Moscow Is Playing Second Fiddle to Beijing
By Mark Galeotti
U.S. President Barack Obama has talked a great deal about a pivot to Asia, but recent news make it look on the surface as if it is Russian President Vladimir Putin who is actually delivering.
Not only is his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping going to be in Moscow attending the May 9 Victory Day parade that his Western counterparts are so conspicuously snubbing, but every day seems to bring reports of new Russo-Chinese initiatives.
This month, six Russian and three Chinese warships will carry out live-fire training in the Mediterranean. Exercise Joint Sea 2015 will be the very first time they have operated together in the Mediterranean (they have been mounting joint exercises in the Pacific and Asian seas since 2012).
This is essentially a political gesture, but as such it is effective, especially combined with the slew of recent announcements of defense sales and joint projects. China is to become the first foreign buyer of the advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile system, for example, and the two countries are to cooperate on upgrading the Russian Mi-26 heavy military transport helicopter design.
There is even talk of Moscow having a role in Beijing's ambitious $40 billion planned moon base, as well as license-production of Russian space rockets to support the program.
Meanwhile, Beijing is offering to invest $5.2 billion in a high-speed rail line. The line would connect Moscow and Kazan and in due course be extended to China.
All exciting stuff, although largely to be considered as secondary to the massive flow of Russian primary exports to China. At the end of April, the Federation Council ratified the deal, signed last year, to deliver 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas to China from 2018 through the Power of Siberia pipeline. The deal is worth some $400 billion over 30 years.
Overall, in 2014, bilateral trade was worth $95.3 billion and the intention is to raise this to $100 billion as part of a plan to reach $200 billion by 2020.