Russia between China and the European Union: Friends or Foes?

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For a long time Russia has regarded the European Union and China as its main economic and trade partners, giving preference to the EU. A sudden change occurred in October 2008, when as a response to the EU’s sharp criticism of the Kremlin over the Georgian-Russian military conflict, Russia decided to re-orient its foreign economic and trade policy from the EU to China and partially also to India. At the same time Russian-Chinese military and energy cooperation started to grow. Russia sold China oil and gas at low price and supplied it with advanced weaponry, which has increased China’s aggression toward its neighbours. Russia also started to politically and militarily support China’s activities in Syria and Iran, which, in turn, worsened Russia’s relations with several EU Member States, including Germany, France and Italy, with whom Russia was planning to cooperate in the developing of the Nord Stream gas pipeline project. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin still declares a great continuing friendship and solidarity with China and is hoping to see the worsening of China’s conflict with the US, which, Putin claims, could avert China’s direct conflict with Russia. Several leading Russian military and political experts describe this hope as unrealistic. At the same time, the volume of EU-Russian mutual trade was almost 395 billion US dollars in 2011, which exceeds in volume the Chinese-Russian trade volume by more than four times. It shows that Russia’s trade reset from the EU to China has been negligible. Also, it is bad news for Russia and China that Iran today stifles cooperation with Georgia and Chinese separatist Uyghurs, and Syrian Bashar al-Assad’s regime is developing cooperation with al Qaeda, and does not explain Russia’s and China’s current similar foreign policy toward Iran and Syria.

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