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S-400 suspension : The non-existent Moscow-Beijing Tango

  • Ankit Shah | Team PresentMirror | Updated: Aug. 3, 2020, 7:18 a.m.

The recent reports of Russia suspending S-400 missile deliveries to China sparked off a long-standing question of hollowness of the relations between the two countries. Unlike the US, Russia and China can only attempt to occupy neighbours’ territories. And it is no surprise that the expression of displeasure to Russia’s celebration on Victory Day by Chinese people and explicit mention of China’s ambassador to Pakistan about Vladivostok being ancient Chinese land is a confirmation.


From an economic perspective, it appears that Moscow is now highly dependent on China’s support amidst western sanctions. China’s aggression east, west and south should be an obvious pain for its northern neighbour. So, it does make sense to show mutual solidarity against the perceived common threat of US. From defence perspective, China’s record has not been harmless towards Russia.

From reports of tampering with S-400 strategic platforms, spying deep inside Russian mainland to attempts of copying Sukhoi jets’ and trying its techniques of reverse engineering, the Chinese behaviour is consistently full of deception. The Communist party of China also did not share any benefits through its BRI projects with Russia. None of the investments of Beijing, be it in Africa, Europe, East, South or Central Asia has even a hint of any real significant benefit to Moscow. Be that as it may, Russia’s consistent, honest participation in BRI summits and deliberations show no outcome. All this points that the photo-ops between President Putin & Xi Jinping may just be an alliance of compulsion rather than genuine partnership.

Beijing’s unpredictability and Moscow’s safe game.

Unpredictability has always been a weapon of the communist leadership. US, Russia and India, the remaining three pillars of World leadership, tried since few decades to push China to express its intentions and plans. But as soon as the corona pandemic unleashed, India and Russia have slipped into a silence, while US vocally blames China for it. The chapter of Corona virus storming the World is another example of China’s little consideration of Moscow. There was no prior alert to a so-called friend, nor any preferential early stoppage of flights carrying potent carriers to Russia. To put it bluntly, be it criminal negligence or a covert bio-chemical attack, Russia was treated at par and left to suffer like other countries of the World by Beijing. Russia then went ahead and seconded the investigation proposal put forth by numerous countries.

‘’ Moscow has not yet forgotten how it had to sign off chunks of land to Beijing in 2005 in exchange for trade deals, while some Chinese still continue their claim on parts of erstwhile Manchuria. It is practical in this scenario to maintain a consistent flow of strategic weapon systems to India and Vietnam, both known rivals of China. The Russian forces are known to have maintained more alertness and readiness to its border with China rather than just Europe. Russia’s extensive defence support to India specifically is a signal of its desire to maintain a strong Southern wall to China. Beijing’s behaviour in UNSC is a shrewd strategy of letting Russia face the wrath of the West alone, while it enjoys as a by-stander and getting all the work done as intended. ‘’

From the Indian perspective, there are voices claiming that China used Russia to trick India into non-alertness despite signals that showed that the PLA was up to some mischief at the border. In the ongoing Ladakh standoff, as a special partner, Russia fulfilled several emergency deliveries of arms and ammunitions to the Indian forces. Despite most reports pointing at higher casualties of PLA in the Galwan fight, Russia chose to continue its policy of least indulgence. It has maintained a tactical distance from giving out any details of the deliberations with China and India even as the standoff continues. However, it ensured that the smooth hosting of all the BRICS & RIC formats go on.

But can Russia move away from China?

This year President Putin cemented the Jinping model of life-time presidency for himself. The Communist DNA of both the giants makes them keep a lot of secrecy within and in foreign relations. Russian and Chinese people do not have the people to people connect to the extent other countries enjoy in a multilateral environment. While US focused on Russia as a primary threat, China prospered silently in the last three decades. This economic might has now turned as a nightmare for its neighbours.

However, China’s belligerence looks quite pre-mature in terms of South China Sea and quite late in terms of dominating India at its borders. Russia and India have a decisive role in any anti-China front mooted by the West in the post-corona setting. China has strategically lost India and poisoned several future generations of India with the current aggression. While Russia maintains that it does not support establishing of any such front which specifically targets China.

The alarm bells are ringing on the economic benefits Beijing derived by exporting worldwide till now. In the aftermath, what quantity of revenue will trickle down to Moscow from a financially unstable China is the question. The economic blow coming for China will reflect much more adversely back home in Moscow. Russia will have to diversify its strategic partnership basket or it will get caught in the wave of anti-China sentiments gradually turning into tangible actions by the World.

The author is a CA & CS by qualification, Consultant, Faculty, PhD scholar, China-Pak analyst & has served as Academic & Research Associate at IIM Ahmedabad. Follow him on @ankitatiima for his predictions-analysis of China-Pak issues.  

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