Moscow won’t side with Washington against Beijing just because we think it should


There are those in Washington who hope the United States can persuade Russia to cooperate with them against a rising China that threatens both. But this hope seems in vain.

There are indeed some important differences between Russia and China, although they are not actively contested at this time. Although China and Russia struck a border deal years ago, Moscow is concerned that Beijing will at some point seek to reaffirm its claims to what was once Chinese territory that was lost to the tsars. The growing role of China in the Arctic Sea is also of concern to Moscow. The same is true of the growth of Chinese economic influence in the former Soviet republics adjacent to China in Central Asia and Ukraine.

At the root of these concerns is Russian concern about how China is gradually becoming more powerful economically and militarily vis-à-vis Russia.

Despite this, Putin is likely to view America as a greater threat to Russia than to China, as long as he believes the American leadership is trying to undermine his power by promoting a “democratic color revolution” in Russia. This fear probably trumps everything else in Putin’s mind. Whatever challenges or even threats China poses to Russia, Xi Jinping is certainly not seeking to democratize it the way Putin thinks the United States is.

Moreover, even though Putin sees China as a growing threat to Russia, his preferred policy is not to ally with the United States against China, but to step back from Sino-antagonism. growing American in the hope that they will both focus on each other. and not on Russia. Putin himself raised this possibility in June 2019 when, responding to a question about Russia’s policy regarding Sino-U.S. Competition, he said: to see who wins.

Indeed, given that Putin may see the dispute between China and the United States as a way to distract Beijing’s attention from his differences with Moscow, he may consider American attempts to persuade him that Washington and Moscow should work. together against Beijing as an American effort to divert Chinese attention to Russia and away from the United States.

There are even some Russians who believe that instead of forcing Moscow to side with America against China (or vice versa), growing Sino-American antagonism will provide Russia with the opportunity to lead a third block which will be able to balance between Washington and Beijing. This, however, could only happen if America’s allies in Europe, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere decided that 1) America is as much of a threat to them as China; 2) Russia is not or as much of a threat to them as China and America; and 3) they somehow need Russian leadership to keep America and China at bay. This Russian expectation, however, seems to be as unrealistic as the American expectation that Washington can persuade Moscow to ally with it against Beijing. Americans are not the only ones subject to geopolitical illusions.

If Putin – or his successor – ever decides that it is in Moscow’s best interests to ally with the United States against China, it won’t be because Washington convinces him to do so. It will happen, on the contrary, because Putin becomes so fearful of China that he himself seeks to cooperate with Washington against it. And that can only happen if Beijing stops treating Moscow relatively cautiously and begins to openly intimidate it as Beijing does so many other nations.

This too seems unlikely. Even if this is the case, it should be remembered that there was a 15-year lag between the start of the Sino-Soviet conflict in 1956 and Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to Beijing in 1971 and the start of the Sino rapprochement. -American. Thus, there may be a considerable period of time between the onset of overt Sino-Russian tensions before Putin in particular turns to Washington for support against China.

Until that happens, it would be safer for US foreign policy makers to accept that Moscow and Beijing will continue to work together against their common enemy, US Russia is not going to side with it. of the United States against China simply because there are those in Washington who convinced themselves that it would be in Moscow’s best interests.

Mark N. Katz is Professor of Government and Policy at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, and Senior Non-Resident Researcher at the Atlantic Council.


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