Russia’s recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine as independent entities and its decision to send ‘peacekeepers’ into these areas — termed an ‘invasion’ by Western powers — should engender a deeper consideration of the nature of the Sino-Russian relationship.
For a while now it has been argued in the West that Russia is the junior partner in its ties with China, and that there is an element of transactionalism in Sino-Russian ties, because of which is unlikely to last long. While there are elements of truth to these arguments, the fact is that both Russia’s sense of self and the care with which Beijing has so far handled the Russian relationship have meant that China’s economic might and growing regional political footprint have not yet led to the expected falling out.
One reason is plain geopolitics. The expansion of NATO for Russia and the continued presence of US-led security alliances in East Asia for China mean the two countries have a common interest in stymying Washington, and punishing those in their immediate neighbourhood that seek to partner with the US. At the 58th Munich Security Conference held a few days before the invasion, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had, for instance, criticised the continued existence of NATO as “a product of the Cold War”.
Another sign of the sync in interests came a little earlier when Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the opening of the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. This was a particularly important sign for China was facing diplomatic boycotts from the West over its treatment of its Uyghur minority and other human rights abuses. Putin also, no doubt, delayed the invasion out of consideration for Beijing’s big moment.