China is flexing its new influence over Russia, keeping Putin waiting to see if he can have a new gas pipeline he desperately needs
- Russia's prime minister visited China this week, hoping to seal the deal on a new gas pipeline.
- It didn't work. China is stalling on the project, which Russia needs to help it cope with sanctions.
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Chinese President Xi Jinping made a show of unity and defiance at a Beijing summit this week.
But under the warm words — China is driving a hard bargain and showing the Russians who's boss.
Mishustin said Wednesday that Western pressure on Russia and China over the Ukraine war had brought the countries closer together, with relations were "at an unprecedented high level," reported the Associated Press.
But analysts say that China is clearly making use of its newfound power over heavily-sanctioned Russia, which needs Chinese investment to mitigate the heavy Western sanctions on its economy.
Several Chinese officials and business leaders declined to personally meet Mishustin because he and his aides have been sanctioned by the West over Ukraine, the Russian daily newspaper Vedemosti reported.
Openly dealing with sanctioned people carries the risk of being sanctioned themselves — a possibility China and its elite have been unwilling to entertain, even while offering some support to Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin.
Mishustin also failed in his core mission — falling short of getting an explicit agreement from China over a planned gas pipeline the Kremlin wants to build from Siberia to China.
The project could boost Russia's ailing economy, and make up for a steep decline in gas revenues after its major European customers pulled back sharply to punish the Kremlin for invading Ukraine.
China, say experts, is likely using its new influence to drive a hard bargain over the deal.
"As Russia's aggression against Ukraine has turned into a protracted war, Beijing believes that its bargaining position vis-à-vis Moscow can only get stronger," Alicja Bachulska, a China policy expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The Financial Times.
By delaying finalizing the deal, Bachulska told the FT, China likely believes it can secure lower prices.
The wealthy economies in the West have imposed punishing sanctions on Russia over its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, largely cutting off gas exports. But China has declined to criticize the invasion, and has provided the Kremlin with key economic and diplomatic support.
It's probably part of a ploy, analysts previously told Insider, to weaken the US, Ukraine's most important international ally and China's biggest global rival.
Putin is keen to draw the Russian economy even closer to China in the form of the Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline, which would transport natural gas from the Yamal Peninsula in Western Siberia to China.
Putin last year boasted that the pipeline would replace and have the same capacity as Nord Stream 2, which was to transport around 50 billion cubic metres of gas to Europe annually, before sanctions were imposed and a mysterious act of sabotage ruined the pipeline, The AFP reported.
But China is refusing to finalize the deal and explicitly commit to it, instead issuing vague commitments back in March to further research the project, The Moscow Times reported.
Russia has few options available as China seeks to squeeze it on prices.
"Finding itself at the mercy of a monopsonist buyer, there is very little it can actually do," Sergey
Vakulenko, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote of Russia in a recent essay.
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