The Russian Federation has already won the war in Syria and is therefore the hegemonic power throughout the Middle East. Despite tensions at the beginning of the Syrian conflicts, Russia has maintained excellent relations with Turkey, the Second Armed Force of NATO and the strategic key to the link between the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
Last September Turkey agreed to buy the Russian S-400 missile systems, an important break in the Western military and technological monopoly. Russia has also created a climate of cooperation between Turkey and Iran, another geopolitical novelty which means only one thing: NATO has been fragmented and defused throughout the current Middle East.
It should also be recalled that Russia’s Rosatom, a State-owned nuclear infrastructure company, is starting to build a nuclear power plant at Akkuyu, Southern Turkey, for an estimated cost of 20 billion US dollars.
The nuclear power station should be operational by the end of 2023.
The geopolitical trade-off between Turkey and Russia is once again evident: Turkey uses its special relationship with Russia to put pressure on NATO, while Russia uses its relations to slowly take Turkey out of the Atlantic Alliance’ strategic context.
It is also clear that the central point of Turkey’s geoeconomy is the necessary diversification of energy sources.
In fact, Turkey supported the Blue Stream project – completed in 2003 – and later has also accepted the TurkStream project, which will be completed in 2020. Turkey, however, already buys over 50% of its oil and gas from Russia.
Russia’s excellent mechanism to put pressure on the second Armed Force of the Atlantic Alliance, which seems to have some strategy towards the Russian Federation, but no clear position for the system of the Greater Middle East, ruined by the unlucky “Arab Springs” or by the Muslim Brotherhood’s rebellions against “tyrants”, often supported by the United States.
Another factor of possible conflict between Russia and Turkey, which has not occurred yet, is the Kurdish issue. Russia has always had good relations with Kurds, while notoriously Turkey does not want them to have any political autonomy.
In the Syrian Constitution project currently being worked out in Astana’s meetings, Kurds will have a great deal of autonomy, which obviously also serves Russia’s interest: a future Kurdish buffer State controlling the link between Iraq, Syria and the Lebanon, namely the Shite axis which avoids Kurds spreading outside their current Syrian borders and ultimately avoids the establishment of a Saudi-hegemonizedSunni bloc in the Central-Southern region of current Syria.
In his visit to Moscow of October 5 last, shortly before leaving his throne to his son Mohammed, also King Salman asked Russia to formally “put an end to Iran’s interference” in Syria, the theatre of all Middle East power flows and balances. He also signed 15 Memorandums of Understanding for Saudi Arabia’s investment in Russia, especially in the space, oil and military sectors, as well as for ever closer cooperation between Russia and Saudi Arabia to stabilize the oil price.
A primary strategic goal, especially for Russia, who has always entertained the idea of becoming an OPEC member, especially in the early years of this century.
Saudi Arabia, the US traditional strategic pole in the Middle East, is currently diversifying its international economic and political relations after realizing that the United States does not intend to stabilize the Middle East, but rather plans to divide and fragment it between the “democratic” countries and the others, in a value-based and moralistic geopolitics that will certainly lead to other disastrous and unnecessary wars.
Russia will now be in a position to use its regional power to accept- obviously in a partial way – the Saudi demands for Iran – namely Iran’s withdrawal from Syria and the end of the Iranian support to the Houthis in Yemen – so as to later divert Saudi Arabia from the United States and its naive strategy against generic “terrorism”.
Russia essentially intervened in Syria for two sets of reasons: firstly, to reach a regional hegemony to force the United States and the EU to make concessions in more vital areas for Russia, such as Ukraine.
Secondly, to demonstrate that it is a top-level strategic and military power- hence capable of influencing the US and NATO movements in the Middle East and making them marginal.
Both goals have been reached.
Currently Saudi Arabia wants to work together with Russia in Syria, thus defusing its jihadist groups, particularly Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, that already works jointly with the Turkish forces, but with a very clear aim: Saudi Arabia will stop supporting the Sunni jihadists against Assad if it is allowed to acquire a big share of works and investment for Syrian reconstruction.
Hence a balance of power enabling Russia to tip the balance between Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, by possibly playing everyone against the others.
The problem lies in the fact that the Russian elite still reads Machiavelli’s works and follows his ideas, while the United States has currently developed an increasingly moralistic and value-based approach to foreign policy which, although not hypocritical, does not permit any realistic evaluation of the relations of power, which are what really matters in foreign policy.
Hence Russia’s bilateral relations with all the major Middle East players, so as to create a system in which Russia becomes an inevitable broker in both the national equilibria and the larger regional game.
The current crucial point for the various regional actors is basically the following: (a) cooperation for Syrian reconstruction, since no country can do so alone; (b) Turkey’s access to the Syrian border areas to wipe away the remaining jihadist groups that could infect Anatolia; c) to control, but not eliminate,the Iranian power in Syria by limiting and confining it to the South-Eastern region; d) to close the Kurdish area in the North, which is in nobody’s interest to strengthen.
Hence Russia interprets its Middle East strategy as autonomous from the Sunni-Shite clash and absolutely non-ideological – and this is exactly the Westerners’ mistake – while the Middle East is obviously central to Russian security, but equally irrelevant to the security of NATO which, however, has de factolost Turkey.
The crazy idea of repeating the Cold War with new NATO pressure on the Russian Western border enables the Russian Federation to operate smoothly – and almost without contrasts – in other regions.
Russia has always considered the US operation called “Arab Springs” not as a holistic project to bring unlikely “democracy” to the Arab-Islamic world, but as a differentiated phenomenon, to be assessed on a case-by-case basis depending on the country where the “Spring” took place.
The issue of the strategic link between Russia and Israel is even more complex.
Israel has always informed the Russian Federation of the fact that the Iranian presence in Syria is considered to be an existential threat to the Jewish State.
Furthermore, Israel has always tried to stop the US withdrawal from the Middle East, although leaving Russia free to play its game and then cry over the death of the US foreign policy in the oil system.
Doesthe United States believe that petrodollars are enough? Does the United States think that the next US oil autonomy will free it from Middle East commitments?
In any case, these are two fully unlikely hypotheses.
In fact, the military power reached by Russia with the Syrian operations has been largely built at the United States’ expense.
Israel was not satisfied with Russia’s acceptance of the 30-kilometer limit from the Golan border within which the Iranian forces and the Hezbollah have to stay, while Jordan welcomed the “de-escalation zone” in Southern Syria to allow the refugees’ return, but Israel is currently pressing both Russia and the United States.
Israel is pressing Russia to keep on controlling Iran within Syria. It is also pressing the United States to urge it to ensure a military presence in the Middle East, which it hasnow left completely to Russia.
Hence, from now on, no Middle East country will take the US commitments seriously.
All Middle East countries will always prefer to find an agreement with Russia.
Russia wants to use both Turkey and Iran as guarantors- on an equal footing – of the future Syrian stabilization.
Nevertheless Israel is a regional power in which the Russian Federation is very interested. The latter does not want to neglect Israel’s interestboth in its security northwards, against the Lebanon and the Golan Heights, and in the economic and military agreements with Russia, which are often already operational.
Russia takes Israel very seriously and probably wants to use it in the future Middle East theatre, when the power crystallization in Syria will lead Iran and Russia to a very likely clash.
Currently, in a Syrianot yet pacified, no one really wants a war with the Jewish State, not even Iran- and this implies that the Israeli military threats will always be taken very seriously.
The Russian Federation has an excellent exchange of intelligence with Jordan and the Jordanian operations in Syria suggest that also the Hashemite Kingdom is recalibrating its traditional relations with the United States and Great Britain, which no longer want entanglements in the oil area, so as to rethink – from Jordan – to closer relations with Russia.
Certainly King Abdallah participated in the establishment of the Islamic Military Alliance in Riyadh.
In fact, the basis for Jordanian security is the stability of its border with Iraq and Syria, which also influences its internal political stability to a large extent.
Hence Jordan’s cooperation with Russia or the United States concerns only its national interest in the containment of its borders.
In fact, since 1999 – the year of his crowning – King Abdallah has paid 16 visits to Russia.
Jordan has already bought the “Kornet” anti-tank systems and the portable “Igla” ground-air defensesystem from Russia, while the latter is already planning to manufacture the Russian RPGs in Jordan.
Probably Russia regards Jordan as an ideal broker with the entire Sunni world and – exactly upon Russia’s order -Jordan has sat at the Astana negotiating table.
Moreover Jordan is communicating its ideas on the Middle East also to the United States, by even mediating between the two global players.
Hence the more time goes by, the more Jordan will be essential to Russia, while the Syrian political and military situation is crystallizing.
As far as the Lebanon is concerned, Saad Hariri met with Putin on September 12-13, with a very clear agenda in mind: a) Russian weapons to support the Lebanese Armed Forces; b) investment for the expansion of the port of Tripoli; (c) the creation of a free economic zone in the North of Lebanon; (d) Russia’s involvement in the future exploitation of gas deposits off the Lebanese coast.
The Lebanon – inter alia – is also worried about the increasingly significant US military presence in Israel.
The American radar near Beersheba, which has been in operation since 2008, and the US presence which is increasing also in Jordan.
These are two factors causing anxiety to the Lebanon and its fragile equilibrium with the Hezbollah in the South.
Hence the Lebanon views and seeks – in Russia – a powerful ally against Israeli and US pressure from the South.
Certainly Russia still has to fully relinquish the typical logic of the Westerners, who have made their own mistakes by believing in a sort of “political engineering” in the various countries and in the always excessive relevance given to religious differences.
In the future, the Russian Federation in the Middle East will reason along these lines: 1) stabilization of all current borders; 2) slow replacement of its support with the old US support; 3) strategic continuity between the Greater Middle East and the Georgian and Ukrainian region; 4) Turkey’s gradual integration; 5) future negotiations with the United States when they cannot be marginal.
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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