While Russia and China constantly toast their deep friendship, their ambitions and their interests—except for a common interest in seeing U.S. power checked—are not aligned. Here’s a big reason why: China’s attempt to build a “New Silk Road” will, if successful, vastly expand China’s influence across Central Asia. The Washington Post reports that China has been building infrastructure in the region, which Moscow considers its “back yard” and which is home to ex-Soviet states, some with large Russian populations:
Slowly but surely, a four-lane highway is beginning to take shape on the sparsely populated Central Asian steppe. Soviet-era cars, trucks and aging long-distance buses weave past modern yellow bulldozers, cranes and towering construction drills, laboring under Chinese supervision to build a road that could one day stretch from eastern Asia to Western Europe […]
Here the oil and gas pipelines, as well as the main roads and the railway lines, always pointed north to the heart of the old Soviet Union. Today, those links are beginning to point toward China.
“This used to be Russia’s back yard,” said Raffaello Pantucci, director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London, “but it is increasingly coming into China’s thrall.”
Nor is this the only big question on which the two giant powers disagree. Perhaps the biggest: China likes oil prices low, and Russia desperately wants the price high. It’s worth recalling that even during the height of the Cold War, when China and Russia might have been allies on ideological grounds, they hugged only when necessary.
Vladimir Putin’s current course of hostility to the West actually involves him in a two-front geopolitical contest that he and Russia cannot win: The Kremlin is estranged from the West, and facing surging Chinese influence in the East and South.