Putin in trouble … China’s obedient son

Elaf from Beirut: When Chinese President Mao Zedong visited Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in the winter of 1949, he was much younger. Stalin made him wait for weeks in his snow-covered villa 27 kilometers outside Moscow, where the Chinese constipated leader complained about everything from the quality of the fish to his uncomfortable mattress.

When the two communist leaders began working, Stalin made his way to a very favorable deal that put Maon in trouble to buy Russian weapons and heavy machinery with a loan for which Beijing would have to pay interest.

Seven decades later, the dynamics of power revealed a radical rereading. Shortly before the invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to the Beijing Winter Olympics to declare a “borderless” friendship with China’s Xi Jinping, but there is no doubt who the real superpower in that pair is these days. China’s $ 18 trillion economy is now ten times stronger than Russia’s. Beijing will have the upper hand in determining the terms of any Big Brother financial rescue line.

As Russia faces a sharply shrinking economy with sanctions and an imminent European oil embargo, China is the clear potential beneficiary to whom Putin is turning.

Xi shares his hostility to the West and NATO, but that does not mean he will do flawless philanthropy. Xi’s main strategic concern is China’s prosperity and security, not Russia’s salvation. Beijing is likely to buy at least some of the converted oil from Europe, but at a big discount. China will only help Russia to the extent that it does not impose sanctions and jeopardize its ability to sell goods to rich countries in North America and the European Union.

very general partnership

Publicly, China shows great political solidarity with Moscow. Increasing overall trade with Russia, essentially abandoning Ukraine, expanding financial transactions without the use of dollars or euros, and doubling future cooperation to develop military technology while conducting joint exercises in the Pacific region.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, acknowledged that his country’s future lies in China, saying “now that the West has taken a stand against the dictator, our economic relations with China will grow faster.”

Xi himself seems to be a big fan of Putin on a personal level. Yun Sun, director of China’s program at the Stimson Center, calls this the “Russian complex.” (Since the outbreak of the war, Xi has only spoken by phone with Putin, not with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.)

However, there are very dangerous boundaries to “endless” relationships. At the moment, at least, China is assuring Western countries that it is not selling weapons or aircraft parts to Russia. Beijing does not want to fall victim to the same sanctions, so it is imposing restrictions on relations. Most worrying for Putin, China is also demanding a higher price for the subsidy. Beijing, for example, wants to limit the lucrative sales of Russian weapons to India, China’s main enemy across the Himalayas.

Unlike the Cold War model, Russia will be the smallest partner of a more powerful China. That would irritate Putin, said Matthew Kronig, deputy director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. This second role is not a scenario Putin envisioned when the Russian president decided to invade Ukraine in February, motivated by the desire to rebuild his nation’s old glory.

But, in general, he should have seen this. China is a country obsessed with correcting historical insults and regaining its position as a world leader. Gone are the days when the Soviet Union was ideologically – and economically – superior to communist China. Huawei is building Russian 5G networks, while Russia seeks Chinese cooperation in everything from aircraft parts to currency exchanges. Most importantly, not only the United States and Europe impose sanctions on Moscow, but also three other major Asian economies: Japan, South Korea and Singapore.

Andrey Kortunov, general director of the Kremlin-backed Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, suspects that Russian elites have a strong desire to act as China’s small partner. But he sees few alternatives to Moscow. “Since the beginning of the conflict, Russia has begun to need China more than ever, because China remains in many ways the only game in the city, with limited economic ties between Russia and the West and sanctions imposed on Russia.”

Preliminary accounts

Perhaps the single biggest calculation for China is how far it will go to help Putin overcome an imminent European Union embargo on Russian oil. This European ban will leave a big hole in Russia’s budget if other big buyers do not intervene.

When deciding how much to buy, Beijing has significant influence over Moscow.

Russia and Saudi Arabia are already the largest suppliers of oil to China. In May, Russian crude oil imports from the sea to China reached a two-year high of 1.14 million barrels per day, from 800,000 barrels per day in 2021, according to Vortexa data.

However, much of the explanation for this is simply the Chinese economy rather than a display of political solidarity. International sanctions mean traders have been cautious in handling Russian crude oil, creating a small surplus that makes trading Russian oil $ 20-30 cheaper than international standard prices.

With China importing more than 10 million barrels a day, it certainly has room to buy more, especially as the economy resumes and blocking measures are gradually lifted in big cities like Shanghai. But Russian sales in the European Union amounted to about 2.4 million barrels per day. Given China’s own security concerns about over-reliance on individual suppliers, it is unlikely that China will suddenly start buying all of Russia’s surplus oil right now.

Likewise, China has the cards when it comes to gas. Shortly before the invasion of Ukraine, Putin signed an agreement with Xi, agreeing to increase natural gas exports to 48 billion cubic meters per year in the future, from a modest 4.1 billion cubic meters in 2020. Russia is also planning a pipeline new (Siberian Power 2), which could lead to easier shifting of Russian gas exports to Europe to China.

Nikos Tsavos, chief adviser to the Greek prime minister on energy, wrote in a think tank report in May: “The problem, however, is that China keeps all the cards in the negotiations, and like the Siberia Power 1 line, China will lead. a difficult deal. What he knows at this point is whether China is ready to make a deal. Russia is likely to offer very attractive terms – if nothing else, because of its desperation. But will China accept them? Will they be tempted by the price, or will they think twice about expanding their dependence on Russia at the moment?

watch guns

The more isolated Moscow becomes, the more it may need to help China advance its geopolitical ambition. For years, Chinese officials have been quietly pressuring their Russian counterparts to reduce arms sales to India, which is experiencing a bloody border dispute sometimes with Beijing.

Between 2017 and 2022, India was Russia’s largest arms export market, followed by China, according to statistics from the International Peace Research Institute in Stockholm. Fighting Indian soldiers armed with Russian equipment may not be fun for China, but it is definitely a lucrative business for Russia.

Before the war, “Russia was very stubborn and[كانت] You will say, ‘Oh, you are not in a position, China, to dictate our choices to whom to sell weapons’. tanku, said, “But I think China would be in that position. Maybe five years later.”

India, for its part, is trying to maintain an open relationship with Putin. New Delhi, like Beijing, buys cheap oil, though it also tends to maintain strong ties with the United States.

“Russia has been weakened by war and sanctions, but it is not chaotic and unstable to suit China’s long-term interests,” said Bobo Lu, a former deputy chief of the Australian mission in Moscow who now attends the Lowy Institute. “Russia’s isolation will push it to position its small partner in the relationship, increasing its economic and strategic dependence on China.”

leading position

Today’s return to power would seem very strange to those who sing L’Internationale in post-war Moscow.

After all, the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic had been in difficult conditions for decades, despite their supposed ideological proximity.

“In the 1950s, the fact that China was a small partner was very disturbing, because there was a view in Beijing that Moscow, as a status quo, often cared a lot about its relations with the West in manipulation and coercion. a new book about Stalin and Mao, at the expense of their relationship with China. ” When Stalin and Mao were there, Stalin was a teacher and he was a giant of the communist movement. When Stalin died, Mao viewed Khrushchev with contempt, as someone who did not understand ideology. When Deng Xiaoping met Gorbachev, by all accounts, Deng thought Gorbachev was an idiot.

While Xi and Putin share a better personal relationship than their predecessors, they also have very different considerations for their countries’s future role in the world.

Xi’s full focus is on securing a third presidency, armed with an appeal to make China – a market deeply rooted in the West – more prosperous, eventually overtaking the United States to become the number one economy one in the world. Sanctions will destroy this regulation.

Putin, meanwhile, is in an even tougher relationship. He would be happy to get everything he can from China, given the current state of his country – even if it means that Russia is seen as a small partner of China.

“The problem is that he sees the conflict in Ukraine as really central to his fight to maintain his order,” Gaboyev said. “There are many visions of emotional tunnels about the importance of the war in Ukraine and its connection to the Americans, especially after the US military assistance, the provision of weapons, the sharing of sensitive intelligence… This helps to kill many Russian soldiers.”

He added, “Being in China’s pocket is somewhat less scary, because the focus is really on fighting the United States. If China provides the necessary resources – and at the same time does not seem to be interfering in the internal affairs of Russia – this is the price he accepts to continue the war with the United States. “

This report was prepared by “Elaf” for “Politico”

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