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How Russia Must Reinvent Itself to Defeat the West’s ‘Hybrid War’

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The stand-off between Russia and the Western nations, which has been developing since 2014, escalated into an active confrontation with the start of the Russian military operation in Ukraine, back in late February. In other words, the Great Game has ceased to be a game. It has become total war, though a hybrid one so far, since the armed conflict in Ukraine is not of a full-scale nature at present.

However, the danger of it intensifying towards a direct collision not only exists, but is increasing.

The challenge Russia is facing has no equivalents in our history. It’s not just that we have neither allies nor even potential partners left in the West. Frequent comparisons with the Cold War of the mid and late 20th century are inaccurate and rather disorienting. In terms of globalization and new technology, the modern form of confrontation is not only of a larger scale than the previous one, it is also much more intense. Ultimately, the main field of the ongoing battle is located inside the country.

The asymmetry between the opponents is huge, particularly the imbalance between the forces and capabilities available to them. Based on this, the US and its allies have set much more radical goals than the relatively conservative containment and deterrence strategies used toward the Soviet Union. They are in fact striving to exclude Russia from world politics as an independent factor, and to completely destroy the Russian economy.

The success of this strategy would allow the US-led West to finally resolve the «Russia question» and create favorable prospects for victory in the confrontation with China.

Such an attitude on the part of the adversary does not imply room for any serious dialogue, since there is practically no prospect of a compromise, primarily between the United States and Russia, based on a balance of interests. The new dynamic of Russian-Western relations involves a dramatic severance of all ties, and increased Western pressure on Russia (the state, society, economy, science and technology, culture, and so on) on all fronts. This is no longer a source of discord between the opponents of the Cold War period, who then became (unequal) partners. It looks more like the drawing of a clearer piding line between them, with the West refusing to accept even the perfunctory neutrality of inpidual countries.

Moreover, the shared anti-Russian agenda has already become an important structural element of unity within the European Union, while strengthening American leadership in the Western world.

In these circumstances, it’s an illusory hope that that Russia’s opponents will listen to reason or be represented by more moderate political figures as a result of internal upheavals in their countries. There has been a fundamental shift towards disengagement and confrontation even in the political classes of countries where the attitude towards Moscow had until now been determined primarily by important economic interests (Germany, Italy, France, Austria, Finland). Thus, the systemic confrontation between the West and Russia is likely to be protracted.

This circumstance almost completely nullifies Russia’s previous foreign policy strategy towards the US and EU, which was aimed at the West recognizing Russian security interests, ensuring cooperation on issues of global strategic stability and European security, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, and building mutually beneficial economic and other ties with Washington and Brussels. However, recognizing that the previous agenda is now irrelevant does not mean we should abandon active politics and completely submit to the circumstances.

It is Russia itself that should be at the center of Moscow’s foreign policy strategy during this period of confrontation with the West and rapprochement with non-Western states. The country will have to be increasingly on its own. The outcome of the confrontation is not predetermined though. Circumstances affect Russia, but Russian politics can also change the world around it. The main thing to keep in mind is that no strategy can be developed without a clear set of goals.

We need to start with ourselves, with an awareness of who we are, where we come from and what we strive for, based on our values and interests.

Foreign policy has always been closely linked with domestic policy, in the loose meaning of the word, including economics, social relations, science, technology, culture, etc. Facing a new type of warfare which Russia is forced to wage, the line is erased between what was called the “front line” and the “rear” in previous eras. In such a fight, it’s not just impossible to win, it is impossible to survive, if the elites remain fixated on further personal enrichment and society is left in a depressed and overly relaxed state.

«Re-establishing» the Russian Federation on a politically more sustainable, economically efficient, socially just and morally sound basis becomes urgently necessary. We have to understand that the strategic defeat that the West, led by the United States, is preparing for Russia will not bring peace and a subsequent restoration of relations. It is highly probable that the theatre of the «hybrid war» will simply move from Ukraine further to the east, into the borders of Russia, and its existence in its current form will be contested.

This enemy’s strategy should be actively countered.

In the field of foreign policy, the most pressing objective is clearly to strengthen the independence of Russia as a civilization, as a major independent global player, to provide an acceptable level of security and to create favorable conditions for all-round development. In order to achieve this objective in the current conditions – which are more complex and difficult than even recently – there is a need for an effective integrated strategy – general political, military, economic, technological, informational and so on.

The immediate and most important task of this strategy is to achieve strategic success in Ukraine within the parameters that have been set and explained to the public. It is necessary to clarify the stated objectives of the operation and use all opportunities to achieve them. The continuation of what many now call a «phoney war» leads to a prolongation of military activities, increased losses and a decrease in the global stature of Russia. The solution to most of the country’s other strategic objectives now depends directly on whether and when it succeeds in achieving strategic success in Ukraine.

The most important of these broader foreign policy tasks is not the overthrow of the US-centric world order by any means and at any price (its erosion is due to independent factors, but a Russian success in Ukraine would be a painful blow to US global hegemony) and of course, not a return to the fold of this set-up on more favorable terms, but the consistent building of a new system of international relations together with non-Western countries, and the formation, in cooperation with them, of a new world order and its consequent promotion. We need to work on this task now, but it will only be possible to act fully after a strategic success in Ukraine.

The framing of new geopolitical, geo-economic and military-strategic realities in the western part of the former Soviet Union, in the Donbass and Novorossiya, becomes extremely important and relevant in this context. A long-term priority here is the further development of allied relations and integration ties with Belarus. This category also includes strengthening Russia’s security in Central Asia and the South Caucasus.

In the context of rebuilding foreign economic relations and creating a new model of the global order, the most important directions are cooperation with world powers – China and India as well as Brazil – and with leading regional players – Turkey, ASEAN countries, the Gulf states, Iran, Egypt, Algeria, Israel, South Africa, Pakistan, Argentina, Mexico and others.

It is in these areas, rather than in traditional Euro-Atlantic arenas, that the main resources of diplomacy, foreign economic relations, and the information and cultural spheres should be deployed. Whereas in the military sphere the main focus for Russia now is the West, in other areas it is the rest of the world – the larger and more dynamic part.

Alongside the development of bilateral relations, a new priority should be given to the multilateral interaction between states in the non-Western part of the world. There should be a greater focus on building international institutions. The Eurasian Economic Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Russia-India-China grouping, BRICS, and the mechanisms for dialogue and partnership between the Russian Federation and ASEAN, Africa and Latin America need a boost for further development. Russia is capable of playing a leading role in developing a framework ideology for these organizations, harmonizing the interests of partner countries and coordinating on common agendas.

In relations with the West, the strategy of Russia will continue to address the containment of the nuclear, conventional and cyber abilities of the US, and deterring it from exerting military pressure on Russia and its allies, or even attacking them. Never since the end of the Soviet-American confrontation has the prevention of nuclear war been more relevant than now. The new challenge after achieving strategic success in Ukraine will be to force NATO countries to actually recognize Russian interests and to secure the new borders of Russia.

Moscow needs to assess carefully the reasonableness, possibilities and limits of situational cooperation with various political and social groups in the West, as well as with other temporary potential allies outside the bloc whose interests coincide in some respects with those of Russia. The task is not to inflict damage on the enemy anywhere, but to use various irritants to pert the opponent’s attention and resources from the Russian focus, as well as to influence the domestic political situation in the US and EU in a direction favorable to Moscow.

The most important objective in this regard is developing a strategy for an emerging confrontation between the United States and China. The partnership nature of Russian-Chinese relations is the main thing that positively distinguishes the current “hybrid war” against the West from the previous cold one. Although Beijing is not a formal military ally of Moscow, the strategic partnership between the two countries has been officially characterized as more than a formal alliance. Russia’s largest economic partner has not joined the anti-Russian sanctions, but Chinese companies and banks are deeply integrated into the global economy and are wary of US and EU sanctions, thus limiting the possibility of interaction. There is mutual understanding between the leaders of Russia and China, and the people of the two countries are friendly towards each other. Finally, the United States views both countries as its adversaries — China as its main competitor and Russia as the main current threat.

US policy brings Russia and China even closer. Under a “hybrid war,” political and diplomatic support from China, and even limited economic and technological cooperation with it, are very important for Russia. Moscow does not currently have the opportunity to force even closer rapprochement with Beijing, but there is no necessity in too close an alliance.

If US-Chinese contradictions aggravate, Russia should be ready to support Beijing politically, as well as provide on a limited scale and under certain conditions, military-technical assistance to it, while avoiding direct participation in the conflict with Washington. Opening a “second front” in Asia is unlikely to significantly ease the pressure of the West on Russia, but it will dramatically increase tension in relations between Russia and India.

The transition from a confrontational, but still conditionally peaceful, state of economic relations between Russia and the West to a situation of economic war requires Russia’s deep revision of its foreign economic policy. This policy can no longer be implemented primarily on the basis of economic or technological expediency.

Measures aimed at de-dollarizing and repatriating offshore finances are under implementation. Business elites (often incorrectly described as «oligarchs») who previously took profits outside the country are forcibly «nationalized». Import substitution is underway. The Russian economy is shifting focus from the policy of raw materials export to the development of closed-cycle production processes. So far, however, the country has mostly been defensive and reactive.

Now it is necessary to move from retaliatory steps to initiatives that will strengthen Russia’s position in the total economic war declared by the West, allowing it inflict significant damage on the enemy. In this regard, a closer alignment of efforts of the state and the business community’s activities is required, as well as implementation of a coordinated policy in such sectors as finance, energy, metallurgy, agriculture, modern technology (especially related to information and communications), transport, logistics, military exports and economic integration — both within the framework of the Eurasion Economic Union and the Union State of Russia and Belarus and taking into account the new realities in the Donbass and the northern Black Sea region.

A separate task is to revise the Russian approach and policy position on climate change issues under the changed conditions. It is also important to determine the permissible limits of Russia’s financial, economic and technological dependence on neutral countries (primarily China), and launch a technological partnership with India.

War is always the most severe and cruel test of durability, endurance and inner strength. Today, and for the foreseeable future, Russia is a country at war. It will be able to continue its trajectory only if the authorities and society unite on the basis of solidarity and mutual obligations, mobilize all available resources and at the same time expand opportunities for enterprising citizens, remove obvious obstacles that weaken the country from within, and develop a realistic strategy to deal with external adversaries.

Up to now, we have merely celebrated the Victory won by previous generations in 1945. The current challenge is whether we are able to save and develop the country. To do this, Russia’s strategy must overcome the circumstances surrounding and constraining it.

From our partner RIAC

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Astana Trilateral Summit 2022: What did Russian President Achieve?

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Image source: kremlin.ru

Since he launched the fateful invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Russian President had not traveled outside the former Soviet territories. His only visit outside Russia was to “friendly” Central Asian States in June, where he predictably received a warm reception. The first trip by Putin outside former Soviet territories proved to be to the Iranian capital Tehran for the Astana Trilateral Summit — a forum established for the settlement of the Syrian conflict and features key players in the Syrian conflict: Russia, Iran, and Turkey. Unsurprisingly, the Syrian conflict took a back seat and the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine dominated the discussions at the trilateral summit.

After the boycott of Putin by the Western world, the Russian leader has been attempting strategic and economic reorientation toward Asia and has achieved considerable success in making up for the losses in revenues incurred owing to the Western economic sanctions by selling oil at heavily discounted prices to countries like China and India. The trip to Iran provided the beleaguered Russian leader an opportunity to dissipate the impression of Russian isolation — no matter if the support extended is from a state under the severest of Western sanctions – Iran. The outright endorsement of his Ukraine invasion and scathing condemnation of the Western world was precisely the music Putin wanted to hearken and the Iranian Supreme Leader had plenty to offer.

Nonetheless, being under Western sanctions has positioned both the countries abreast and Russia, by offering even cheaper energy rates, has captured the energy and steel markets previously held by under-sanctions Iran. The shift did cause some resentment in Iran and Putin sought to assuage the Iranian grievances by signing the $40 billion deal between the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and Gazprom for the development of oil and gas fields in Iran. Nonetheless, the suspicions do persist as the Iranian Supreme Leader pushed Russians to follow up and fulfill the agreements signed between the two countries in the oil and gas sectors.

Putin’s Tehran visit has cemented Russia’s position as an important power broker in the Middle East having friendly relations with countries on both sides of the regional Middle Eastern divide. Besides its longstanding relationship with Iran, Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war forestalled the almost certain downfall of Bashar’s regime and the country is also a party in the Libyan civil war, wherein it patronizes the warlord Khalifa Haftar.  Moreover, Russia now has a multifaceted relationship with the USA’s Arab allies — particularly Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar — primarily owing to the convergence of their energy interests in OPEC Plus. The Arab countries also avoided harshly denouncing the Russian invasion of Ukraine — as the West would have anticipated — so as to avoid antagonizing Moscow, and top Saudi and Emirati royals reportedly declined calls from President Biden during the initial days of the invasion.

Days before Putin visited Tehran, President Biden took a trip to the Middle East and in his address to a gathering of Arab leaders, tried to reassure Washington’s Arab allies that the superpower remains committed to the region and urged oil-rich Arab nations to increase their oil production to mitigate global oil price shock caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Following Biden’s visit, the de facto Saudi ruler Muhammad Bin Salman and President Putin during a phone call agreed to keep coordinating within the framework of OPEC Plus. Accordingly, during the cartel’s meeting held on August 3rd the OPEC Plus members agreed to make a small increase in the oil production, which is unlikely to drastically impact the energy prices as President Biden counted upon.

Even more remarkably, in utter defiance of the US sanctions, Saudi Arabia is importing Russian oil at discounted price for domestic use while selling its oil at higher prices in the international market. In effect, in a major geopolitical turnaround for Moscow in the Middle East, Putin has been able to reaffirm its partnerships, and the days of Arab capitals uncritically following Washington’s lead are all but over.

Putin’s meeting with Turkish President Erdogan during Astana Summit also captured headlines — initially after the Russian President was left awkwardly standing for around 50 seconds waiting for his Turkish counterpart before their meeting and successively for the discussions between the two strongmen to strike a deal to freight the Ukrainian grain from its three Black Sea ports (the deal has now been reached). During the discussions on Syria, Erdogan reportedly talked about the Russian President as “My dear friend Putin” in an exhibition of the close relationship between the two strongmen. Though Turkey and Russia feature on the opposite sides of equations in the Syria, Libya, Azerbaijan-Armenia, and Ukraine conflicts, they have long-lasting trade and energy ties. Turkey, despite being a member of NATO, did not join the Western sanctions against Russia and is now buying more oil from Moscow. Correspondingly, Moscow looks to Turkey as a partner — nonetheless a difficult one — among a host of antagonists and as a crucial market for its energy products and wheat. Yet another meeting between the two leaders in the Russian city of Sochi further hollows Western gambits to isolate Russia for its invasion of Ukraine; meanwhile, Putin continues to assemble allies.

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Russia (Re)Schedules African Leaders Summit for 2023 in St. Petersburg

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With perspectives on making a well-designed substantive agenda, African leaders will be getting ready for the next grand photo opps, witness the delivery of those sparkling high-powerful speeches and finally sign series of new bilateral agreements during the upcoming second Russia-Africa summit scheduled for mid-June 2023 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Despite the unprecedented sanctions and information warfare launched by the United States and its satellites, Africa has become a priority of Russia’s foreign policy, according to Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, noting further that “Russia highly appreciates the readiness of Africans to further step up economic cooperation, and the signed agreements and the results will be consolidated at the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit.”

During his late July visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Lavrov informed in one of his speeches about broadening African issues in the “new version of Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept against the background of the waning of the Western direction” and this will objectively increase the share of the African direction in the work of the Foreign Ministry. Relating to the next summit mid-June in 2023, “a serious package of documents that will contain almost all significant agreements” is being prepared, he emphasized illustrating his passion for signing agreements.

Arguably the number of agreements signed is not the criteria for measuring success of influence in Africa. Nevertheless, Lavrov said that the two most important goals of the summit will be to sign off on “a memorandum of understanding between the government of the Russian Federation and the African Union on basic principles of relations and co-operation” and “a memorandum of understanding between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the African Union on economic co-operation.”

Russia already has thousands of decade-old undelivered pledges and several bilateral agreements signed with individual countries, yet to be implemented, in the continent. In addition, during the previous years, there has been an unprecedented huge number of working visits by state officials both ways, to Africa and to the Russian Federation.

After the first summit, Russia–Africa discussions become a permanent fixture at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, while Roscongress continues working on the African track until the next Forum. That Sochi summit brought together 54 African states, 45 of which were represented by their heads of state, and also attended by the heads of executive bodies of eight African regional organizations.

President Vladimir Putin and Egypt’s Abdelfattah El-Sisi underlined the importance of opportunities to develop investment and trade between which would help to strengthen relations in line with the 2063 concept [agenda] developed by the African Union. And that Russia has, with a vast array of competencies in previous years, is ready to implement joint projects aimed at improving people’s quality of life in Africa.

In total, there were 268 speakers participated in various discussions of topical issues. Resultantly, 92 agreements and contracts were signed at the summit. There were two key agreements that include: (i) Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Russian Federation and the African Union on basic principles of relations and cooperation was adopted at the Summit in the presence of Vladimir Putin and Abdelfattah El-Sisi.

(ii) a Memorandum of Understanding between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the African Union on economic cooperation was signed by Tigran Sargsyan, the Chairman of the EEC Board, and Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission. 

Then, at the initiative of African participants, a new dialogue mechanism – the Russia-Africa partnership forum – has been created. It was agreed that top-level Russia-Africa meeting will take place within its framework once every three years, alternately in Russia and in an African state. Both Russia and Africa could not agree on the summit in 2022, and in an African country.

The Heads of State and Government from Africa and Russia adopted a final declaration that reflects the principles coordinated by the two sides, the most important of which, according to El-Sissi, are:

–. respect for international law and the UN Charter,

–. the movement towards peace and security through the creation of more equal and fair international relations

–. and a world order based on the principles of multilateralism, respect for national sovereignty, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries

–. and the peaceful settlement of crises, as well as the protection of national identity and civilisational and cultural pluralism.

“Our declaration has reaffirmed the goals of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We have approved a ministerial mechanism for promoting dialogue and partnership. We appreciate all these moves and believe that they have created a solid foundation for the further development of Russian-African relations,” said El-Sissi.

In an authoritative policy report presented last November titled – Situation Analytical Report – and prepared by 25 Russian policy experts, it was noted that “the intensification of political contacts is only with a focus on making them demonstrative.” The number of high-level meetings has increased during the previous years but the share of substantive issues on the agenda remains small. There are few definitive results from such meetings. Next, there has been a lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa.

Late July 2022, TASS news agency reported that Russia has always offered African countries mutually partnership based on mutual interests, unlike some other partners. “We always offer equal cooperation. We offer projects that would be of interest to this or that side. It is never a one-way street other partners often offer to Africans, sometimes implicitly, sometimes openly,” Deputy Speaker of Russia’s Federation Council (Upper Parliament House), Konstantin Kosachev, said in an interview with Russia’s TV Channel One.

He noted that Russia and Africa have many spheres for cooperation. “They include high technologies, the nuclear industry, machine-building, medicine, pharmaceuticals, the development of transport infrastructure, and, naturally, the energy sector. Each of these topics are important for African countries,” he added.

That said, preparations for the next Russia-Africa summit mid-2023 are currently underway. “The Russian side aims to continue preparing the second and aims at making it as efficient as possible. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other ministries are taking steps to build a full and mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and the African countries, including the formation of a reliable social and economic infrastructure, food and energy security on the continent,” according to Oleg Ozerov, Ambassador-at-Large and Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum.

With its impressive relations, Russia has not pledged concrete funds toward implementing its policy objectives and tasks in Africa. Moreover, Russian officials have ignored the fact that Russia’s overall economic engagement is largely staggering and various business agreements signed are still not fulfilled with many African countries. There is a distinctive divide between what has been pledged and promised at high-level meetings and summits, compared to what has actually materialized on the ground. For now there is very little to celebrate, except for speeches, photo-opps and sign a new communique (joint declaration), at the next African leaders summit in St. Petersburg in 2023.

Worth saying here that African leaders are waiting to cut white ribbons marking the successful completion of Russian-managed something. Really it is time to swift from regular rhetoric and move on towards implementing the package of bilateral agreements especially those involving infrastructure investments, and further determine financing sources for concrete projects and deliver on decade-old pledges and promises made to the people of Africa.

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A Friendship Higher Than Alliance

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Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, image by the Presidential Press and Information Office, the Kremlin

The day of July 16 marks the 21st anniversary of the Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China. Within the contemporary framework of the Russia–China partnership, the treaty has been dubbed the “document of the century” and, judging by the dynamics of the inter-state relations, it stands all chances to become one of the most solid international bilateral treaties of our age, which is particularly valuable at a time when the entire architecture of international relations appears to be close to collapse.

Yet, we should not forget that Russia and China have arrived at the current level of strategic partnership following a centuries-long path full of many trials and regrettable errors. Nor should we forget that the two largest states of Eurasia initially went through a difficult period in the 17th century, when it came to establishing first political and economic relations, a process that culminated in the 1689 Treaty of Nerchinsk. We should also keep in mind that China, like today, supported the “new Russia” in the early 18th century, when the confrontation between Russia and Europe heated up and the Great Northern War (1700–1721) broke out. For instance, imports of Chinese goods (primarily, fabrics) played an important role in the formation of the Russian army, which emerged victorious under the leadership of Peter the Great[1]. Since then, the relations between the two states have not suffered protracted interruptions, remaining generally positive for two centuries. In mid-19th century, treaties establishing Russian and Chinese borders were signed, and the border issue was finally settled after the demarcation of 2004–2008.

The turbulent 20 th century had varying consequences for the relations between Russia and China. Times of strong friendship were interrupted by acute but short conflicts, typically rooted in ideology[2]. The partnership between the Soviet Union and the Kuomintang under Sun Yat-sen was cut short in 1927 by a sudden attack on Chinese communists organized by his successor Chiang Kai-shek. A new thaw that marked the relations during the Second World War, when the Soviet Union and the Kuomintang established allied relations, which was ultimately enshrined in the 1945 Treaty, smoothly evolved into a closer friendship and alliance when the People’s Republic of China was established, with the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance signed in 1950.

However, the honeymoon decade of the 1950s was followed by an era of ideological confrontation that eclipsed the 1960s and 1970s. This period of a sudden cold spell, at times turning into animosity between the neighbours, resulted in the tragic events at Damansky Island in 1969, an incident that showed how ideological differences can destroy constructive interactions between friendly neighbouring states in virtually every area, from geopolitics to cultural ties, all in a matter of a few short years.

Since the early 1980s, this negative experience helped both parties come to the firm conviction that there is no alternative to good-neighbourly relations between the two peoples and countries. General consulates of both states were reopened in 1986. The historic visit of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to Beijing in 1989 marked a rapid and unfaltering development of friendly relations between Russia and China[3]. In 1992, the two states officially proclaimed their friendly relations; and they announced a constructive partnership in 1994. Two years later, in 1996, Moscow and Beijing signed a Declaration proclaiming their determination to foster an equal and trust-based partnership with a view to strategic interactions in the 21 st century. This declaration paved the way for the Treaty of 2001.

It is highly symbolic that the treaty was signed in the first year of a new millennium, with President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of China Jiang Zemin putting pen to paper in Moscow on July 16, 2001. The document epitomized the many centuries of bilateral relations. Not only does it reflect four centuries of good neighbourliness and friendship between the peoples of the two countries but it also proclaims a new model of relations—one that aligns with the fundamental national interests of the two states and the hopes of their peoples. The model also plays an important role in maintaining a stable multipolar world order, ensuring security and stability. Bilateral relations were proclaimed to be free from ideological biases and prejudices. The Treaty envisaged mutual respect for the historical paths and political systems. Cooperation between the two sides was to be reinvigorated by mutual political and economic interests. Russia–China relations were now based on equality, consideration for each other’s interests, and freedom from current political and ideological circumstances.

The Treaty legally enshrined the description of mutual relations as “the strategic cooperative partnership of equality and trust” proclaimed in 1996. It also formalized mutual support in protecting national unity and territorial integrity, confirming bilateral commitment to refrain from first use of nuclear weapons against each other or targeting each other with strategic nuclear missiles. It also formulated the principle of respect for choosing one’s own path of political, economic, social, and cultural development, and envisaged immediate contacts in case of threat of an aggression against one of the parties.

Besides, the Treaty contains an important legal formula, stating intent “to develop the friendship between the people of the two countries from generation to generation” (a statement that has never been used in any other international instrument). The treaty calls upon the parties to always remain friends, good neighbours, and dependable partners, and to never be enemies. This legal wording was not present even in allied treaties between the USSR and China, and it makes it possible to say that the China–Russia friendship enjoys a status higher than that of an alliance.

June 5, 2019—the year of the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China and of the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and the People’s Republic of China—saw the adoption of a Joint Statement on Developing a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Entering a New Era. Russia said it highly valued the fact that relations between the two states had reached an unprecedentedly high level.

Personal relations between the leaders of the two states play a very important role in shaping and bolstering such a close partnership. As of the time of writing, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have met 38 times while holding frequent telephone conversations. This creates a personal touch, ensures dynamically developing relations and allows any topical issues to be dealt with at the highest level. The vertical of power in Russia, and particularly that in China, ensure top-level decisions are effectively enforced. Consequently, Russia and China enhance their political dialogue year in year out. Strategic relations of trust between heads of state constitute a political advantage for the entire system of Russia–China relations.

Over the past year, the relations between China and Russia have faced unprecedented geopolitical and economic challenges. In 2021, Russia’s relations with the West deteriorated sharply over the situation in Ukraine. Even with the heightened international tensions, China has demonstrated its readiness to lend diplomatic support to Russia once again. On June 28, 2021, Russia and China adopted a Joint Statement marking the 20th anniversary of the Sino-Russian Treaty and announced its prolongation for five years.

Finally, a Joint Russia–China statement on International Relations Entering a New Era and Global Sustainable Development was signed on February 4, 2022, following talks between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in Beijing.

Back in August 1997, Russia and China signed a Joint Declaration on a Multipolar World and the Establishment of a New International Order, advocating multilateralism ever since. In their Joint Statement of February 4, 2022, the parties announced that “no State can or should ensure its own security separately from the security of the rest of the world and at the expense of the security of other States.” The parties called for a new kind of relations between world powers—operating on the basis of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation.

The Statement also emphasized that the inter-state relations are superior to political and military alliances of the Cold War era, that friendship between the two states knows no limits, that there are no “forbidden” areas of cooperation, that enhancing strategic bilateral cooperation is neither aimed against third countries nor affected by the evolving international environment and circumstantial changes in third countries. Vladimir Putin said that these relations have become “a paragon of efficiency, responsibility, and aspiration for the future.” Such words have established unprecedentedly close political relations between Russia and China, and the subsequent events of February 2022 showed that it was these relations that took the world into a new era.

From the first days of the conflict, China’s response to the events in Ukraine has been quite positive for Russia. China is consistent in its stance that the conflict was provoked by NATO’s expansion, while the sanctions that the West has imposed on Russia are at odds with international law and they are provoking a global economic crisis. Besides, Chinese diplomats stress that the conflict has to be resolved through speedy talks and that historical roots of the conflict also need to be taken into account. These statements are quite in alignment with Russia’s stance.

In a telephone conversation on June 15, 2022, the Russian and Chinese leaders reaffirmed the successful development of Russia–China relations, notwithstanding a broad range of global changes. At the same time, the Chinese President reaffirmed Beijing’s independent stance on the Ukrainian issue with account for historical facts and realities.

The telephone conversation that took place on Xi Jinping’s birthday also happened to be on the eve of the key Russia–China session at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 16. Over 40 Chinese companies (ten of them with annual revenues of over RUB 20 bn.) participated in the Russia–China business dialogue moderated by the heads of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies (now the Institute of Chinese and Contemporary Asian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences) and the Union of Chinese Entrepreneurs in Russia. The delegates from China made no secret of the fact that they had come to Russia with the explicit goal of filling the niches that the West had vacated in the Russian economy. Their business areas were selected to fit with Russia’s current needs: engineering, industrial equipment, automobile spare parts, petrochemical equipment, agricultural products, etc.

In his Address at the Forum’s Plenary Session on June 17, the Russian President emphasized that Russia finds it “interesting and important to cooperate with China, but it does not mean that Beijing should support Moscow in everything: China has its interests, and we need to respect them.” In turn, the Chinese leader, addressing the Forum’s attendees via video link, confirmed that “today, China–Russia cooperation in every area is on the rise […] it evidences high stress resilience and internal potential of China–Russia cooperation.”

Announcements made at the “Russia–China Business Dialogue” session included the establishment of a Coordination Council for China involving Russia’s leading academic centres and supported by the Presidential Executive Office, the Government, and the Security Council of the Russian Federation. Those in attendance were also informed that the Institute of Oriental Studies had been renamed the Institute for Chinese and Contemporary Asian Studies under the auspices of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which certainly evidences Russia’s great attention to Russia–China relations.

Therefore, the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum once again demonstrated the stability of and mutual interest in a steady development of practical cooperation between Russia and China. Today, political arrangements and joint statements are successfully transformed into economic outcomes. China has become the largest consumer of Russian energy resources, and the two governments are involved in intensive talks on establishing new routes for transporting Russia’s oil and gas into China, and these talks could produce agreements as early as this year. The reverse flow of commodities is perking up as well: in particular, an announcement on the resumption of deliveries of spare parts for civilian aircraft from China was made immediately after the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Cooperation in the automobile industry is also fostered. Sales of Chinese smartphones on the Russian market have surpassed those of the traditional leaders, American and South Korean brands, for the first time this year. All these developments mean that, despite sanctions pressure, Chinese companies will continue to increase two-way trade with Russia as part of the cooperation between the two states.

Bilateral military and political cooperation is on the rise. The sharply expanded geography of joint military exercises and drills is, alongside with military-technical cooperation, proof enough of this: this year, such exercises have been held in the Arabian Sea (January), the Sea of Japan, and the South China Sea (May). In July, reports surfaced that Russia, China and Iran were preparing for large-scale joint exercises in Latin America at the invitation of Venezuela.

Global cooperation between Russia and China is also reflected in their common stances in international platforms. In particular, interest in further enhancing Russia–China relations, including taking a common or similar position on issues in international politics, was demonstrated at the 14th BRICS Summit in Beijing on June 22–24, 2022 and at the BRICS Business Forum held as part of the Summit. BRICS, which accounts for 45 per cent of the global population, will overtake G7’s total share in the global GDP in the near future, thus increasing its global influence and becoming the epicentre of multilateral partnership in the interests of universal and equal development. It is by no accident that the Summit was attended by 13 countries in addition to Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS+).

The leaders of Russia and China said in their addresses that the nations of BRICS stand for joint efforts to promote peace and stability around the world. BRICS enjoys support of many nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The five countries seek independent foreign policies and continue making active contributions to a truly multipolar system of international relations based on international law and on the key principles of the UN Charter. The Russia–China strategic partnership enshrined in the 2001 Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China may serve as a model of such relations between states.

[1]G. N. Romanova, “The Genesis of Russia–China Trade Ties (17th – first third of the 18 th centuries),” Tamozhennaia politika Rossii na Dalnem Vostoke 67, no. 2 (2014): 101–111.

[2]L. P. Chernikova, “Russia–China Relations: History and Present,” Problemy vostokovedeniia 68, no. 2 (2015): 42–46.

[3]Y. Li, “Mikhail Gorbachev’s Contribution to Normalizing Soviet-Chinese Relations,” Problemy Dalnego Vostoka2 (2021): 66–82.

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