“Friendship without borders” – this is how Chinese President Xi Jinping (69) described his relationship with Russia and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (69) at the beginning of the year and promised his support to the Kremlin boss.
Nearly six months after the war in Ukraine, it looks like Russia will back down on the Chinese offer. The economy is weakening and the arms industry is suffering so badly from the war that Russia is unable to supply tanks to its ally Belarus. Apart from Syria, North Korea and Iran, Putin can also turn to China for help. So will Putin soon seek the help of his old friend Xi?
This is unlikely, says Brian Carlson (44), head of the think tank’s global security team at the Center for Security Studies (CSS). “If the new Western weapons system turns the tide in Ukraine, there will be Russian officials who will ask China for help.” Another synergy, another dependence on China could end fatally for Russia.
A weak Russia is a good Russia – for China
“The weakening of Russia could allow China to increase its influence in Eurasia. And Russia could become more dependent on China. All of this could provide opportunities for China,” Carlson explains. is dependent on certain strengths, so that Russia remains a valuable partner. “But Russia’s relative weakening – unless it goes too far – could be beneficial to China as well.”
However, Russia is aware that further relations with – or even dependence on – China could be problematic. “Russia has always feared that by adjusting with China, it may suddenly become China’s younger brother, junior partner or vassal.”
Carlson said: “The more Russia becomes dependent on China, the greater the risk that China will eventually exert enough influence to support Russia in an armed conflict in Asia.” So China can force Russia to provide military aid in armed conflicts – on the Korean Peninsula, in Japan or Taiwan.
But if Russia suffers a defeat in Ukraine, the “friendship without borders” – a marriage of convenience – will probably be over. “If Russia suffers an outright defeat in Ukraine, it will reduce the value of Russia as a partner to China.”
There seems to be no end to a toxic relationship
But how can it come to the point that in an emergency, Russia is practically at the mercy of China? Carlson believes that only Putin is to blame for this. Over the years, the head of the Kremlin has increasingly turned away from China and the West – not because of the interest in the Russian people, for which he is responsible.
His policy of reconciliation with China is not in Russia’s long-term interest. “He is only interested in his personal success. He is almost 70 years old and does not appear to be in good health and is only interested in the rest of his life in power.”
The expert is sure: “The way it is doing now, Russia is getting so close to China that they are even helping China become stronger.” However, according to Carlson, there is no end to this toxic relationship. “It is possible in the long term. But not as long as Putin is here.” There will have to be a major rethink in the Russian leadership.