Why Russias new relationship with China will irritate Putin

Ukraine: Russia has ‘thinned out forces’ says Michael Clarke

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Now four months into its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has helped remap relationships between European countries near the conflict, with Sweden and Finland now bound for NATO. Vladimir Putin’s administration is also on the back foot, left to fight its battles alone after former political allies withdrew from his sphere of influence. The conflict has left Russia weakened and exposed and now vulnerable to Chinese influence as a power imbalance in the east reverses the time-honoured allies’ standing.

Before the war in Ukraine, Russia and China continued their two nations’ time-honoured allegiance with a proclamation at the Beijing Winter Olympics of a “no limits” friendship.

Then, the two were near equal standing, with Russia’s GDP worth roughly $17 trillion and China’s $16 trillion, according to estimates from Trading Economics.

Over the last few months, Russia has slipped, however, with sanctions and war expenditure leading the country’s eminent economists to forecast a 7.8 percent GDP contraction in 2022.

China, on the other hand, is expecting four percent worth of growth this year to its now $18 trillion-strong GDP, according to Goldman Sachs, making Russia the junior economy.

Chinese premier Xi Jinping now holds the cards in any economic discussions with his neighbour.

And that will leave Putin clawing for favourable attention, analysts believe.

The Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Centre for Strategy and Security’s deputy director, Matthe Kroenig, told Politico: “In a reverse from the Cold War pattern, Russia will be the junior partner to a more powerful China. That will irritate Putin.”

China is now one of the few countries still bidding for Russian oil, having quietly increased its purchases of low-priced product in May.

Russian officials are likely hoping they can rely on the country, with the coming Power of Siberia 2 pipeline designed to allow Putin’s administration to quickly shift its oil channels away from Europe and into China.

Chinese importers will gain the high ground in these negotiations, according to Greek energy advisor Nikos Tsafos.

Mr Tsafos, who advises Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said in May that China would “drive a hard bargain”.

The country would leave Russia having to offer a handsome deal as it becomes increasingly desperate, he added in his report to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Mr Tsafos said: “What is unknowable at this point is whether China is ready to make a deal.”

“Russia is likely to offer very attractive terms — if nothing else, due to 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 this moment?”

While Mr Jinping shares Putin’s distaste of the west and its military allegiances, given his aim to instrument the “One China” policy, he must strike a delicate balance with China’s many western customers.

Taiwan is currently the sticking point for this relationship, as, like Ukraine, the fiercely independent country is striving to stay free of its neighbour’s grasp.

China has attempted to drag the island into its economic sphere for the best part of a century.

Last month, US President Joe Biden warned that any attempts to absorb Taiwan would warrant intervention on his part.

As officials tried to walk back his rhetoric, China’s foreign ministry issued a chilling threat akin to those made by Russia since February.

A spokesperson said the US would “have to pay an unbearable price” if it continued to “go down the wrong path”.

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