“Friendship without borders” – Chinese President Xi Jinping, 69, described his relationship with Russia earlier this year and pledged his support to Russian President Vladimir Putin, 69, and the Kremlin boss.
Nearly six months into the war in Ukraine, Russia appears to be backing down on China’s offer. The economy was weakening and the arms industry was so badly affected by the war that Russia could not even supply tanks to its ally Belarus. Apart from Syria, North Korea and Iran, Putin can turn to China for help. So, will Putin soon enlist the help of his old friend Xi?
It’s unlikely, says Brian Carlson (44), chairman of the global security committee at the Center for Security Studies (CSS), a think tank. “If new Western weapons systems turn the tide in Ukraine, there will be Russian officials asking China for help.” And a rapprochement, further dependence on China would be fatal for Russia.
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A weak Russia is a good Russia – for China
“Russia’s weakness will allow China to extend its influence in Eurasia. And Russia may become dependent on China. All of these may present opportunities for China,” explains Carlson. China is generally dependent on a particular strength of Russia, making Russia a valuable partner. “But Russia’s relative weakness — as long as it doesn’t go too far — benefits China as well.”
However, Russia knows that further rapprochement with — or even dependence on — China could be problematic. “Russia has always feared that rapprochement with China could suddenly make it China’s little brother, junior partner, or slave.”
Carlson said: “The more dependent Russia is on China, the greater the risk that China will eventually have enough influence to support Russia in an armed conflict in Asia.” So China could force Russia to provide military support in armed conflicts – on the Korean Peninsula, Japan or Taiwan.
But if Russia suffers a defeat in Ukraine, the “friendship without borders” — a kind of marriage of convenience — may be over. “If Russia suffers a total defeat in Ukraine, it will reduce Russia’s value as a partner of China.”
There is no end to a toxic relationship in sight
But how can Russia come to the point where it is practically at the mercy of China in an emergency? Carlson firmly believes Putin is to blame. Over the years, the Kremlin leader has increasingly distanced himself from China and the West — not out of concern for the Russian people, but because he is responsible.
His policy of rapprochement with China is not in Russia’s long-term interests. “He is only interested in his personal success. He is almost 70 years old, he seems to be unwell, and has only been interested in power for the rest of his life.”
The expert is firm: “The way he is doing now, Russia is getting closer to China, and they are helping to strengthen China.” However, according to Carlson, there is no end to this toxic relationship. “It’s possible in the long run. But not as long as Putin is there. There has to be a major rethinking of Russian leadership.
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