, social and spiritual prosperity. Eurasian unification would also benefit the rest of the world, which would be the beneficiary of a powerful development engine ready to pull other continents along with it and make a decisive contribution to resolving the global problems facing humanity.
Sadly, the Eurasian continent continues to be disjointed or, rather, split into a host of large and small fragments. This applies to Eurasian security, the Eurasian political space, the Eurasian economy, and science and culture. Right now, the concept of “Eurasian identity” does not even exist, and the numerous attempts to construct one have not brought anything particularly promising.
The current lack of unity in Eurasia can be put down to a number of factors – the continent’s trying history, the tragic mistakes of national leaders, the nefarious activities of external forces, and so on. However, whatever the reasons for the current circumstances might be, it is crystal clear that radically changing the situation will take both strong political will and a generous helping of perseverance, patience and flexibility, as well as a readiness to deal with unexpected failures, irritating reversals of fortune and temporary setbacks. What is more, Eurasia will never be unified if it is something the continent’s inhabitants do not seek. And right now, it is something that only the leaders of certain Eurasian states want. Success here also depends on selecting the right sequence of practical steps that would lead to a single Eurasian space.
The “Greater Eurasian Partnership Concept” first introduced by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin in late 2015 proceeds from the premise that the first steps in this direction should be taken in the economic architecture of the Eurasian continent, rather than in the political or military spheres. The economy forms the base of modern society, even though politics frequently gain the upper hand over economics in terms of imposing priorities and precepts on states. Yet, ultimately, no one can ignore their economic interests. As a rule, these interests are more stable, more rational and less subject to the influence of subjective factors than political precepts. Comparing the two most memorable attempts to unite Eurasia in the past – one by force (the Mongol Empire) and one through trade (the Great Silk Road), we cannot but conclude that trade ties generally proved a more reliable unification tool than armed violence.
Consequently, Eurasian unification today should start with the economy. The Partnership envisions consistent progress towards a network of free trade areas and inter-regional trade and economic alliances, and connecting integration projects throughout the vast Eurasian space. It is crucial that the practice of politicizing economic ties be eliminated and unilateral economic sanctions or other forms of economic pressure as a foreign policy instrument be abandoned.
We are clearly talking about an extremely ambitious project here that will take decades to implement, at the very least. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that the economic consolidation of Eurasia would be the most ambitious integration project of the 21st century. Nevertheless, we can already identify several basic principles that underlie this initiative and set it apart from other plans of Eurasian unification. Let us list of the most important of these principles.
First, the Partnership is not viewed as a potential competitor for regional integration structures (ASEAN, EAEU, RCEP) or trans-border economic projects (BRI) or organizations (the SCO, APEC, ASEM). On the contrary, all of those structures, projects and organizations are seen as nodes and individual parts of the future single Eurasian economic mechanism. The objective of the Partnership is to assemble these parts and nodes together without detriment to those elements that have already demonstrated their efficiency.
Second, the Partnership is not a union of the Eurasian East against the European West. Ultimately, Europe is a large peninsula in the north-west of the Eurasian continent, and it should not be opposed to Eurasia – rather, it should become an integral part of it. Therefore, the Partnership remains open for the European Union, which could join the activities of the Partnership in the forms and to the extent that it deems appropriate.
Third, when building the Partnership, the parties need to proceed from the understanding that significant differences will remain in the models of their social, political and even economic development. Eurasia has socialist states and liberal democracies, market and planned economies. The Partnership does not set itself the task of eliminating political plurality and imposing some common denominator or a single set of values. The activities of the Partnership should be based on universally recognized norms of international law and offer the best level of comfort for all participants. Equally, the Partnership should not have leaders and outsiders, “pilots” and “wingmen,” a “central nucleus” and a “periphery,” as is the case with many integration projects.
Fourth, unlike the rigid integration structures like the European Union, the Partnership envisages highly flexible forms of involving individual states or their regional groups in its activities. As they are ready, these countries may join individual dimensions of the Partnership (trade, finance, infrastructure, visa, etc.) with due account of their current needs and capabilities.
Fifth, even though the Partnership is focused on the economic unification of the Eurasian continent, the expansion of economic interaction will inevitably influence other areas of cooperation, such as science and education, culture and humanitarian contacts. Eurasian integration will fail if it is reduced to increasing trade and investment. Social interaction between the peoples of Eurasia and the economic cooperation between Eurasian states should supplement and stimulate each other.
Sixth, it is impossible to develop economic integration projects in Eurasia without simultaneously creating a parallel process of bolstering continental security and resolving problems inherited from the 20th century and earlier. These problems include territorial disputes, separatism, the “divided peoples” phenomenon, the arms race, the danger of WMD proliferation, international terrorism and religious extremism. Consequently, the building of the Partnership should go hand in hand with developing mechanisms for military and political cooperation on the continent, such as the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA).
Seventh, implementing the Partnership project should never mean “Eurasian isolationism,” i.e. closing Eurasian states off from partners in other regions, be it Africa, or North or South America. On the contrary, migration within the Eurasian space should serve as a powerful incentive for further developing economic ties in the basins of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans, and for achieving progress in resolving such universal human problems as climate change, combating pandemics, ensuring food and energy security, and managing migration.
Eighth, the building of the “Greater Eurasian Partnership” should proceed from the ground up, and not top-down, that is, it should be based on specific, even if very modest agreements between regional integration unions and individual states. Concluding the work on connecting the EAEU and the BRI should be the crucial first stage in building the Partnership. Creating independent Eurasian payment systems and rating agencies, decreasing dependence on the U.S. Dollar, establishing a Eurasian economic information centre like the OECD, etc., are other promising areas of activity.
Even though the idea of the “Greater Eurasian Partnership” was first put forward about five years ago, we are still in the very beginning of a lengthy historical project. At the moment, we can only talk about some very preliminary pencil sketches of the very complex Eurasian structure of the future. These sketches contain more questions about the future of our continent than they do answers. This is why broad international expert interaction to work out individual elements of the future roadmap for this colossal continental project is particularly important today. Bilateral cooperation between Russian and Chinese experts in international relations, economics, sociology and security could play a very important role in this process.
From our partner RIAC
Development of human capital is the key goal of BRICS: The outcomes of BRICS Civil Forum 2020
On September 23-25, the international multimedia press center of Russia hosted an online conference in Moscow, focusing on the results of the BRICS Civil Forum 2020.
Speakers listed the cases and measures pertaining to their implementation as part of previous groups, and announced the topics of their upcoming meetings.
Victoria Panova, co-chair of the BRICS Civil Forum and Managing Director of the National Committee on BRICS Research, said that a total of eight working groups were present at the forum, including dedicated groups on ecology, digital economy, culture, science and education. Panova pointed to the development of human capital as the primary goal of the forum.
“We all remember how, during a meeting by world leaders in Brazil, Vladimir Putin laid out measures aimed at boosting the living standards and quality of life of the peoples of the five BRICS countries as the main goal of this organization,” she emphasized.
Each year, the BRICS organization is becoming more independent and cohesive across the board, including through the use of digital technologies.
Victoria Panova also enumerated the main recommendations and measures based on the results of the work done by some groups. For example, recommendations made by the Healthcare group in 2015 on measures to handle a global pandemic have been supplemented. As part of the Education and Science group, the BRICS Network University and the BRICS University League have been created and now start working together. The group on ecology, which faces a host of paramount and urgent tasks, deserved a special mention.
Oleg Zhiganov, co-chairman of the BRICS Civil Forum’s Information Strategies and Society working group, said that they would concentrate on the issue of post-truth in the modern-day media of the BRICS countries.
“During this event, we agreed with our colleagues that we will speak the truth and nothing but the truth,” Zhiganov said, having in mind critical approach and fact-checking in a rapidly developing information society.
“The main thing that we are going to discuss is providing support for educational projects in universities and schools in order to instill a sense of critical thinking in young people and the ability to assess the objectivity of certain facts,” Zhiganov noted.
Natalia Tsaizer, co-chair of the BRICS Civil Forum’s Women and Girls working group, shared the results of her group’s meetings, highlighting the current issue of gender equality in the BRICS countries. She noted that her working group is out to eliminate gender imbalance and equalize men and women when it comes to career growth and their role in decision-making structures, including in the military.
“There are a huge number of areas in the economy, politics, and the social sphere, where women are underestimated in terms of their involvement in the processes, not only as observers, performers and ‘beautifiers’ of the working process, but as actors ready to make decisions, set goals and implement them,” Tsaizer said.
The issue of gender equality is extremely relevant not only in the BRICS countries, but elsewhere in the world. However, while it is imperative to provide equal opportunities for men and women to be involved in various organizations, Natalia Tsaizer still warned against sliding into what she described as “militant feminism.” The participants in the working group’s meeting proposed involving women in the decision-making process in various areas, and setting up anti-crisis committees within BRICS where women would make up at least 50 percent of their membership.
“On the one hand, this is quotas, but on the other, this is something we just can’t do without because we need to regulate our presence that we could rely on,” Tsaizer argued. She also noted that right now the working group consists of women only, since men are not very actively involved in tackling such issues, even though achieving gender balance is high on the agenda of the Women and Girls group.
Stepan Kanakin, the coordinator of the BRICS Civil Forum, answered questions regarding the technical aspects of organizing the forum in conditions of a pandemic.
From our partner International Affairs
Did Russia-China Relations Successfully Pass the “COVID,” “Hong Kong,” “India” and “Belarus” Tests?
Russia-China relations have been steadily improving since at least 2013, when the leaders of both countries presented a joint statement calling for deepening bilateral relations of “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination.” This formula has been modified with an addition of the “new era,” signifying both countries recognising new global challenges and the changing geopolitical environment. COVID-19 has largely contributed to the intensification of certain trends, including antagonism with the U.S. and the pursuit of more robust bilateral ties.
If before both countries would challenge and combat U.S. hostility (economic sanctions, political pressure, adversary rhetoric, etc.) mainly on their own, they are now more inclined to align and coordinate actions to elaborate more coherent voices towards the West. In late July, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed that the U.S. could not drive a wedge between Russia and China by expecting Moscow to join its anti-China alliance. Rather, Russia views further improvement of relations with China as a major factor that will contribute to stability in global politics.
In May, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that, amid the virus outbreak, bilateral support between Russia and China became a safe fortress for “political viruses.” During a telephone conversation in July, Putin and Xi stressed that the agenda for the strategic partnership in Russia-China relations was materialised during the pandemic in the form of mutual help provided at a critical moment.
China and Russia have recently demonstrated the historical legacy of their close relations through the publication of a co-authored report by Russian and Chinese ambassadors to the U.S. The report unambiguously states that all countries must combine their efforts to tackle pressing issues such as climate change, terrorism, world pandemics, economic downturns, etc. These concerns are all focal points in which Russia and China have achieved mutual understanding.
Notably, even during the very vague political gridlock of the Belarusian leadership in the aftermath of the August presidential elections, China and Russia immediately demonstrated their support to the re-elected president Lukashenko. While President Putin congratulated the Belarusian president with a telegram, President Xi-Jinping opted for a personal phone call, during which he reassured Mr Lukashenko of China’s strong commitment to “push forward Chinese-Belarusian comprehensive strategic partnership.” Such profound political signals did not go unnoticed in Minsk, which has expressed gratitude to Russia and China for their support during these challenging times. China’s position on Belarus is important for Russia, as Moscow regards Belarus as its closest and most faithful ally. Belarus is now moving towards a higher level of political and economic integration with Russia, becoming a “Union State.”
As a signal of recognition and respect for Chinese core interests, Russia extended its support to China over Hong Kong, which came under the global spotlight following the introduction of the National Security Law in June. In a very crucial moment for China, when it received widespread criticism from all other major powers, Russia bluntly stressed that “the situation in Hong Kong as a purely internal matter of China,” thus fending off all speculation on the city’s juridical status.
China and Russia have recently vowed to strengthen their coordination on international platforms, which was seen in early July in the UN during their opposition to the extension of cross-border aid in Syria. The opposition to the U.S. initiative in June within the UN Security Council to reimpose an arms embargo on Iran following the break-up of the 2015 nuclear deal was another display of harmonised action. Multiple international issues were touched upon during the meeting between the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers on September 11. Both countries reaffirmed the “closeness of their views on effective solutions to them,” and stressed that “the destructive character of Washington’s actions undermines global strategic stability.” Overall, the meeting once again confirmed the shared views of Russia and China in both the multilateral and bilateral dimensions.
The Russia-India-China format has made significant progress after a period of relatively little activity. The latest gathering of the RIC group took place in June. At that time, Moscow highlighted that India-China border conflicts were to be solved based on bilateral agreements only. Recently, Moscow has initiated negotiations between the defence ministers of India and China in order to find conflict mitigation solutions. As a result, Chinese and Indian officials met for the first time since the border dispute in May.
By organising peace talks involving China and India, Russia is playing a critical role in regional affairs. The upcoming meeting of the respective ministers of foreign affairs reinforces this statement. Meanwhile, the U.S. has repeatedly pitched its own candidacy as an intermediary, with the most recent attempt in early September. Russian media positioned the Moscow-hosted China-India meeting on September 10 as a rare foreign policy success. During their “frank and constructive” discussion in Moscow, India and China reached an important agreement to deescalate border tensions which are not in “the interest of either side.”
Economically, Sino-Russian cooperation experienced a COVID-19 blow, with trade volume falling by 5,6 per cent in June, amounting to USD 50 billion. Although it may have a tangible impact on the annual statistics, moving the 2019-set milestone for 2024 away from the predicted USD 200 billion in trade follows the global trend of economic contraction, with consumer demand in free fall. For example, the overall volume of Chinese foreign trade from January to June dropped by 6,6 per cent. However, this trade contraction reflects more about global trade dynamics at the moment than changes in Russia-China relations.
As a recent sign of combined efforts to contain U.S. global ambitions, Russia and China were able to decrease U.S. dollar transaction for trade to its historical minimum – from 51 per cent in 2019 to 46 per cent in 2020. The same trend for intensified bilateral cooperation can also be seen in the energy sphere. Following the successful launch of “Power of Siberia” last December, the Russian state energy giant “Gazprom” is embracing a new audacious initiative, the “Power of Siberia-2” gas pipeline. The project will connect Russia, China and Mongolia. On behalf of the President of Russia, Gazprom started the design and survey work on the project in May.
Energy cooperation remains a crucial element of bilateral relations. Fresh statistics show that in July, Russia once again secured its position as the largest importer of oil to China, with a 30 per cent spike. This amounted to 7.38 million tons (compared to 2019). In April, Russia took over Saudi Arabia as the biggest crude oil supplier, delivering 7.2 million tons. This is 18 per cent more than in 2019.
Russia-China relations represent a “strategic partnership,” which means that the two countries view themselves as partners on strategic issues. Indeed, on a majority of topics, be it global governance, world economic structure, geopolitics or security, Russia and China are on the same page. Many of them are of strategic significance pertaining to both sides. Both countries enjoy fruitful cooperation on multilateral platforms such as BRICS, SCO and the UN.
Nevertheless, despite their flawless facade, Russia-China relations have a weak spot – their difference in strategic and national interests. This is normal for global powers. For example, Beijing can never compromise its core national interests such as the South China Sea (SCS), Xinjiang, Taiwan, and Tibet, even to please its tried and tested partner, Moscow. This explains why China has repeatedly pressured Vietnam to halt all oil extraction activities in the SCS over the last two years. This has resulted in Vietnam suspending business cooperation in the SCS with the Russian state oil giant, Rosneft. On the other hand, Russia will never put its core interests at risk (especially concerning territorial integrity), irrespective of Beijing’s rhetoric concerning Russian Far East territories.
As long as Russia and China base their partnership on coinciding strategic interests and avoid any ubiquitous and provocative moves – their relations are likely to remain in the current burgeoning state or under the best circumstances can even be elevated to a higher level. Overall, during the first half of the year, relations between China and Russia were challenged several times. Despite some small cracks, like decreasing trade and frictions regarding energy projects in the South China Sea, their flawless mutual propaganda remains untarnished. As long as they can maintain a close and mutually beneficial bilateral tie, they should be able to endure any future challenges with ease.
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