Green Room

China and Russia Explained

posted at 8:09 am on December 7, 2009 by

This article on China and Russia by Professor Barry Rubin, is the most interesting analysis of international politics I’ve read this week:

China is very much motivated toward development rather than ideology or geopolitical ambition. It wants to get along with everyone as much as possible and make lots of money. (Quite a change from the days of the Little Red Book and the Cultural Revolution!). So they are ready to sell arms to everyone. They are all over Africa especially doing deals with anyone who can pay.

To get cash, the Chinese will do anything. For example, they have allowed secret flights from North Korea to Iran carrying weapons and nuclear technology. When U.S. forces arrived in Iraq, they found that China had sold Saddam advanced anti-aircraft guns.

But China also has fears. And these fears explain China’s opposition to sanctions in general:

They believe they have two big vulnerabilities. One is fear of being isolated, as happened during much of the Cold War. Whenever anyone speaks of sanctions and pressures, the Chinese think: What if this would be used against us some day. So they tend to be against such things everywhere (Yugoslavia, Iran). Since they want to make money selling to these countries that’s another reason to reject sanctions (and cheat when possible on them).

The even bigger vulnerability is China’s vast need for oil and gas. They don’ want to alienate any of the suppliers and they don’t like the idea of a crisis disrupting the supply. So they like trading with Israel because it has useful hi-tech and other such products and with the Arabs to buy oil and gas, and sell items to them.

And Russia:

Russia is quite different in political terms but also is desperate for money. Its current regime has lots of ambitions and a big chip on its shoulder. Whether it’s true or not, they are angry that the West-and especially the United States-didn’t do more to help them after Communism. They also feel as if they are weak and way behind. When I was in Moscow I saw shops from every Western country selling luxury goods but nothing indigenously Russian. Putin wants to make Russia a great power, to regain parts of the Soviet empire and to have influence over much of the rest of the former USSR and satellite states.

In particular, Putin and the regime want to sabotage U.S. policy. They are more openly contemptuous of President Obama than virtually any other country in the world (and that includes Iran). In Europe, they want to keep the U.S. and NATO over the areas they formerly control. Russian companies are buying up resources in those countries wherever they can. Russia has attacked Georgia and is menacing a lot of other ex-victims, who are scared and doubtful they can depend on the United States right now.

Moscow sees Iran as a friend – the Mullahs buy weapons from Russia and they support several key allies of Russia, such as Armenia, while they do not (visibly) support any extremist organizations operating in Russia.

That doesn’t mean Russia considers Israel an enemy, however. No, the Kremlin wants to have good relations with all countries in the Middle East: Arab countries, Iran and, yes, Israel. It opposes Arab-Israeli wars, mainly because they’re bad for (Russia’s) business. Of course opposition to such wars does not mean Russia won’t sell weapons to Syria and therefore (indirectly) to terrorist organization Hezbollah. It will and it does.

Rubin’s conclusion:

One can argue that these policies are shortsighted; that spreading radical Islamism will hit Russia and China as well; and that resulting regional stability will hurt even their economic interests. Those are good arguments but are not persuading Russian and Chinese leaders.

In short, while things have greatly improved since the Cold War, neither Russia nor China supports Western policy in the Middle East. President Obama is not going to change these realities.

And that’s one of the main problems for Obama: high expectations. He promised us heaven, but he won’t be able to deliver.

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