Relationship between Russia and China with respect to developments in Ukraine

Contact Counsellor

Relationship between Russia and China with respect to developments in Ukraine

  • West has blamed the Russia-China axis for emboldening Moscow’s recent moves in Ukraine and ensuring it won’t be completely isolated in the face of western sanctions.
  • Beijing has found itself walking a tightrope in its response and has so far stopped short of endorsing Russia’s actions.

Recent developments

  • Russia’s FM described current relations between Russia and China as the best in their entire history.
  • The biggest factor behind it is their shared discomfort with the U.S. and its allies.
  • This has been reflected in their growing military closeness as well as their two-way trade.
  • China in 2014 became the first foreign buyer of Russia’s S-400 missile defence system.
  • Their joint exercises have also grown in scope.
  • Commercial trade was up 35%, driven largely by Chinese energy imports.
  • China has been Russia’s biggest trading partner for 12 consecutive years and accounts for close to 20% of Russia’s total foreign trade
  • Russia accounts for 2% of China’s trade.
  • On the Ukraine crisis, China’s FM told that the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and safeguarded.

How has China responded to the Ukraine crisis?

  • Due to deep trade linkages, China does not want instability
  • China’s FM outlined a preferred resolution to the current crisis, which was a diplomatic solution and a return to the Minsk agreement.
  • But this agreement was left in tatters after the Russian President ordered troops into two rebel-controlled areas and decided to recognise the “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk.
  • It showed China’s limited influence.

What are the implications for India and the rest of the world?

  • China has reiterated that it is sympathetic to Russia’s concerns on NATO, which mirror its own opposition to America’s allies in the Indo-Pacific
  • Chinese strategists have repeatedly called the Quad an “Asian NATO”, a label that its members reject.
  • On the possibility of western sanctions on Russia close cooperation between China and Russia on energy, trade, finance and science and technology is all the more important.
  • Due to consistent support from China, the Russian economy has become increasingly resilient following years of sanctions imposed by the U.S. and other Western developed countries.
  • A strong economy will back up Moscow to deflect ruthless economic coercion from the U.S.
  • Yet China’s capacities to do so, given its own domestic economic challenges, are in limited.
  • Strategists in the west and in India have often questioned the robustness of the relationship as well as Russia’s possible unease at being the “junior partner” and increasingly beholden to Chinese interests.
  • New Delhi should expect Sino-Russian closeness to continue, which poses its own challenges for India and how it navigates the three-way dynamic amid the worst period in relations with China in more than three decades, even as Russia remains a key defence partner.
  • This is not an entirely new situation, as the historian, Srinath Raghavan reminds us, on how the Soviet Union responded to China’s attack on India in 1962.