Staunton, June 24 -- Vladimir Putin has just met for the 25th time with Chinese President Xi Jinping, a pattern that increasingly reflects the Kremlin leader’s desire to be part of the transformation of the international order but one that, since his turn from the West, leaves Russia in the uncomfortable position of China’s “younger brother,” Vita Spivak says.
When Russia turned to China five years ago in the hopes of new investments and markets, the commentator says, “this step looked quite forced and even driven by despair” in the wake of the West’s response to the Crimean Anschluss and Russian involvement in the Donbass (theins.ru/opinions/106149).
But now it is celebrated by both sides as a strategic partnership reflecting the full mutual understanding of the two leaders, Spivak continues. However, behind that public pose, there are real problems, especially for Russia. First of all, Russia simply is not a major player in the Chinese economy either as a trader or an investor.
Moreover, China has its own agenda, one that Russia can sign on to only by closing its eyes to things it doesn’t like and “taking on the role of Beijing’s junior partner in international affairs and ever more depending on it economically,” a position that at a minimum is galling to Russian national pride and that may compromise Russian interests in the bargain.
“If from the outside it appears that Russia and china are trying to create an alternative to the existing world order,” Spivak continues, “then this appears possible only as a result of the growing power of China in the international arena,” not in any way on Russia’s supposed partnership with it.
“Whether Beijing will try to create alternative international rules or seek to take control of the existing mechanisms is still an open question,” she says; but even more unclear is how Russia will fit into either.
“Moscow,” she says, “is behind Beijing on many international issues, including on the problems of the Korean peninsula, and in exchange it is receiving only a very selective and specific partnership.” It will bring political benefits to the Kremlin, income to Russian state corporations, and “a sense of being part of the main processes in the international arena.”
But in the longer term, those may not be enough for the Russian government or the Russian people who have assumed up to now that in any partnership they take part in, they and not anyone else will be “the elder brother.” If they have to accept a change, that will require a fundamental redefinition by Russians of who and what they are in the world.