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BIPR | Sino-Russian Relations Amid War in Ukraine: What's Next?
Sino-Russian Relations Amid War in Ukraine: What's Next?

April 6, 2022 - 19:00

Alexander Gabuev, Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program, Carnegie Moscow Center

Event Recap

Alexander Gabuev argues that the Sino-Russian relationship is built on an informal anti-West coalition but lacks the trust and mutual interests to be considered an alliance. Concerning the conflict in Ukraine, Alexander Gabuev claims that China did not know about Russia's intention to invade Ukraine. According to him, Chinese officials fell victim to the same conclusion as many Russian experts in the West who believed that the cost of the invasion would be too staggering for Russia; therefore, it would be unlikely for it to invade. In fact, Gabuev points out that the Biden Administration presented evidence to the Chinese that the Russians were going to invade, and China turned around and told Russia about it because they thought the U.S. was trying to drive a wedge between China and Russia. Gabuev argues that Russia not telling China about the invasion epitomizes the Sino-Russian relationship as its characterized by a history of not discussing sensitive issues. For example, Russia did not inform China when it invaded Crimea or undertook "peace operations" in Kazakhstan. He claims that international analysts tend to go to extremes when examining Sino-Russia. Thus, they overlook this feature that distinguishes the Sino-Russian relationship.

Gabuev predicts that China will continue to stick to its talking points of being a peaceful country, respecting territorial sovereignty, and condemning NATO expansionism. However, as China's appetite for risk is low and it does not want to do anything to upset the U.S., it will also avoid sending direct assistance to Russia which means rejecting Russia's request for lethal aid. China has demonstrated its willingness to change course to maintain this balance already. As Gabuev highlighted, during the initial phases of the Ukrainian invasion, China's state media advocated and backed up Russia's version of events heavily. However, as the invasion progressed, it recognized that its propaganda spreads outside its borders. Therefore, China altered its domestic propaganda to be more balanced to prevent the West from perceiving China as fully supporting Russia's war. Although China will not directly aid Russia to avoid provoking the US and the West, it is not going to help the West either. In exchange for helping the U.S., China would want the U.S. to lift sanctions on Huawei or other officials, and it is unlikely the U.S. will make these concessions.

Additionally, Gabuev claims that China sees a window of opportunity for itself created by the Ukrainian conflict. First of all, the Ukrainian conflict will keep Biden's focus on Russia for the rest of his administration instead of implementing a robust Indo-Pacific Strategy. Additionally, the high inflation will only fuel the internal conflicts in the West which will keep it preoccupied. Alexander Gabuev argues that if China has learned any lesson from Russia's invasion that it might want to apply to a possible invasion of Taiwan in the future, it will be that China will need to prepare its economy to be ready to withstand sanctions.

Full Audio:

Sino-Russian Relations Amid War in Ukraine: What's Next?
Russian-Western Relations: Where Now? Series

hosted by Professor Sergey Radchenko

Alexander Gabuev
Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program, Carnegie Moscow Center

The event will be held in hybrid mode. SAIS Europe students, faculty, and staff are allowed to attend in person in the Auditorium. External guests are welcome to participate by registering for the online webinar using the link below.

Alexander Gabuev is a Senior Fellow and the Chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

His research focuses on Russia's policy toward East and Southeast Asia, political and ideological trends in China, and China's relations with its neighbors—especially those in Central Asia.

Prior to joining Carnegie, Gabuev was a member of the editorial board of Kommersant publishing house and served as deputy editor-in-chief of Kommersant-Vlast, one of Russia's most influential newsweeklies. Gabuev began his career at Kommersant in 2007 working as a senior diplomatic reporter, as a member of then president Dmitry Medvedev's press corps, and as deputy foreign editor for Kommersant. His reporting covered Russia's relations with Asian powers and the connection between Russian business interests and foreign policy.

Gabuev has previously worked as a non-resident visiting research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and taught courses on Chinese energy policy and political culture at Moscow State University. From April-June 2018, he was a visiting scholar at Fudan University (Shanghai, China), teaching courses on Sino-Russian relations.

Gabuev is a Munich Young Leader of the Munich International Security Conference and a member of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (Russia).
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