After failing to delay the delivery of Russian S-400 air defence system to India, China is in for another shock. Beijing has been given a serious setback by Russia as the latter has decided to indefinitely delay the supply of S-400 missiles to China. Russia’s S-400 Triumf is arguably the world’s best air defence system and Moscow’s decision to suspend the delivery of S-400 missiles exposes the deep cracks in Sino-Russian relations.
Russia must have been moved by several factors to suspend the supply of S-400 surface-to-air missiles including the growing differences over the Russian Far East, China’s fresh claim over Vladivostok and the latest cases of spying in Russia at China’s behest. Meanwhile, China has tried to play down the latest setback in a rather hilarious way.
Beijing (Haidian)-based internet services company, Sohu has reported, “Russia: S400 missile delivery to China suspended! The reason is very heartwarming.” The bizarre report, written in Simplified Chinese, claims that Russia has suspended the delivery of S-400 missiles keeping China’s interests in mind.
According to UAWire, a news-website focussed on Ukraine, Russia and other Commonwealth of Independent States, Sohu has stated, “This time, Russia announced the postponement of the delivery of missiles for the Chinese S-400 system. To a certain extent, we can say that it is for the sake of China. Getting a gun is not as easy as signing an invoice after receiving a weapon. They say that the work on delivering these weapons is quite complicated. While China has to send personnel for training, Russia also needs to send a lot of technical personnel to put the weapons into service.”
It added, “The reasons given by Russia are very heartwarming. It turns out that Russia is worried that the delivery of S-400 missiles at this time will affect the anti-pandemic actions of the Chinese army and does not want to cause trouble to China.”
It is such a weak argument to say that Russia is refusing to supply the CCP with S-400 missiles, at a time when the People’s Liberation’s Army (PLA) is engaged on multiple fronts, because Russia wants the Chinese troops to tackle the Wuhan virus. Tomorrow if the CCP’s armed wing- the PLA gets hammered by one of its many adversaries, how will this ‘heartwarming’ Russian initiative help the PLA?
The reality is that Russia wants to draw a safe distance from China. Russian President Vladimir Putin stitched an illusion of camaraderie with China only because the Russian economy was getting ravaged by American and EU sanctions. Forging close ties wasn’t a matter of choice for Moscow, but it was more of a compulsion to keep the Russian economy intact.
Now, as Putin watches China facing relentless backlash from all sides, he doesn’t want to see Russia getting clubbed with Beijing. Russia is sending a loud and clear message by suspending the supply of S-400 missiles to China. It wants to desist the world in general and the US in particular from envisaging a triangular world order with Washington on one side, and Moscow and Beijing on the other.
Russia understands that there is more harm than good in associating closely with China. Moscow is also anguished by China’s love for stealing defence designs. Russia is one of the biggest defence suppliers to China, but the latter cannot overcome its kleptomania. Russia’s state-owned defence conglomerate, Rostec had even accused China of stealing its intellectual property earlier this year.
Yevgeny Livadny, Rostec’s IP projects had said, “Unauthorized copying of our equipment abroad is a huge problem. There have been 500 such cases over the past 17 years. China alone has copied aircraft engines, Sukhoi planes, deck jets, air defense systems, portable air defense missiles, and analogues of the Pantsir medium-range surface-to-air systems.”
Chinese spying and IP theft continue to spoil the convenient ties between Moscow and Beijing. Recently TASS, Russia’s largest news agency reorted that Valery Mitko, President of the St. Petersburg Arctic Social Sciences Academy, was charged with treason. Mikto was accused of spying for China. TASS quoted his lawyer as saying, “According to the investigation, during his trip to China, Mitko handed over classified materials to the Chinese intelligence. After his return to Russia, a search took place in his apartment; he was charged with [treason].”
Russia’s sanctions-ridden economy hinges desperately on its defence exports. The S-400 is the epitome of Russian defence manufacturing and Moscow’s most highly prized asset. By suspending the supply of S-400 missiles to China, Putin is virtually rebuking China and at the same time warning it against recklessly copying Russia’s military products and taking unfair advantage of Moscow’s economic dependence on China.
Sino-Russian ties have already soured over a number of reasons. Recently, Chinese wolf-warriors even staked claim on the Russian city of Vladivostok which prompted India to push Moscow towards a clear role in the Indo-Pacific. Ties between Moscow and Beijing anyway remain tense over increasing competition in Central Asia and the Arctic where China wants to replace Russia. Moreover, Moscow is concerned about dangerous Chinese influence in it’s the Russian Far East.
Ironically, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had tried to obstruct the timely delivery of the superior air defence system to India only last month. CCP mouthpiece People’s Daily had stated, “As experts say, if Russia wants to soften the hearts of the Chinese and Indians, it is better not to deliver arms to India in such a sensitive moment. Two Asian powers are Russia’s very close strategic partners.”
However, despite Beijing’s inhibitions, Russia assured an early delivery of weapons systems during India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s Moscow visit.
Rajnath Singh disclosed that his discussions with the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov were very positive and productive. Singh revealed that India was assured about delivery of certain cases in a shorter time period. It wasn’t revealed which weapons systems would be delivered faster, but it is believed that India wants the S-400 air defence system on an urgent basis. The missile defence system was slated to be delivered by late 2021, but India requested for an early delivery.
CCP’s sabotage attempt has however turned out to be a huge misfire which will leave the Xi Jinping administration red-faced.
The suspension of S-400 missiles marks a turning point. It might as well pave the way for a nasty Sino-Russian split.