The $400 billion mammoth gas deal that is to send 38 billion cubic metres of gas per year to energy-hungry China undoubtedly changes the dynamics between Russia and the West. Russia has not only got its foot into a massive gas market, but it also has the potential to supply natural gas and Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) to other key Asian states through the Power of Siberia gas pipeline. From a political perspective, the deal gives Russia breathing space in light of Western sanctions and opens up new possibilities in the region. Ironically, U.S. foreign policy has accelerated the formation of this unlikely alliance.
After of years of aggressive U.S. encirclement, placement of missile defense systems across Europe since the fall of the Soviet Union, supporting the ouster of former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych and targeting Russian energy executives with sanctions, the U.S. has single-handedly pushed Russia towards China. Similarly, the so-called U.S. “Asian pivot,” a convenient euphemism for Chinese encirclement, has encouraged China to develop vital military links with Russia. In March 2013, Russia signed a deal to send 24 Sukhoi SU-35 fighter jets, and four submarines to China. It was the first time in a decade that China was able to buy advanced technological equipment from Russia. In the past, such deals were implausible due to Russia’s suspicion of Chinese reverse engineering practices creating copies of such equipment. China will also invest $20 billion into Russian infrastructure projects which is sure to inject life into Russia’s lagging economy.
Pushing Russia and China closer together has implications beyond their borders and may pose a threat to Western interests. Earlier this year, The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an envisaged NATO for the East, caused a stir when Turkey considered buying Chinese missile defense systems. The SCO, largely controlled by China, has also been able to woo Turkey, a NATO member, to seek dialogue partner status much to the chagrin of the West. Aside from energy, military and a list of other business deals, VTB, Russia’s second largest bank signed a deal with the Bank of China to pay each other in domestic currencies bypassing the U.S. dollar. This is significant, because although the dollar continues to remain the reserve currency due to its perceived security and liquidity, the deal symbolizes growing discontent with the Western-dominated economic order and signals a yearning for change. It is clear that both Russia and China along with other BRICS nations, unlike in years past, are seeking to become masters of their own destiny.
This is not the first time that the U.S. has become a victim to its own meddlesome policy. The attack on Iraq has handed undue influence to Iran which controls much of what happens in Baghdad. Leading the attack on Libya led to the death of an American ambassador, and fueling the war in Syria has only led to Shiite-Sunni sectarian strife that is spiraling out of control and strengthening Russia and Iran’s respective geopolitical roles. The U.S. can ill afford to provoke Russia and China at this time.
Critics continue to point out that the Russia, China partnership is only a relationship of convenience and isn’t feasible long-term due to historical border disputes and general distrust. It is worth noting, however that a powerful common enemy has the potential to push a relationship of convenience into a full-fledged alliance. Ruslan Pukhov, head of the Centre for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow says it best: “We have powerful enemies but we don’t have powerful friends, that’s why we need the support of such a giant as China.”