What geopolitical path will Russia choose in the US-China confrontation?

Seymur Mammadov
Seymur Mammadov is the Director of the International Expert Club «EurAsiaAz» which deals with strategic issues of Eurasian Region.

By Seymur Mammadov

Such a level of confrontation is unfolding between China and the United States, which many political scientists call the Second Cold War. Since 2016, after coming to the White House of Donald Trump, the United States has used its domestic resources to reduce China’s economic influence in the world. This is pressure on Huawei, the trade war, China’s charge of intentionally concealing information about Covid-19, a bill on sanctions against China called “Responsibility for COVID-19,” the anti-Chinese human rights act in Xinjiang, Beijing’s charge of trying to steal US developments coronavirus vaccines, but this is not a complete list of all claims made by Washington against Beijing. The United States managed to mobilize the ideological and informational resources of the countries of its allies and partners in the fight against China: a number of countries brought billions of dollars’ suits against Beijing allegedly by reason of “spreading the coronavirus”, and also in social networks and media of many countries is being conducted large-scale propaganda about the dangers of 5G technology for human health.
However, amid growing Western pressure on China, there is a very curious tendency – the United States has slightly weakened the ideological and political confrontations with Russia. For example, a phone call from US President Donald Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the end of March this year. The leaders discussed the possibility of closer interaction between the two states in this direction. The conversation between the two presidents was lengthy, the Kremlin said. After a telephone conversation between the two presidents the other day, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced an interesting idea. “Russia and the United States can successfully work together in a number of areas, including the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and terrorism, despite ongoing conflicts,” he said in an interview with Washington Examiner.
As we see, the United States is encouraging integration with Russia just in the context of a fierce economic war with China. There is a lot of speculation on social networks about the fact that Russia can support the United States in the fight against China in exchange for the complete lifting of economic sanctions and the promotion of economic cooperation between the EU and Russia. That is, Russia can get enormous preferences if Moscow relies on Washington, and not on Beijing. Is Russia ready to respond positively to American initiatives? What geopolitical path will Russia choose now amid the economic war between the USA and China?
Against the backdrop of the US economic war with China, Russia currently supports and will continue to support China. There are several reasons for this.
Firstly, the natural need to maintain stable relations with an economically and politically powerful neighboring state – China. Russia and China have a large common border. And with countries which Russia borders with, it is very beneficial to have good neighborly relations in order to prevent any military provocations and increased tension on the border.
Secondly, military-technical cooperation between Russia and China, a partnership in the field of military equipment has reached a higher level. Sale of the most modern types of Russian weapons to China: 24 Su-35 fighters and S-400 air defense systems. And two important events that were not previously observed in Russian-Chinese relations are the transition to a new level in the field of military exercises – conducting joint naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, in South China and Baltic Seas, as well as joint patrolling of the Air Force in Japan and East China Seas. And the second event is Russian assistance in creating a missile attack warning system in China. By the way, at the moment, only the USA and Russia have such a system. All this indicates the highest level of trust between Russia and China.
Thirdly, Russia and China are members of such international organizations as the SCO, BRICS and other organizations, participation in which strengthens not only economic, but also military integration of both countries. And since 2015, China has been developing relations with the Eurasian Economic Union.
Fourth, on the one hand, China’s demand for energy is growing, especially in natural gas imports, and on the other hand, Russia’s share in gas supplies to the European market is declining, which creates the conditions for strengthening Sino-Russian cooperation in this area. The fact is that before the launch of pipeline gas supplies to the East, Russian raw materials mainly went to European countries through Ukraine. However, in recent years, due to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the relations between Moscow and Brussels have escalated. And now new pipelines are being built and put into operation in the direction of the East. It is about launching a joint gas project of Gazprom and CNPC – Power of Siberia in early December 2019.
Fifth, annual growth in trade between China and Russia is observed, and it is even beneficial for Moscow that the US-Chinese trade is going to decline, as Russia will get more attention and new projects. China has a huge market with which it is beneficial for Russia to cooperate.
Sixth, Russia and China are interested in maintaining the existing world order, both are strong countries from an economic and military point of view, and the United States is not ready to put up with this. It is important for them to remain one superpower, dictate their conditions to the whole world and weaken the influence of Russia and China in those countries where this seems possible. Therefore, the strategic partnership between China and Russia has not only economic and political benefits, but also will help maintain a balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region.
Seventh, China’s popularity in Russia is not declining, but rather growing, due to the widespread belief that Moscow officially develops “strategic partnership and interaction” with Beijing, that China, unlike the United States, is a friendly and practically allied country for of Russia. According to most studies, Russians consider China the friendliest country in the world. For example, according to a survey of the well-known non-governmental research organization Levada Center in February 2018, 70% of Russians admitted to a good attitude towards China.
As we see, Russia is not profitable to cooperate with the United States against China for the above reasons. In addition, the Russian economy has acclimatized to the old and new challenges initiated by the West. In Russia, they well understand that the United States is a rather unpredictable partner – if, for example, today they lift the sanctions and tomorrow introduce new ones. There is no trust between the countries, so the likelihood of such cooperation with the United States is zero. Yes, there are quite a few pro-Western officials in the Russian elite who are trying to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin of the need to develop relations with the United States. And in favor of this, such an argument is used that it is important for Russia to enter the high-tech market, to develop high-tech production, which may require American experience. But Russia also knows very well that China has achieved incredible success in the field of innovation and high technology, so it is not surprising that Russia in recent years has been actively working to establish cooperation with China in the high-tech industry as well. The West has no choice but to put up with long-term Russian-Chinese partnership and friendship.