Russian state sources and officials have confirmed closer cooperation between Beijing and the Crimean peninsula on major Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, citing Chinese diplomats, which represents a continued significant shift in Moscow's priorities which have historically pit Russia in economic competition with China. Any future BRI projects involving Crimea would further solidify and fully integrate the peninsula into Russia's hold after its annexation from Ukraine following the 2014 referendum.
During a ceremony at the Russian Embassy in Beijing on Monday, the head of the association of Chinese compatriots on the peninsula, Ge Zhili, made the following formal statements: “Our organization is bolstering cooperation ties, exchanges and friendly contacts with the Crimean society.” Not incidentally the event marked the "fifth anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia."
Speaking also of increased cultural along with economic contacts, Ge continued to explain the goal "To help people understand what Crimea is, start cooperation with it, establish reliable relations with the peninsula, develop friendly contacts with it and implement joint private projects under the Belt and Road Initiative" — China's ultra-ambitious development and investment project potentially involving over 150 countries on five continents.
Chinese statements at the ceremony underscored establishing and deepening "reliable partner ties" at a moment when Moscow is believed to no longer be pursuing closer European integration following US sanctions as well as the unraveling of the INF, and increased NATO expansion.
It's also a moment that both Beijing and Moscow are rumored to be contemplating a potential bigger geopolitical alliance just as Washington has continued to hit Chinese exports with tariffs. Russian leaders have been described as more enthusiastically seeking closer cooperation while Beijing has signaled patience.
However, greater BRI cooperation, especially into the geopolitically sensitive Crimean region would constitute a significant step in this direction.
Though little has been publicized regarding new potential specific joint BRI projects, other than ongoing projects such as the first cross-river railway bridge connecting China and Russia at Tongjiang, in Heilongjiang province, source RT presented the following:
There are also plans to renew cooperation between Crimea and southern China’s Hainan province, as well as between such cities as Yalta and Sanya, Sevastopol and Dalian, Sudak and Heihe.
Last year Russian President Putin declared himself a firm supporter of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, telling broadcaster CGTN, “President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative incorporates concepts of the economy and humanity. The essence of the Initiative is to develop both the economy and infrastructure.”
Concerning warming ties with Beijing, Putin had stressed at the time the BRI held the potential as "a significant step for further eliminating restrictions on economic development and cooperation."
Any major future cooperation in Crimea itself will be sure to raise eyebrows in Kiev and among Ukraine's western allies, especially after last November's dangerous incident in the Kerch Strait and subsequent threats of military escalation.