Since the West imposed sanctions on Russia, in response to its annexation of Crimea and destabilisation of eastern Ukraine in 2014, the country has accelerated its ‘turn to the East’ and notably to like-minded China, in an attempt to offset its loss of access to Western financial markets and advanced technology. Three years on, the economic outcomes appear to have fallen largely short of Russia’s high expectations.
The most visible signs of the incremental Sino-Russian economic rapprochement have been long-term and large-scale deals orchestrated by the two countries’ top leaderships in a number of state-controlled strategic sectors. Politically, these highly publicised agreements were meant to signal to the West that Russia under sanctions had ample other options. Economically, the jury is still out on whether they will be beneficial for Russia in the long run, since it has had to make major concessions to China. The asymmetry of their relationship has thus become further entrenched, although appearances may suggest otherwise. Moreover, the state-led deals have so far failed to generate major spill-over effects to other less state-dominated sectors.
China and Russia pursue two competing concepts of regional integration for Eurasia – the China-initiated Silk Road Economic Belt and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union – which experts consider incompatible. It remains to be seen what form, if any, their envisaged coordination will take, and how this will reshape the economic order in the EU’s neighbourhood. Closer Sino-Russian strategic alignment on global governance issues – despite its limits – is likely to diminish the space for governance concepts developed by Western liberal democracies and the core values associated with them.