The day (in 2000) when Putin suggested that Russia would be willing to join NATO if it was treated as an equal partner seems like a very long time ago. Of course, the offer was never made, and NATO proceeded to expand eastward to within 100 miles of St Petersburg.
In retrospect, shutting Russia out of the Western alliance was a colossal mistake, possibly one of the great strategic blunders in all of history. Because now Russia is hellbent on forging an alliance with China:
Russia’s view of China has shifted significantly over the past five years. Moscow has abandoned any hope that the Chinese economy is an example it might emulate. Instead, foreign policy experts now talk of how Russia can use China to further its geopolitical goals.
There was no doubt at Valdai that China knows how to do economic growth, and that Russia does not. Russia’s elite — always so ready to resist any sign of Western hegemony — have no problem admitting China’s economic superiority. Their acceptance reminded me of the way Britain gave way to the United States as the world’s dominant economic power.
Seen from Moscow, there is no resistance left to a new alliance led by China. And now that Washington has imposed tariffs on Chinese exports, Russia hopes China will finally understand that its problem is Washington, not Moscow.
In the past, the possibility of an alliance between the two countries had been hampered by China’s reluctance to jeopardize its relations with the U.S. But now that it has already become a target, perhaps it will grow bolder. Every speaker at Valdai tried to push China in that direction.
Both Russia and China have obvious shortcomings, but the fact is that the US, Russia and China are the world’s foremost military powers; and an alliance of two of those powers against the third could prove to be a geopolitical game-changer.
This alliance, if it becomes concrete, would overturn how we do global politics. Imagine an international crisis in which Russia and China suddenly emerge as a single bloc. The impact would be considerable, and to some extent unpredictable: Psychologically, in the mind of the West, it would combine the fear associated with Russia with the apparent invulnerability of China. Washington would feel under attack; Europe, intimidated and unsettled.
The old Continent would also face the threat of a split between Western Europe and the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, which could turn their focus east under the influence of a cash-happy China ready to invest in the region.
The author, a former Europe minister for Portugal, describes a scary meeting between former Putin adviser Sergey Karaganov and some Chinese officials and think tank people:
There, a number of Chinese participants said they doubted Russia’s assertions that the world is in the midst of a new Cold War.
Karaganov dedicated himself to convincing them otherwise, arguing with increasing passion that China is deluding itself if it thinks issues between Beijing and Washington can be conveniently resolved to the benefit of both sides.
If Beijing places its bets on peace and cooperation, the great Chinese adventure will come to an end, and China will have to live in the shadow of the U.S. for another generation — perhaps forever, Karaganov said. Chinese authorities, he argued, have no more than five years to make a decision.
The clock is ticking.