Not all sunshine and roses — how Russia views China
Much as they see the uses of so powerful an ally, Russian foreign-policy experts have growing concerns about Moscow’s relationship with Beijing.
Moscow and Beijing have taken to calling their relationship a “friendship without limits.” Official declarations and joint statements offer important insights into the strategic thinking behind the bilateral relationship, but they can mislead by hiding grievances and concerns. Public statements by Russian foreign-policy experts and think tanks show there is more than meets the eye to effusive descriptions of the purported no-limits friendship. There are mounting worries that an embrace so warm could turn into an uncomfortable bear hug.
In line with MERICS data analysis, Russian experts consider hostility towards the US and opposition to the Western governance model the basis of Russia-China relations. Nadezhda Arbatova, Head of European Political Studies at the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations at Russian Academy of Sciences, sees “Russian-Chinese closeness” as the result of “conflicts with the ‘collective West’”. Vasily Kashin, Director of the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the HSE University, even says: “We have a common interest with China: to oppose and harm the United States.”
But in the context of Russia’s war on Ukraine, most of these experts see China adopting a neutral stance, if Russian-friendly. While rhetorically backing Moscow, Beijing is limiting practical support given the risk of Western sanctions — even Russian President Vladimir Putin in June said Russia needed to respect China’s own interests. According to Alexander Gabuev, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “Russia should not count on China’s unconditional support. While continuing to talk publicly about the unprecedented level of friendship with Moscow, Beijing will be wary of practical cooperation.”
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