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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchOpportunity for Diplomacy: No Russian Attack Before February 20

Opportunity for Diplomacy: No Russian Attack Before February 20

Author: Graham T. Allison

Affiliation: Harvard Kennedy School

Organization/Publisher: The National Interest 

Date/Place: February 4, 2022/ USA

Type of Literature: Article

Word Count: 2020

Link: https://nationalinterest.org/feature/opportunity-diplomacy-no-russian-attack-february-20-200357 

 

Keywords: Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Russian-Chinese Relations, “Alliance of the Aggrieved”, and the US Common Challenge 

 

Brief:

 

When US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman stated that Putin would use military force against Ukraine between February 2 and the middle of the month, Graham Allison expressed in this article with great confidence that the invasion would not happen before February 20, the date on which the Winter Olympics hosted by China would end. China intended to make it a “spectacular” event to show the level of technical progress it had reached compared to 2008, thus making Putin avoid any military action against Ukraine that might confuse the goal of his close ally China and his “best buddy” Xi.

In this article, Allison clarifies the features of the close relations between Russia-Putin and China-Xi since the latter came to power in 2013, alerting the American foreign policy community which has still not come to grips with the level of close relationship between the two countries and two leaders.

At first, the author asserts the distinct personal relationship between Putin and Xi that has helped boost trust between Russia and China, advanced mainly by Xi’s skillful diplomacy in revering Putin and giving him the respect he envisions for Russia as a great power and that he craves personally. The myopic and often misguided American diplomacy toward the two powers has also brought them closer together. Therefore, it is time for the American strategic community to wake up to what is nothing less than a “functional Sino-Russian alliance.” For this reason, Allison identifies seven dimensions through which he points to the level of close Russian-Chinese relations during the last decade until today.

First, threat perceptions. The United States is the current common threat to both Russia and China, their interests in Eastern Europe and the South China Sea not only being challenged but also the US is actively seeking to undermine their “authoritarian regime.”

Second, relationships between leaders. Xi has convinced Putin through skillful diplomatic overtones that they are “best friends”. For example, Moscow was his first destination after he became president, Putin is the first foreign leader to speak after Xi at every international meeting China hosts, and Xi was the only world leader to celebrate his birthday with Putin in 2018. Also, Xi described Putin as his “best, most intimate friend” when he awarded him China’s “Medal of Friendship.”

Third, official designation of the other. Official US national security documents describe Russia and China as America’s “strategic competitors,” “strategic adversaries,” and even “enemies.” Both are accused of conducting major “influence operations” against the United States and interfering in US elections. On the other side, Chinese and Russian national security documents describe the relationship between the two countries as a “comprehensive strategic partnership.” According to Xi, it is “the world’s most important bilateral relationship, and is the best relationship between large countries.” Putin has made clear that Russia will not compete with China for global leadership, recognizing publicly Russia’s junior role in this partnership. 

Fourth, military and intelligence cooperation. It has been growing continuously during the last decade. For example, Russia was previously careful to withhold its most advanced technologies when it sold weapons to China. However, in recent years it has not only sold China its most advanced air defense system, the S-400, but has actively engaged with China in joint research and development on such military technologies. The two countries are also conducting joint naval military exercises in the Mediterranean, the South China Sea, and the Baltic sea, signaling their readiness to support each other in some way in the event of a confrontation with the United States.

Fifth, diplomatic coordination. The two countries coordinate their diplomatic positions on major international issues. According to a 2018 count, Moscow and Beijing were 98% aligned during the vote in the UN Security Council. Russia has backed every Chinese veto since 2017. The two powers have also worked together to create and strengthen new organizations such as the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) to rival traditional American-led international organizations.

Sixth, economic entanglement. Russia slowly but surely moves east. Since 2015, China has become Russia’s number one trading partner. Today it is the largest buyer of Russian crude oil. The completion of the “Power of Siberia” pipeline in 2019 provides an outlet for the flow of Russian gas to China instead of Europe in the event that the Europeans decide to buy smaller quantities from Moscow or the latter prefers the option of the Chinese markets. There was Russian support for China when Trump launched his trade war against its companies, and China supported Russia financially and economically when the United States imposed sanctions on Russia after the 2014 invasion of Crimea.

Seventh, elites’ orientation. The Russian elites, in general, are Westernized, culturally linked to Europe, doing business with the West, and many of their children also live in the West. However, the ruling oligarchy, which is targeted by Western sanctions, is finding alternatives to America and Europe to conduct its business. Recently there has been a growing trend of Russian intellectuals who are interested in the East and promote it as the horizon of the future rather than the West. Also, polls show that only 39% of Russians have a positive view of the United States, while 74% of Russians hold a positive view of China.

In conclusion, the author cites a warning that Zbigniew Brzezinski stated before he died in 2017, of what he called “the most dangerous scenario” that would threaten American security, which is the possibility of forming “a grand coalition of China and Russia… united not by ideology but by complementary grievances.” Allison sees that the specter of “alliance of the aggrieved” is already embodied on the geopolitical map.


By: Djallel Khechib, CIGA Senior Research Associate

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