Over the last several years, Russia and China have been significantly improving relations. In the United States and in many other countries in the West, it is seen as a bad thing. The rapprochement is seen as some sort of “axis of evil.” Yet, if those countries would step back and think for a minute, it actually is not a bad thing that the two countries are improving relations.
As the world shifts eastward, China is on the cusp of becoming a great power—and it is only a matter of time when it accomplishes that feat. In recent years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to significantly improve relations with Beijing. This is part and parcel because of the West’s reaction to Russia’s decision to accept the Crimean plebiscite to join Russia in 2014.
President Putin, a “European Russian” at the beginning of his presidency, has slowly had to lose his illusions about America (and the West). After many betrayals and broken promises by America, he slowly distanced Russia from America as a result of America’s reckless foreign policy in Russia and its neighborhood.
Today, as a result of these betrayals, the majority of Russian citizens and its political class want no part in an American partnership. Thus, while Putin still sees America as a national security partner, America’s misdeeds and unwillingness to reciprocate is forcing him to shift Russia eastward towards China. Likewise, his decision to pivot to China seems to suggest that he is slowly giving up on Russia’s American partner.
Meetings between Putin and his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping have been occurring regularly. Both leaders have frequently visited each other’s country and the two countries are cooperating on a variety of issues. In 2014, President Putin created the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) to promote Russia’s ties to Asia. While many people were focused on Putin’s peace proposal to Japan earlier this month, what was not reported was that, for the first time, the Chinese President spoke at the Forum. Also, President Putin was honored with China’s first ever “Friendship Medal” this past June after Putin awarded Xi with Russia’s highest state award.
Yet, the rapprochement goes beyond the two leaders. Apart from the constant visits by ministers and state delegations, there are many advocacy groups in Russia and China that are trying to promote better relations between the two countries. Likewise, Russian and Chinese citizens regularly travel to China and Russia, respectively, for pleasure and business. Russia and China have been having regular “People-to-People” and “Cultural” exchanges in order to deepen the friendship between the two countries.
In 2019, the two countries will mark their seventieth anniversary of diplomatic relations. Many in America are branding this as some sort of “axis of evil” but this is delusional. The loudest voices are the triumphalists who think America is the policeman and hegemon of the world. They are often the ones promoting this Cold War with Russia. It is a pity because America’s transatlantic partner is also pivoting eastward towards Russia and China. Indeed, Europe has no appetite for this longstanding Cold War between America and Russia. As a result, America has lost Russia as a national security partner and America has itself created a rift in the Transatlantic Partnership by constantly sanctioning Moscow and imposing tariffs on Beijing and the European Union.
Withal, America only has itself to blame for the rapprochement between Russia and China. For Russia, this is perfectly normal. The largest country in the world is the bridge between Europe and Asia. From a geographical and an ethnocultural viewpoint, Russia is actually on both continents. The Russian-Chinese border is the sixth longest in the world and, unlike Russia’s European border, there were no disputes over land when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.
Both Presidents Putin and Xi have opened the door to better relations between the two countries and it will be interesting to see how things transpire in the decades to come. Indeed, there is a new multilateral world order emerging and Russia will most likely play a significant role. To those that think this is “dangerous” and risks confrontation, it certainly will not be because of the two countries. The belligerence will most likely come from America—specifically, the triumphalists who feel that America should be running the world order. That is unfortunate because with Europe increasingly interested in shifting eastward, America could recreate the “Grand Alliance” that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was working towards before World War II—“The Nations” (America and Europe), China, and the Soviet Union (Russia)—as a guarantor of world peace.
While the American political class is stuck on the alleged collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and the Kremlin, the global shift eastward by the international community has left the train station. The only danger (or wildcard) in this equation is America and how it will react. It is a country that is violent in nature; it loves its guns, it has an affinity for using its military might rather than diplomatic wisdom, and the powerful forces in Washington are hell bent on safeguarding the old unipolar world order “by hook or by crook.” There is still some room left in the caboose if America decides to join the ride. The question is not a matter of “if” the shift eastward will happen but a matter of “when” it will finally materialize. Let us hope America peacefully decides to join the eastward shift because, with nuclear weapons available to all these countries, the result will be cataclysmic for mankind if America decides to choose the confrontational approach.
Zach Battat is a Junior Editor of Global Brief and a PhD Candidate in Middle Eastern & African History at the Zvi Yavetz School of Historical Studies at Tel Aviv University. You can follow his work on his website at zachbattat.com.