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Russia’s Chinese Future 

Russian tank firing. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s Russia have surprised the world with their swiftness and strength. However, their impact on Russia is likely to last long past Putin’s war against Ukraine. Russia could be witnessing the start of a deep economic crisis—and the country’s submergence into a new Chinese sphere of influence spanning Eurasia.

The sanctions’ immediate impact is serious. Russia’s oligarchs have fled the West. Their main concern now seems to be saving their property and financial assets. For example, Roman Abramovich has purportedly transferred the Chelsea Football Club into a charitable trust. However, even if they hide their wealth, the oligarchs will not be returning soon to their preferred overseas watering holes.

Much harder hit will be ordinary Russians. The ruble has plummeted to record lowsinterest rates have doubled, and currency at retail banks is in short supply. Manufacturers, like Daimler, and western energy companies, like BPExxonMobil, and Shell, have announced that they are discontinuing operations in Russia. Boeing’s halt to spare parts will soon ground the 700 western-built aircraft on which Russia’s airlines rely. Sea cargo bookings to Russia have been suspended. EU companies that sell consumer goods to the Russian market have ceased exporting. Anybody who has seen the late night traffic jams of cargo trucks from the EU on the highways coming into Moscow will recognize that the supply chain cutoff is going to hurt Russian consumers badly.

Extended for any length of time, this new state of affairs either will throttle Russia’s economy—or it will place Moscow at the mercy of Putin’s supposed Eurasian partner, China.

Russia’s trade with China has boomed in recent years. In 2020, Russia’s exports to that country totaled some $49 billionmainly commodities. The same year Russia’s imports from China were around $54 billion, mainly manufactured goods (including second-rate military hardware). China has not joined international sanctions against Russia. The bilateral trade between the two countries, which face one another along a 2,600-mile border, thus is poised to grow even more.

Russia’s strategists probably welcome increased trade with China. In the short run, it will make up for some of the losses sanctions have caused. However, in the long run, Russia will find itself in a strategic trap: China will be the only major market with which Russia can trade.

Ominous for Russia, China hints that it does not mind if Russia’s self-inflicted wounds only worsen. China’s semi-official Global Times does not endorse Russia’s invasion, but it gives hat-tips to Putin’s grievances over the eastern expansion of NATO and chides Ukraine for leaning west. This largely tracks a statement by China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman on February 28. More subtle signs also suggest what China might be thinking. Five prominent historians in China have signed a joint letter denouncing Moscow’s aggression. A letter from academics in the west is no reflection on the policy of western governments, but in China, such a letter might well be meaningful: China strictly regulates speech and written expression. It is intriguing that China has let these Chinese academics write and publish the joint letter. The point is not that China is preparing to denounce Moscow. The point, instead, is that China is moving toward a flexible strategic posture toward Russia, one that will allow China to exploit the vulnerabilities that Putin’s war against Ukraine has exposed and that are worsening by the day.

Much more ominous for Russia than quasi-state media articles or academic letters is China’s shift in diplomatic language. In a joint statement with Russia at the Beijing Olympics, China said the two countries enjoy a “friendship… without limits” and that there exist “no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation” between them. In the February 28 press conference, by contrast, the Foreign Ministry spokesman used classic Chinese official ambiguity. He called China and Russia “comprehensive strategic partners of coordination” in a relationship that “features non-alliance.” Given China’s sensitivity about naming things (recall the crisis when Lithuania used a “wrong” name to describe Taiwan), Russia should take particular note of the sudden reversal in tone. China is not minded to do Moscow any favors.

Perhaps most concerning from Moscow’s standpoint, two Chinese state-owned banks have started to restrict dollar-denominated letters of credit for purchases of Russian commodities. Reports suggest China conferred with Russia about the timing of Russia’s invasion—a further sign that Chinese strategic planners had gamed out possible outcomes carefully.

Putin and China’s President Xi find common cause against democracy and rule of law. China might give Russia short-term relief from the sanctions that Putin’s war in Ukraine has provoked. However, if Russia plunges further into isolation, Putin’s legacy will not be a restored Russian empire. It will be vassalage under Eurasia’s only superpower. Putin’s admirers should ask if this Chinese future for Russia is the one to which they aspire.

Thomas D. Grant served as Senior Advisor for Strategic Planning in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, U.S. Department of State, 2019-2021. He is the author of Aggression Against Ukraine: Territory, Responsibility, and International Law (2015).

Written By

Thomas D. Grant served as Senior Advisor for Strategic Planning in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, U.S. Department of State, 2019-2021. He is the author of Aggression Against Ukraine: Territory, Responsibility, and International Law (2015).



  1. Jacky

    March 3, 2022 at 5:41 pm

    China’s relationship with the west is toxic unlike the one it has with Russia. Don’t forget what happened after china foolishly hosted the 2019 military world games and was rewarded with the ‘chinese virus’ for its effort.

    And let’s not even talk about the ’08 and ’22 Olympics, both instances rewarded with very super powerful galaxy-level propaganda onslaughts and demonization.

    But china must get rid of the dengists, the people who think that the wind coming out of the exit ends of the alimentary canals of westerners is life-giving oxygen.

  2. Commentar

    March 3, 2022 at 6:03 pm

    US and Europe today (still) continue to view china as a country or land that’s populated by ‘untermenscheners’ a land and a people that must be converted, by force or by guile or both if necessary, to adopt western political systems, western values and western norms and culture.

    This is very different from Russia which doesn’t view china that way, at least the modern Russia of today.

    US slapped sanctions on china for recently purchasing su-35s, even though earlier, china had already purchased su-27s with a mixture of cash and industrial goods.

    NATO sec-gen then stated that china’s rise ‘must be managed’.

    It all reveals the very heavy-handedness of the US and its allies when dealing with china and betrays their enshrined-in-stone belief that china is untermensche and urgently needs to be remolded in the western image.

    Thus Russia’s future is together with china, and not the west. It is a given.

  3. Slack

    March 3, 2022 at 6:33 pm

    It is just a matter of time before china finds itself in the same predicament as Russia, or in the same boat as Russia. Just a matter of time.

    In fact both have been hit with various sanctions, just this time, with more serious ones.

    In the past, when sanctions were useless, both countries were threatened with annihilation by forward deployed nuclear strike weapons, like the Thor, Jupiter, Pershing and mace short-range rockets. (see the Okinawa missiles of October.)

    Today they are threatened by forward deployed land-based B61 weapons and sea-based W76 tactical nuke weapons.

    Thus, both countries must stand together and fend off the ultra deadly galactic threat posed by US.

  4. A penny tossed to the wind

    March 3, 2022 at 6:38 pm

    Great article, thank you.

    Heartbreak aside, at least in a momentary sense, the world is at a most interesting place.

    These two great nations, China and Russia, are fighting an internal battle over how much of the West’s capitalist influence it can and, in their minds, should, embrace. One the one hand these nations see their countryfolk benefit from increased wealth, at least in parts, and the joys of greater freedom of expression. Their people, in many parts, persuasively, are more happy.

    On the other hand, they see, as we do, that the West is in the vice-grip of capitalism to its own detriment, watched as the West experimented with its various forms, realising earlier than us that a capitalist-only approach to living life is no complete answer, and is arguably sending the West headlong into destructive trouble.

    They watch on as the West bows and sings and dances in worship of the god of celebrity, aided and abetted by this single-grip of the consumerist insatiability and blinded numbness to what they see, and many in the West are starting to see, as lost values.

    If China and Russia take on too much of that, their great nationhood, their histories and cultural strengths, are also done for.

    So how much do they take?

    China’s leadership has tremendous patience. There is a wisdom in it, from their perspective, that embraces much of the West’s advances while aware of its perils, and time will tell if it has overdone or underdone the line it has chosen. It has, I think, taken a line of “wait and see” as the West hurtles faster and faster towards its chosen fate.

    Russia on the other hand has chosen a line (for its citizenry) in fierce oppostion to the perils, they see, of the West.

    Both China and Russia have to reconcile that, the difference, as they move on.

    But one can certainly imagine China and Russia leadership leaning over a world map on the table, and speak of its massive geographical strength if in comprehensive alliance. One can imagine a brief comment, in the least, that they could “rule the world”.

    I think the West is failing in a couple of strategic areas.

    Firstly, that the West does not make public enough the distinction between Russia and China citizenry and Russia and China leadership.

    They are lumped into the one boat. “China is..” and “Russia does not…” etc., which binds the citizenry blindly and powerlessly to its leadership. If that distinction was made more clear, and the West in public mind saw clearly that there is a difference, much changes in our attitudes and perceptions.

    Often, most unfortunately, Western media under its commercial imperative, chooses to ignore the difference; rather, it solidifies citizenry and leadership in its hunger to create a “baddie” which, as any story writer knows (story being perhaps the greatest power within humanity) captures an audience.

    By making the distinction between the two, leadership and citizenry, a truer value is placed on each nation, along with a better expression of balances and placements of power.

    Secondly, the West is failing to realise that the future is better served by exhibiting true, or truer, humility.

    Gone are the days when the West can say “we are the light for humanity” because its failings are just too obvious and devastating, and its own future is imperiled by the single-minded choices it has made.

    This is not so much about the West saying “we are wrong” but not saying “we are right.”

    The West has an immensely powerful force operating within it. This is the power of self-reflection. Yet on the world stage, you wouldn’t know.

    Letting that wonderful power of self-reflection, the ability and freedom to continually assess and reassess itself, given freer and open reign in its world stances would ease so much tension, shine a genuine light, and allow for deeper understandings and engagements of meaningfulness.

    This move by Russia into Ukraine is a physical expression of the simmering underbelly of a changing world order, now come to clear light.

    The last thing, last thing, that the USA can contemplate now, as Russia heads into perhaps its darkest age in modern history, is to beat its chest and declare itself the “way forward” for all of humanity. I fear those forces are waiting in the wings. These could do incredible harm.

    Instead, that expression of self-reflection — which shows that it has the freedom to do so along with the ability to do so — while acknowledging the world is now undergoing immense change would, instead, I think, strip much of the immense retribution and vengeance that awaits as a result of change, and is instead a truer expression of its real value, perhaps its greatest value.

    And perhaps humanity’s greatest value.

    The West doesn’t have the answers to the challenges facing the modern world, nor do the other great nations, but it has the ability, along with the great nations, to find them.

    Let’s pause a moment, just a moment, to feel our own nation’s heritage. In the West, what are we feeling?

    And then try to feel the great heritages and culture of both China and Russia.

    It is no wonder China and Russia wish to protect their cultural values, their heritages. These are huge nations that, within them, have gone through a very great deal, and, within them, have achieved enormously.

    Russia, at this historical moment, has got it wrong. But see?

    Did that remark not fail in the way posited above? It did.

    So let’s say it again: Russian leadership, in this historical moment, has got it wrong.

    But within it there is much opportunity now for the world’s nations to learn, to take advantage of this nation’s leadership sacrificing itself on the public altar of outward expression of itself,and not gloat.

    … that said, the moment of pause has passed, yet is hopefully of some value and, if so, remembered, and now back to the heartbreak.

  5. Jimmy John Doe

    March 3, 2022 at 7:02 pm

    It is an indisputable fact the US has weaponized trade and trade relationships and using such weapons with gay abandon.

    The US coordinates it’s trade weapons usage with it’s five eye partners, and those allies not belonging to the group, like Japan and Europe, are nudged and winked at to quickly follow along.

    As for all others, the US subtly resorts to using the cbp authorities to seize or detain their goods at US points of entry until they have fully woken up to their senses and line themselves up behind the US and stop trade with specified ‘enemy ‘ entities.

    Such an approach is inexorably forcing Russia and china to bind their future together and it is completely sensible.


    March 3, 2022 at 7:13 pm

    Somewhere, deep inside the bowels of the hallowed dept of justice, sits a group of fed employees whose only job is to analyze the trends of global commerce and pinpoint all the weak and vulnerable spots.

    Thus you have the famed sanctions list or the list of outcasts. This list grows by up to several hundred per week, as entity after entity are added to it.

    The updated list is then sent to white house where top officials and the pres gather together and impose the rules and punishment.

    The rules are deemed valid across lands and continents and therefore USA is placing the ‘mark of the beast’ on those allowed to trade, and those regarded as legit.

    This is the future, and the future is clouded by the Great Shadow of the beast (justice dept) that oversees global trade and global commerce.

  7. Alex

    March 3, 2022 at 8:28 pm

    Russia doesn’t care about sanctions. How do you not understand this yet. Russia will go to the end. Even to the end of the Western world. The lies and terrorism of the West have awakened the bear.

  8. Commentar

    March 3, 2022 at 9:12 pm

    The ‘beast’ is not just the undebased or highly immaculate justice department that dispenses top-rated justice but also the vile state department that cranks out incredibly pugnacious and belligerent pronouncements every other hour. Like its accusations of ‘invasion just hours away’ and ‘aggression’ and “state actors”, ‘bloody’ and ‘genocide’ which actually are apt or terribly perfect labels to stick on uncle Sam.

    The beast is therefore the sidekick or righthand man of uncle Sam and is regarded as always above the law .

  9. Slack

    March 3, 2022 at 9:27 pm

    Russia’s future is shared with china, this is to be fully expected, unless Washington is able to get navalny or some other Russian quisling or clique of quislings to seize power in Moscow.

    It is incidentally also the reason why US & NATO are so keen or so eager beaver to swallow ukraine into the NATO horde. Just a quick hop and sprint over the border and you’re in red square.

    Thus Biden forced Russia to opt for its decision to throw out the banderites, then Biden imposed crippling sanctions designed for strangulation (in the vision of Biden’s hubris cluttered brain) and result is – Russia getting cosy with china.

    Thus Russia’s future is with china.

  10. Slack

    March 3, 2022 at 9:40 pm

    Russia and china see a brilliant future together despite what the powerful press people in Australia, england, US, Canada, and other places may opine.

    This is because it is morning in china, even though it could be past late noon in Russia. Morning and late noon combined, and what do you have or what can you expect to have on your hands ?

    MAGICAL HOUR ! (sorry, no prizes for this guess).

    US and Europe will gnash their teeth, hurl curses, and stink bombs, and possibly even spray viruses at both of them.

  11. Grumpy Codger

    March 3, 2022 at 10:00 pm

    Jesus, these writing style in these comments might as well be a fingerprint. And they all have exactly the same one.

    You need to rotate, guys. Work the punctuation to, you know, get some personality? And update your dictionary; it reads dated, not smart. And possibly vary the timestamps.

  12. Commentar

    March 3, 2022 at 10:00 pm

    Russia has developed and put in service the world’s first effective hypersonic weapon systems and china has its own hypers as well.

    Together, when push comes to shove, both nations will teach US & NATO and the world a lesson they’ll never forget (a direct quote from Winston Churchill after pearl harbor and disastrous sinking of RN capital warships off malaya).

    This is something Biden has never factored in within his brilliant plans to separately corner and strangle both rivals. They always stay together, not separately, Mr Biden !

  13. Commentar

    March 3, 2022 at 10:17 pm

    The statement made by Churchill after the attacks in 1941, especially after pearl harbor and the sinking of HMS prince of Wales and another warship went something like this “Who do they think they are. We’ll teach them a lesson they and the world will never forget.”

  14. Jacky

    March 4, 2022 at 1:22 am

    Perhaps very useful within the context of the ukraine crisis and the follow-up to the sanctions confrontation, Putin or lavrov could paraphrase Churchill’s statement and then put or deliver it to Biden, blinken, stoltenberg, Johnson, von der leyen, EU and zelenskiyy :”Who do you think you are. We will teach you a lesson which you and the world will never forget.”

  15. Yob Tvaiyumat

    March 4, 2022 at 1:49 am

    Reading the comments, it seems that this article really hit the mark and is very upsetting to paid trolls. The only other thing to say really is na huya menya bez huya esli s huyem do huya.

  16. Commentar

    March 4, 2022 at 2:02 am

    Russia must be brave enough to persuade china and iran to form a grand alliance called ‘Victims of US sanctions’ or VOUSS and ban all Boeing airliners from flying over their territories.

    This will put Boeing in a bind as its aircraft will be rejected by everyone and it will eventually have to close shop.

  17. from Russia with love

    March 4, 2022 at 5:20 am

    “Russia must be brave enough to persuade china and iran to form a grand alliance”

    this alliance is not fixed legally and officially, but it already exists. this alliance included not only China and Iran, but also those countries that continue to cooperate with Russia despite the sanctions. they include such countries as Israel, Finland, Georgia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and South (!!!) Korea.
    the world is changing 😉

  18. Mario DeLosa

    March 4, 2022 at 7:23 am

    I love the comments from the local supporters of the despotic regimes of China and Russia; keep dreaming “gentlemen.” The days when your self-centered despots can simply filter out information that highlights their failures are done regardless of the number of firewalls installed to avoid embarrassing Tsar Vlad I and Emperor Xi Jin Ping. So, I completely agree with the premise of the article. Russia is well on its way to becoming an oversized North Korea like vassal of the PRC, while the PRC regime is likely coming to earthshaking realization that the PRC is giant with clay feet. I hope this post causes this gives Jacky and Commentar heartburn. But good on you useful idiots, you are indeed good and faithful minions.

  19. Alex

    March 5, 2022 at 4:38 am

    The West is afraid of a military alliance between Russia and China, but can do nothing.

  20. Nick

    March 12, 2022 at 2:51 am

    Tomorrow, the President will discuss with the Government measures to minimize the impact of sanctions…
    Everyone is waiting, of course, not for this “discussion”, but for the adoption of counter-sanctions…

    …and I think those are the right expectations.
    We are approaching the second stage of the special operation.
    From the very beginning, I said that NOT UKRAINE is the goal of Russia’s actions.
    Ukraine is a glove in the face of the Hegemon, a kind of provocation for retaliatory actions.
    It was impossible to get into Ukraine without understanding what to do with Europe and the United States later, I’m sure they understood this.
    The conflict with Ukraine should throw the West off balance, and it has already happened …
    Quite predictably, the West went into the sanctions frenzy, so the bull rushes to the red rag, not realizing the true threat.
    Yes, so far Russia has limited itself to only a few “defensive” measures, but that’s not it…
    She will not sit in such a “deaf defense” – this is always a wrong tactic …

    … and Putin did not use it even when his capabilities were much more modest.

    “Fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee”…

    “Using the enemy’s energy against himself…”
    Here are his methods.
    And if someone thinks that Putin’s goal is to “liberate Ukraine”, clean up all the cities and put a huge impoverished country on his balance sheet, and then create the USSR 2.0….

    …. You are either a moron or a Western politician / analyst.
    However, nowadays it is often one and the same.
    Putin doesn’t act like that.

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