Cracks in Sino-Russian friendship. It seems Moscow is withholding the delivery of S-400 batteries and components bound to China. Some officials have spoken about how COVID-19 has hampered production at the Fakel Machine-Building Design Bureau factory. Others spoke on how delivering and deploying such platforms abroad would mean a large flux of hardware and personnel, which would be detrimental to COVID-19 social-distancing and isolation rules…
That’s all well and good, but when India requested Moscow for assistance following clashes between Chinese and Indian troops in June 2020, Russia agreed to fast track the delivery of fighter jets and… S-400 batteries to New Delhi! Said S-400 deliveries were brought forward by a whole year, with India expecting them to arrive from December 2020 or January 2021 onward. This move pleased New-Delhi but angered Beijing.
So… What is really going on between Beijing and Moscow?
Long story short, Moscow is displeased with Chinese espionage. Valery Mitko, President of St Petersburg Arctic Social Sciences Academy has recently been found guilty of handling classified information to the Chinese during a trip to China in 2016. Said classified information relate to Russia’s research on hydroacoustics and submarine detection strategies. We’re talking here about a high-treason case. The Russian authorities are also weary of the Chinese embassy in Moscow and its intelligence gathering activities: It seems a whole office is dedicated to “inform” (drill) chinese students and tourists on how to effectively gather intel when they are visiting/studying in Russia…
Finally, Moscow is tired of Beijing switching on the photocopier and attempting to reverse engineer everything the Chinese order from Russia. Typically, when China orders a batch of weapons systems from Russia, its own industry starts producing homemade copies within a handful of years. Not only does this activity pilfer Russian intellectual property, it also costs Moscow a fair amount of money in lost income. Long term, it also helps China slowly gain a technological advantage over Russia, even in domains where Beijing has traditionally lagged behind.
Are we witnessing a complete breakdown of Sino-Russian relations? No. Of course not. Those two frenemies need one-another, economically and diplomatically. They will find a way to resolve those issues… At least short to medium term. However, as Chinese actions become more daring and brazen and as Beijing slowly edges forward to become the major/senior partner in this relationship, we can expect Moscow to start pushing back more forcefully and more regularly.
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