Russia To China: Together We Can Rule The World

A new eye-opening op-ed in Politico brings fresh realism to the fact that "Europe’s obsession with Russia is unrequited" as "Moscow just isn’t interested in the Continent anymore." Because instead it's now "all about China" from Moscow's vantage point, now all-in on its long stated intent to convince Beijing it's time to form an alliance capable of breaking US global hegemony

Bruno Maçães, a former Europe minister for Portugal and Eurasian affairs analyst finds based on the real discussions taking place in diplomatic corridors (as opposed to the abstract talking points of mainstream western pundits — predicated on the assumption that Russia perpetually seeks to pull Europe in its direction), that Moscow is no longer pursuing European integration following sanctions and the unraveling of the INF, but senses a new opportunity given Washington's tariffs on Chinese exports. No longer, the ex-European diplomat concludes, does Russia hope to emulate or compete with the Chinese economy, which it realizes it can't do, but instead has a bigger geopolitical alliance in mind. 

Presidents Putin and Xi toasting a 2014 energy deal, via ZUMA news agency. 

Nowhere has this been on display more that during the annual Valdai Discussion Club (hosted by Russia's top foreign policy experts and officials), where Maçães charts that the idea has been met with less and less resistance over the years, to the point that now the following is clearly on display:

In the past, the possibility of an alliance between the two countries had been hampered by China’s reluctance to jeopardize its relations with the U.S. But now that it has already become a target, perhaps it will grow bolder. Every speaker at Valdai tried to push China in that direction. 

Accordingly, relations in Europe is now a distant afterthought for Russian policymakers; instead the question is how to get Beijing to finally understand that Washington is the real enemy, making an alliance against the US necessary. 

Maçães says that while the idea was mostly speculation only a couple years ago, Russia wants to bring it to realization, "and soon". Thus a new realism and pivot to southeast Asia has now come to define Moscow's vision for the future:

There was no doubt at Valdai that China knows how to do economic growth, and that Russia does not. Russia’s elite — always so ready to resist any sign of Western hegemony — have no problem admitting China’s economic superiority. Their acceptance reminded me of the way Britain gave way to the United States as the world’s dominant economic power.

Seen from Moscow, there is no resistance left to a new alliance led by China. And now that Washington has imposed tariffs on Chinese exports, Russia hopes China will finally understand that its problem is Washington, not Moscow.

However, the question remains, according to the former Portuguese diplomat: "Can Russia and China really be friends, and for how long?"

Taking the long view, the 20th century-rooted geopolitical rivalry will be overcome by the joint realization that they'll need each other for any chance of altering the American-led global landscape. Says Maçães:

The thing to remember is that both countries are obsessed with overturning the American-led global order. They may have a long history of geopolitical rivalry — one that is sure to return once their goal is achieved and new poles emerge, pitting them against each other.

But they’ll cross that bridge when they get there, maybe in another 20 years or so. For now, Russia and China are essentially on the same side.

The dramatic implications for global order? "It would be an entirely new world, and it’s one that is coming closer to becoming reality," he concludes. Such an alliance "would overturn how we do global politics."

"Imagine an international crisis in which Russia and China suddenly emerge as a single bloc. The impact would be considerable, and to some extent unpredictable: Psychologically, in the mind of the West, it would combine the fear associated with Russia with the apparent invulnerability of China," forecasts Maçães. 

Ultimately, this would be enough to curtail Washington-NATO hegemony, as the US  "would feel under attack; Europe, intimidated and unsettled." This "entirely new world" would also introduce fractures among European allies, as "The old Continent would also face the threat of a split between Western Europe and the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, which could turn their focus east under the influence of a cash-happy China ready to invest in the region."

Yet China appears nowhere close to Moscow's level of enthusiasm for so drastically altering the landscape: "For the moment, Chinese prudence remains the great obstacle to the new alliance. And Russians know this," Maçães concludes. 

Recalling meetings with Sergey Karaganov, a former adviser to Putin, Maçães relates:

I met Karaganov again at a meeting with Chinese officials and think tankers in Beijing a few weeks ago. There, a number of Chinese participants said they doubted Russia’s assertions that the world is in the midst of a new Cold War.

Karaganov dedicated himself to convincing them otherwise, arguing with increasing passion that China is deluding itself if it thinks issues between Beijing and Washington can be conveniently resolved to the benefit of both sides.

Maçães continues, summarizing Karaganov's message: "If Beijing places its bets on peace and cooperation, the great Chinese adventure will come to an end, and China will have to live in the shadow of the U.S. for another generation — perhaps forever, Karaganov said."

The message is further that the clock is ticking on Beijing's waking up to what Russia sees as permanent US global dominance: "Chinese authorities, he argued, have no more than five years to make a decision."

However, China could soon be at breaking point with Washington but would unlikely want to sever itself from European markets and technology. A proposed new "Eastern bloc" would be a powerful geopolitical weapon, no doubt, but the unpredictable high cost will likely prevent Beijing from the taking the leap in Moscow's direction.