The big winner from Ukraine crisis? China
June 6th, 2014
04:51 PM ET

The big winner from Ukraine crisis? China

By Mark N. Katz, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University and the author of the recent book Leaving Without Losing: The War on Terror After Iraq and Afghanistan. The views expressed are his own.

It’s still not certain how the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is going to be resolved, but there already appears to be one clear winner: China. That, anyway, is the view of several Russian observers I met with last week when I was in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s response to European talk of reducing natural gas imports from Russia no doubt prompted Putin’s recent trip to Beijing and the signing of a mega-deal under which China has agreed to buy a massive $400 billion of Russian gas over a thirty year period.

But while Putin may believe that Chinese support will help him frustrate what he sees as Western efforts to prevent Russia’s re-emergence as a great power, the view among observers I spoke with wasn’t quite so rosy.

For a start, they interpreted the declaration that what China pays for Russian gas is a “trade secret” as a bad sign for Moscow, suggesting that Putin might have been so desperate for a deal that Beijing was able to get him to accept an extremely low price.

I was also told that representatives from China have already been in Moscow to indicate tacit support for Russia over Crimea and Ukraine (tacit because Beijing doesn’t want to publicly support secession, something it opposes for Tibet and Xinjiang on its own territory). And Beijing appears prepared to invest billions of dollars in helping reorient the Russian economy for exporting petroleum and other products to China.

But Beijing is expecting something from Moscow in return: Russian backing for the Chinese position in Beijing’s numerous disputes with its Asian neighbors. The problem for Moscow is that while tensions between Russia and the West have been grabbing the headlines, the rise of China should be of concern for Russia, as well as for the West.

Why? For a start there are fears that even as the number of Russians living in Siberia declines, an influx of Chinese migrants into the area risks the territory ending up under Beijing's de facto rule.

Another danger for Moscow is that growing isolation from the West – its expulsion from the G8 being just one example – will leave Russia increasingly dependent on China not just for diplomatic support, but in trading terms, too. Growing dependence on China’s market for its energy exports, for example, could leave Russia having to stomach Beijing setting the terms of trade.

More broadly, many Russian observers fear that a fast rising and more assertive China will be less likely to treat Moscow as an equal, potentially damaging not just Russian pride, but its political and economic interests as well.

Yet despite these reservations being expressed internally and in private, you will see little public discussion of this issue, which I was told is largely taboo in Russia, especially among senior government officials. Indeed, the almost universal reluctance of Russian officials to express their concerns about China on the record does not reassure the scholars I met with, but actually increases the depth of their pessimism.

All this said, Putin himself was not seen by the analysts I spoke with as having any particular affinity for China, and it is difficult to imagine him having any intention of allowing Russia to become increasingly dependent on, much less subordinate to, China. This is because he may see the current tensions in Russian-Western relations as only temporary, believing that once the dust settles in Ukraine, the West will be back seeking improved relations with Russia after realizing how much it needs Moscow’s cooperation on key issues.

But will it actually play out in this way? There was much skepticism among the people I spoke with in Moscow that it would, especially as in their view Washington is less able than in Cold War days to fashion an effective foreign policy, while the Europeans seem unable to formulate policy at all.

If they are right, then Russia’s current alienation from the West may become entrenched, and Moscow may not have any choice but to rely more and more on China. And the feeling I got in Moscow was that no one seemed to think there was anything they could do to prevent this.

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Topics: China • Russia

soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. George patton

    As long as the right-wings in Washington don't come out on top as usual, I'm satisfied! By having China come out on top is good news for both the poor and the elderly in this country.

    June 6, 2014 at 6:55 pm | Reply
    • George Patton

      Sorry folks, I didn't post the above silly remark. Incidentally, I cap the first letter in my first and last name.

      June 6, 2014 at 8:31 pm | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      Thanks, George (6:56). How true that is!

      June 7, 2014 at 3:47 pm | Reply
      • amir jabril

        How is that?

        June 9, 2014 at 1:40 am |
  2. Ferhat Balkan

    China has been the winner since the big greedy corporations decided to outsource jobs to fill their pockets with more money due to cheap labor overseas. China has been the winner since the early 80s when corporations started to decide who gets elected and who doesn't. The Ukraine crisis is only a topping for the cake for China.

    June 6, 2014 at 7:45 pm | Reply
  3. pappyvanwinkle

    Putin has needed China to join his Eurasian Efonomic Union. This deal is likely part of that project. He also needs Ukraine to join. He might try to use China's resources to get that done.

    June 6, 2014 at 8:05 pm | Reply
    • optionrider

      You must be delusional. How will China, with its GDP almost five times and population nine time Russia's respectively, let Russia play the dominant role in any eurasian customs union? China will eventually swallow Russia or suck its natural resources until it replaces them with renewable energy and spit it out once it doesn't need them. Crimea is a millstone at Russia's neck and will drag it to the bottom. Even if further-to-the west European countries are ready to mend trade relations with Russia Poland, Ukraine, Romania and the Baltic states will oppose and become independent from Russian hydrocarbons that will reduce Gazprom and Lukoil European sales by at least a third. Putinism will eventually send Russia's economy into another tailspin, perhaps even much worse than those from 1991 and 1998.

      June 7, 2014 at 2:56 am | Reply
  4. Debbie

    I just think Russia and China need to get more involved in world peace.

    June 6, 2014 at 11:59 pm | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      That world-peace line would win the final round at the Miss America Pageant. How pretty are you?

      June 7, 2014 at 7:55 am | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      I agree, Debbie. Russia and China are the only two countries left that have the guts to stand up to Washington and tell the right-wingers there just where to get off. We need more countries like these so we can truly truly have world peace. God knows, the gutless wonders who now lead Europe are no good!

      June 7, 2014 at 8:34 am | Reply
      • amir jabril

        What ur blind american ass don't seem to get is the governments currently running russia and china r as right wing and nationalistic as u can get. If u support them then u support the same right wing politics that the american right supports.

        June 9, 2014 at 1:43 am |
  5. USA winner

    Washington DC should in no way support China. The NATO alliance has utmost priority – no China.

    June 7, 2014 at 3:37 am | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      Another stupid comment from another lame-brained Tea Partier above. What does this bozo do for brains?

      June 7, 2014 at 8:35 am | Reply
      • jsdfjij

        Oh very clever, label someone as being associated with the "Tea Party" and there is no need to refute any of the person's statements. I think your words have the effect of making you rather than the person you are responding to look bad.

        June 10, 2014 at 5:29 pm |
  6. john smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    June 7, 2014 at 4:27 am | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      Any Pahlavi will do. Bring back the Shah.

      June 7, 2014 at 8:02 am | Reply
    • amir jabril

      US russian and chinese gov r all one and the same evil numb nuts.

      June 9, 2014 at 1:51 am | Reply
  7. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    I am partial to the t
    -itle of Mark N. Katz's book, LEAVING WITHOUT LOSING...
    it reminds me of a celebrated and lovingly remembered President's phrase, "Peace with Honor."

    June 7, 2014 at 9:34 am | Reply
  8. jbx

    What absolute bullcrap this article, based on so many false assertions, assumptions and secret conversations with secret individuals.
    The West is in DECLINE....future growth markets are in ASIA. Not being a part of the G8 is not the end of the world. Of course the delusional heads of this decrepit organization would love to believe they are all that matter: in fact they are all declining economies led by a trigger happy bully willing to terrorize the rest of creation so as to remain the school yard bully. Putin has made very smart manoeuvres...keep the bully in check, squeeze the balls of the puppets, and pivot to where the future lies.
    Trying to imply that Siberia would be invaded by Chinese, making Moscow China's puppet is just wishful thinking...the Chinese are all over the West Coast, NY and beyond....so surely the US must also have become Chinese puppets tooo!!!???? No the US has become Chinese puppets by its reckless greedy borrowing, leaving itself at the Chinese being able to destabilize the USD, and with it all the US dangerous warmongering.
    The result of US/EU overreach in Ukraine is to have hastened their demise, and creating the two headed monster of their nightmares.
    The Russians are way too well armed AND intelligent to let themselves become pawns of the Chinese. The author should go back to the drawing board.

    June 7, 2014 at 10:21 am | Reply
    • Portlandtony

      Agree......Except the Chinese have one goal, other than internal security, which is having an unlimited source of relatively clean energy. They are serious....What national government could order the demolition of 2 million polluting vehicles a year and stay in power? China is no nation's pawn. Russia won't and can't hold a candle to the Chinese growing Economy..Period. Oh, you can bet Mr Putin didn't make a killing on the Gas deal!

      June 7, 2014 at 7:20 pm | Reply
      • Nikolai

        Even if the deal with China may not be a "kill" for Russia at this time, but it's needed to activate China's investments to build new pipe lines. This deal requires Russia to deliver 38 billion cubic meters per year. It's nothing, compare to 500 billion they sell to Europe every year. Everything above 38 billion is subject of new negotiations and, for sure, different price.

        June 10, 2014 at 11:12 pm |
  9. Sam

    So does it work?

    June 7, 2014 at 2:58 pm | Reply
  10. Wat

    Interesting article.
    Looks like the so-called "new cold war" is emerging, and the alliances are becoming clearer each day.
    Both China and Russia are trying to play the role of the "rising powers", while demanding more and more from everyone else around them. Both are facing a demographic catastrophe. Both regimes aren't democratic.

    Tensions in Syria, Korea and now Ukraine and even Vietnam – sounds like an emerging earthquake

    June 7, 2014 at 5:51 pm | Reply
  11. Alex

    Maybe this is a good chance for Russia to stop relying so much on exports of reserves and instead invest in economic reforms. Generally countries that export oil and gas do not have good industry and are always dependent on other economies. It is generally believed that it is the discovery of new oil fields in Russia in 1960th that screwed up USSR's economy as suddenly there was no need for economic reforms at that time.

    June 7, 2014 at 7:38 pm | Reply
  12. bothandeach

    This writer is wrong. He spent a few days in Moscow. I was curious about the US seeming to support the wrong side in Ukraine and have spent most of every day since just after Christmas (on old-age pension) seriously talking to Ukrainians / Russians / etc and to Senior NCO's on the ground via English-language Facebook streams, getting videos and photos every day. There is one true thing in this article – some people in Moscow like to make a poo face about the pricing on the deal (which has never been published), and like to broadcast that they are nervous about China. So you found out the disinformation, did you? The facts are, that this was an enormously good deal for *both* countries. Thirty years of solid steady business. Also the Kazakstan-Belarun-Russia Eurasian Union will most certainly pay off (they will simply re-integrate as before), and all agreements amongst all these parties are henceforth changed from Dollars to Rubles / Yuan (Renminbi). Not so good for our 1% who depend on those Dollar transactions. And my senior NCO on the ground in the Donbas tells of 5 Ukrainian aircraft shot down today, and also today several Ukrainian tanks being blown up and the Donbas Army taking over the Border Control Headquarters on the border with Kiev / Luhansk Oblasts. I predict Novorussia (South and East Ukraine) will have fought for it's freedom and WON and Putin will be 'forced' to recognize this – in spite of Nuland's CIA and $5B spent to obtain in the end, the sad Western Fascist-infested economic-basket-case part of European Ukraine. Recall, 'Ukraine' means 'border', and the South and East of the Dnieper river have had Russians living there since Catherine the Great. Putin did not lift one finger to accomplish this in spite of Kerry / Clinton attempts to cast Putin as villain by lying, etc. etc. etc. Kerry in particular accusing Putin of crimes of which in recent wars the US admits to be guilty. Jeez. I predict that USA is losing yet another war, as usual because the US protagonists are so weak at Geography and History. Why in Gods name would the USA back the Right Sector in the Maidan coup anyway – these are people descended from Hitler's Ukrainian SS Division "Galizien" who are connected to the Jewish Holocaust and in 2014 march with blond girls holding the old battleflags and whose men in Black are decorated with large Swastikas. Smart move. About as smart as getting Arab Gulf money to pay Al-Qaeda terrorists to war against the most popular politician in Syria. Clever clever clever.

    June 7, 2014 at 11:41 pm | Reply
  13. Nick

    Good stuff Bothandeach,But let me tell them a little more about whats really going.Right now the U.S.is in an economic crisis and it is trying to control the worlds natural resources which is mainly oil.Now oil is brought with mainly american money which is called the petro-dollar.The petro-dollar means that countries will only buy oil with American money.So as long as oil is brought with american money ,Wall street makes money.But the minute Russia and China start doing business which excludes the petro-dollar.It hinders all American inteterests.Which is the reason that the US. started a proxy war in lybia.See,Ghadafi wanted to introduce a new currency,The "Dinar".Which would've been thedistributed only among certain African and Arab Nations.Once the Dinar was in affect.These Nations were only allowed to buy and sell oil with the Dinar.Which hindered American interests.Which is exactly what is going on between Russia and China.Look around you people,tension is rising.Nations are forming alliances and you are still bickering between political parties.This is chess and I think Russia just got outta check.

    June 8, 2014 at 1:31 am | Reply
  14. shiblee

    you have missed a name in winner list . it is Iran . Russia will now clearly realize how important Iran is in it foreign policy . and it is also clear now how west will treat non western country ! China ,Iran and Russia will feel necessity to form an anti west coalition .

    June 9, 2014 at 10:21 am | Reply
  15. snoxy01

    Interesting article, I hadn't considered China's role in this conflict and it was great to get an insight.

    One thing I'm sure of though is that the one nation I'm sure hasn't won in Ukraine is Russia – despite all the bravado. They may have won gains in the east of the country and of course Crimea but they've pushed the rest of Ukraine (once a strong ally) into the hands of the EU and the US. Give it a few years and Ukraine will be part of NATO and Russia's influence will be pushed to its own borders.

    My take here:

    http://www.thelaymansterms.com/putin-is-falling-into-obamas-trap-in-ukraine/

    June 9, 2014 at 11:34 am | Reply
  16. j. von hettlingen

    China could easily need Russia on its side in its territorial dispute with Ja pan, which is also embroiled in a dispute over the Kuril Islands, north of Hokkaido.
    Russia must watch out for China's possible territorial claims after having lost the coastal Manchuria to Russia in 1858. Mao had once infuriated Moscow when he said that much of the Russian Far East was stolen land.

    June 9, 2014 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  17. Born in USSR

    Russia and China are meant to be allies, even if they don't want to. Cause they understand that if "civilized West" will destroy one of them, everybody understands who next gonna be.

    June 9, 2014 at 9:57 pm | Reply
  18. Akash

    No matter what China gains in the future, be it being the largest economy in the world or the nation with the richest folks, it will never be able to challenge the United States in any form. The only way for countries like China and India to take a responsible stand and lead the world is to clean up their domestic mess and respect their own people. In this era of technology and international co-operation china can never be a leader unless it acts democratic and encourage free speech. Helping buy Russia's gas and helping dictators like Putin will never help China in the long run.Its adverse effect can be seen in the future in the form of Chinese currency being dropped in value against United States dollar ultimately prospering the United States economy.

    June 12, 2014 at 1:05 am | Reply
  19. EA Marco Polo

    [Confucian Empire Virtue vs. barbarous European thinking]

    Friendships between Russia, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and Mainland China are growing. Sino-Russian cooperation could be expanded continually. China (Mainland + ROC Taiwan + Hong Kong + Macao + Singapore) could make and is making friends with both Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine and Russia are countries of brotherhood with three hundred years of companionship; China could mediate the relation between Russia and Ukraine.

    On the other hand, the US government just makes rift between Russia and Ukraine. Are the community of international relation and diplomatic policy of the US so corrupt? Are they receiving too much money from the US military complex? Promoting military budget is the only goal for the US diplomacy?

    June 12, 2014 at 9:06 pm | Reply

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