Index > KC's Column
Monday, September 19, 2022
The Failure of Russia in the Ukraine War and the Shift in Russia-China Relations
Kung Chan

Since February 24 this year, the war in Ukraine has opened the eyes of the world to the reality of Russia's military forces, once thought by many to be highly formidable. With their weapons, battle experiences, and military theories that they advocated since the end of World War II, Russian armies intended to show their full force, and so they did. What we see today is indeed the actual standard of the Russian military. In the large and small battles in Ukraine, the places that have been captured and lost, the astounding battle losses suffered, and the catastrophic results have all reflected the real military strength of Russia.

The United States, of course, has always been the foremost military power in the world; any other "second-best" will not be able to compete with it, even with the lower-graded American equipment like the HAIMARS rocket system.

That does not mean the U.S. is without problems and flaws. The U.S. does encounter various issues that remain irresolvable. These are entirely its own problems. Its system allows itself to create endless problems, troubles, and flaws. However, the U.S. is its own challenger and troublemaker, and these problems do not come from any other "second-most powerful" country in the world.

There might be an illusion that this "foremost power" has become weak, and can be replaced by the "second-most powerful country". The ruined Russian tanks in Ukraine simply show us that such a thought remains an illusion, and not the reality. This has not changed from the past to the present day.

Meanwhile, Russia-China relations have always attracted the world's attention, though they are more often than not being misunderstood.

Recently, the leaders of the two countries attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit 2022 at Samarkand, Uzbekistan. According to the content published on the official website of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Chinese leaders put forward four suggestions for promoting cooperation between China, Russia, and Mongolia during the meeting.

The first is strengthening trilateral cooperation, deepening political mutual trust, increasing mutual support, "respecting each other's core interests and accommodating major concerns", as well as enhancing coordination and cooperation in international and regional affairs.

The second is improving cooperation within the structure of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and jointly building a cooperation platform for addressing risks and challenges, thereby unleashing development potential;

The next is implementing the consensus reached on the " China–Mongolia–Russia (CMR) economic corridor, promoting the continuous deepening of cooperation economy, trade, people-to-people and cultural engagement, and tourism in adjacent areas. This is for the objective to build a high-quality exchange platform for the businesses of the three countries.

Finally, the Chinese side suggested cultivating more achievements in tripartite cooperation. This is to support the expansion of local currency settlement of trade between the three countries. China said it welcomes more financial institutions from Russia and Mongolia to join the RMB cross-border payment system to "build a regional financial security barrier".

All these, are, of course, the Chinese perspectives.

It is worth noting that China's relationship with Russia has actually undergone great shifts. If Russia still thinks too highly of itself and that it can "instruct" China on how to improve the latter's relationship with it, this would be anything but practical. After all, the war in Ukraine has brought some major changes. Perhaps the relationship between Russia and China can be summed up in this way. Chinese leaders do want to form a stronger relationship with Russia, but in this relationship, China must be in the leadership position, not Russia under Vladimir Putin. In addition, this alliance must also be realized according to the Chinese way, not the Russian way.

Russia will certainly not be happy with such kind of outcome, and it can also have other options, but China obviously has a lot of time to wait for it to make a choice.

The change in the nature of the relations is clearly seen even by the West. An article in the German newspaper Berliner Morgenpost says quite explicitly, that after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, while China continues to cooperate with Russia, the nature of such cooperation is silently changing.

The message of the article is obvious. The sanctions imposed by the West on Russia have made Putin passive. In this context, the conditions of cooperation between China and Russia are determined by China. It is only through this way can Putin obtain the resources he needs through trade between the two sides. The reality is that China is by far the biggest buyer of Russian crude oil, despite the fact that Russian crude oil is dispensable to China.

"Russland braucht China mehr als China Russland – mit steigender Tendenz (Russia needs China more than China needs Russia – and the trend is increasing)", the article concludes.

After all, in the world's geopolitical circle of friends, the weak will not be in a position to bargain.

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