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- Putin will not get a comprehensive solution in Beijing that would protect Russia from the sanctions that the West is announcing if the Kremlin sends troops to Ukraine, the author writes
- After the sanctions against Russia imposed for the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, Beijing supported Russia in business but did not fully engage
- Putin attended the opening of the Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008, but left prematurely when Russia attacked Georgia, which, like Ukraine, had aspirations to join NATO
- China and Russia have relationships based on authoritarian styles of government, complementary economies and the ambition to undermine Americaxe2x80x99s domination in favor of a xe2x80x9cmultipolar orderxe2x80x9d
- For China, possible sanctions after the attack on Ukraine may be an opportunity to do business and increase its advantage over Russia, whose economy is 11 times smaller
Original article on POLITICO.eu website
In Beijing, Putin will seek President Xi Jinpingxe2x80x99s helping hand when he meets him at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, which most Western leaders have boycotted. Xixe2x80x99s government showed solidarity with Russiaxe2x80x99s claims to the West, bought up some Russian fossil fuels, and joined forces to weaken the power of the US dollar.
However, realistically, Putin will not get a comprehensive solution that would protect Russia from the harsh sanctions that the West is announcing if the Kremlin sends troops across the Ukrainian border.
When Western sanctions against Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea prompted it to turn to China, this led to new energy deals and an increase in bilateral trade, but Beijing remained business-like.
xe2x80x9cChina is a market player,xe2x80x9d said Alexander Gabuev of Moscowxe2x80x99s Carnegie Center. xe2x80x93 There is a limited number of actions they will take to help their Russian friends while protecting their own interests.
It is also unlikely that Putin will receive any direct guidance on the Ukrainian crisis.
xe2x80x9cBeijing is closely following what is happening between Russia and the West, but it is unimaginable that it will present a clear opinion, let alone a blessing,xe2x80x9d said Fyodor Lukyanov, a foreign policy analyst close to the Kremlin, told POLITICO.
Echoes of the Olympic boycotts
The echoes of the past echo in the meeting of the two presidents.
Also in 2008, many Western leaders boycotted the Beijing Summer Olympics for human rights violations by China.
And then Putin xe2x80x93 then as prime minister xe2x80x93 was among those who took part. But his stay was cut short when, at the opening ceremony, the territorial dispute between Russia and neighboring Georgia, which had aspirations to join NATO, turned into a hot war.
In the words of the propagandist Dmitry Kiselov on the Russian state television: xe2x80x9cThese days seem like dxc3xa9jxc3xa0 vuxe2x80x9d.
Since that Olympics, Russia, despite warnings from the West, has fought for its return to the top of the global geopolitical agenda through a series of military ventures abroad and repression at home.
These problems do not exist in Sino-Russian relations. When Putin and Xi talk, human rights are unlikely to be a topic of conversation. Xi makes no mention of the poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny. Putin makes no mention of Chinese repression of Uyghur Muslims and activists in Hong Kong.
The two countries have relationships based on authoritarian styles of governance, complementary economies and the ambition to undermine Americaxe2x80x99s global domination in favor of a xe2x80x9cmultipolar orderxe2x80x9d.
In an interview with Chinese state media on Thursday, Putin described his relationship with Xi as xe2x80x9cgood friends and statesmen who share many views on solving world problems.xe2x80x9d
Analysts emphasize that Putinxe2x80x99s trip to Beijing is primarily intended to be an opportunity to re-establish contact with Xi after a two-year hiatus caused by COVID, but this moment inevitably sends a strong signal of Chinaxe2x80x99s readiness to act as a buffer for possible Western sanctions on Moscow.
In terms of financial tools, technology and energy deals, China, Russiaxe2x80x99s largest trading partner, can therefore help Moscow.
China said bilateral trade with Russia reached $ 140 billion last year, more than double its level in 2015, right after the West hit Russia with sanctions over its annexation of Crimea.
It was then that Chinese support came in the form of contracts for the construction of the Siberia Energy pipeline, which was opened in 2019, and partial financing of the natural gas liquefaction plant in Jamale, which allowed to bypass the US sanctions imposed on the gas producer Novatek.
For the fuel-hungry China, this was a great deal. Russia, which has borne most of the costs, has helped to diversify into this new market. But its meaning was above all symbolic.
xe2x80x9c She showed the world that Putin is not isolated on the international stage, xe2x80x9d said Dr. Erica Downs, from the SIPA Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, at a recent meeting at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
During the upcoming talks with Xi, announcing even non-binding agreements will have xe2x80x9ca similar effect,xe2x80x9d she said.
Turn words into action
China seems to have already sided with Russia. In the transcript of a telephone conversation between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his American counterpart, we read that the Chinese politician defended xe2x80x9cRussiaxe2x80x99s legitimate security concerns.xe2x80x9d
And at the UN Security Council meeting earlier this week, the two countries seemed to be speaking with one voice.
xe2x80x9cChina is rhetorically closer to Russia than before,xe2x80x9d said Gabuev of the Carnegie Center in Moscow.
However, analysts warn that until there is a real war or further sanctions, it will be cheap for China to pay with diplomatic words for Russiaxe2x80x99s affairs.
How this translates into action is another question entirely.
For China, sanctions may be an opportunity to do business and increase its advantage over Russia, whose economy is 11 times smaller.
xe2x80x9cHowever, taking into account the economic interests of Chinese companies in Europe, Beijing does not want to increase the conflict here, and its appeal is directed to all entities on whom effective European security depends,xe2x80x9d said Igor Denisov of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
If the past is any indication, in both 2008 and 2014 the Chinese assumed the position of a concerned but neutral observer. We are continuing our business with Russia, yes, but we are certainly not making it any easier for her.
In 2014, there were those in Moscow who had naive expectations that Russia would turn away from Europe and China would fill the void, Gabuev said. xe2x80x93 But it was only disappointment.
If Russiaxe2x80x99s economy is better positioned today to withstand sanctions than it was in 2014, it is primarily due to domestic fiscal measures. China ranks second, Gabuev said.
Progress in joint efforts to reduce dependence on Western currencies has been slow. In 2020, only 5.7 percent. of the total volume of Russian-Chinese payments was made in rubles.
And so far, the home payment systems of China and Russia are not an alternative to SWIFT, the main money-flow system in the world. To show the scale of this phenomenon, only one Chinese bank joined SPFS, a Russian alternative to SWIFT.
Compared to 2014, Russia is now more aware of what it can expect from Beijing, Gabujew said. xe2x80x93 The formula is: not always with each other, but never against each other.
Both countries have a common enemy in the United States. But even without it, the dynamics between Russia and China follow its ow
n logic, said Denisov.
The countries are separated by a border of over four thousand kilometers and a turbulent common past that the leaders of both countries would like to forget.
xe2x80x93 Both sides are equally reluctant to confrontation, and at the same time they do not intend to create a military alliance that would seriously limit their freedom of maneuver xe2x80x93 said Denisov.
xe2x80x9cFrom Moscow, what is happening around Ukraine is part of the traditional Russia-West relationship, the last battle of the 20th century Cold War,xe2x80x9d said Lukyanov, a foreign policy analyst. xe2x80x93 It is important for Russia, quite important for the West, and informative, even instructive for China. But these are not Chinaxe2x80x99s interests, and Russia is enough for China to remain positively neutral.
Editing: Michaxc5x82 Broniatowski