A Very Brief History of China-Russia Relations

The response of much western commentary to the Russia China agreements has been scepticism that they can ever burgeon into an outright partnership because of the supposedly long history of mutual suspicion and hostility between the two countries. The Economist for example refers to the two countries as “frenemies”. To see whether these claims are actually justified I thought it might be useful to give a short if rather summary account of the history of the relationship between the two countries.

Official contacts between China and Russia began with border clashes in the 1680s which however were settled in 1689 by the Treaty of Nerchinsk, which delineated what was then the common border. At this time Beijing had no political or diplomatic links with any other European state save the Vatican, which was informally represented in Beijing by the Jesuit mission.

The Treaty of Nerchinsk was the first formal treaty between China and any European power. The Treaty of Nerchinsk was basically a pragmatic border arrangement. It was eventually succeeded by the Treaty of Kyakhta of 1727, negotiated on the initiative of the Kangxi Emperor and of Peter the Great, who launched the expedition that negotiated it shortly before before his death.

The Treaty of Kyakhta provided for a further delineation of the common border. It also authorised a small but thriving border trade. Most importantly, it also allowed for the establishment of what was in effect a Russian diplomatic presence in Beijing in the form of an ecclesiastical settlement there. Russia thereby became only the second European state after the Vatican to achieve a presence in Beijing. It did so moreover more than a century before any of the other European powers. Russia was of course the only European power at this time to share a common border with China (a situation to which it has now reverted since the return to China of Hong Kong). It is also notable that the Treaty of Kyakhta happened on the initiative of Peter the Great. Peter the Great’s decision to launch the expedition that ultimately led to the Treaty of Kyakhta shows that even this supposedly most “westernising” of tsars had to take into account Russia’s reality as a Eurasian state.

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Impressions of the Saint-Petersburg International Economic Forum

I am currently in St. Petersburg where I have attended the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Before saying anything further I wish to thank Peter Lavelle of RT TV for very kindly and very generously arranging my invitation to the Forum.

At the Forum I attended three roundtables:

(1) On the InfoWars brilliantly hosted and moderated by Peter Lavelle. I was a participant in this roundtable an edited version of which RT will broadcast and which will be shown in full on RT’s YouTube channel. Since I participated in this roundtable I feel it would be inappropriate for me to say more about it now save (1) that I am very grateful to Peter Lavelle for inviting me (2) that the discussion was outstanding and I would strongly urge everyone to see it either on RT or on YouTube and (3) that I was lucky enough to be befriended by other members of the panel including Pepe Escobar, John Laughland and Ben Aris who I have long known from their writings but whom I never expected to meet. I intend to save any further comments about this roundtable until others have had a chance to see it on RT and YouTube.

(2) On investment strategies in Russia on the part of sovereign wealth funds. The roundtable was hosted and moderated by Alexei Kudrin. Ding Xuedong, Chairman and Chief Executive of China Investment Corporation participated.

(3) On incentives to stimulate domestic Russian capital flows into the Russian economy. Elvira Nabiullina the Governor of the Central Bank was a participant.

I also attended the Forum’s plenary with Putin himself where he gave a lengthy speech, which was followed by an interview that was broadcast on television.

Here are my initial observations of the Forum (save for the roundtable with Peter Lavelle):

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The “Anti-Terrorist Operation” in the Ukraine has been a Disaster

In a short piece I wrote on 11th April 2014 on my Facebook page under the the title “More evidence of the Ukrainian security forces’ refusal to carry out Kiev’s orders” I said:

“A report I read on Novosti citing an anonymous but apparently senior source in Kiev suggested that the force deployed today in Slavyansk consisted of all the available units in the western Ukraine that could be deployed there. If so then this may explain why the unit that will be sent to the eastern Ukraine tomorrow is according to Turchinov so small……If this does indeed turn out to be the case then I for one cannot help but think that Kiev is going to have to rely increasingly on the right wing militias to enforce its control since it doesn’t seem likely that such small forces would be sufficient to suppress such a large territory as the eastern Ukraine. Given how people in the east feel about the militias and given their lack of discipline and propensity for violence deploying them on any significant scale in the east must however run the risk of inflaming the situation even more”.

At the time a month ago when the above words were written, shortly after the “anti terrorist operation” was launched, most cities and administrative centres in the Donbas were at least nominally under Kiev’s control with only Slavyansk being in open revolt. Today there are more reports of defections from the regular military including incredibly from the supposedly politically reliable National Guard (http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_05_17/Ukraine-National-Guard-soldiers-accused-of-treachery-7264/), the junta’s forces remain bogged down around Slavyansk – which they have so far repeatedly failed to capture despite boasts from the likes of Yarosh that he was engaged in “mopping up operations” there – Mariupol (Donetsk’s second biggest city) is lost, more towns and territory are being lost, border posts are under attack and are in the process of being lost, a large swathe (in my opinion a substantial majority) of the local population has voted for some form of independence from Kiev, alternative bodies of power and administration independent of Kiev’s are being set up and the junta has been forced to call off its plan to hold its second “roundtable” conference in Donetsk (it took place in Kharkov instead).

By any objective measure the “anti terrorist operation” has from Kiev’s point of view been a total disaster. Far from securing the Donbas and suppressing the resistance there it has antagonised the local people and confirmed them in their support for the resistance and in their hostility to the Maidan movement and to Kiev.

There is no evidence however that either the junta or its supporters in Washington have learnt any lessons from this debacle. Whilst one of the key reasons for the failure of the “anti terrorist operation” (as I predicted a month ago) has been the violent and undisciplined behaviour of the right wing paramilitaries enlisted in the National Guard upon whom the junta is increasingly coming to rely (see their actions in Mariupol) the junta is astonishingly proposing to rely on them even more.. See this comment on VoR.

I reiterate what I said on 11th April 2014: reliance on right wing militias to suppress resistance in the Donbas is a certain guarantee of disaster given (1) their violent and undisciplined behaviour and (2) the feelings the local people have for them.

After the Odessa fire and the response of Maidan supporters to it I have lost the wish I once had to see the Ukraine hold together. However to those in the west who still want that I say do what Russia urges and what was agreed on 17th April 2014 in Geneva and pressure Kiev to:

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The Donbass Referendum

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

Preliminary reports turnout is going to be high in Donetsk and Lugansk, with most people voting Yes to independence (though I’ve seen photos with a few No’s). I expected this (https://twitter.com/akarlin88/status/465366857189310465) and it seems to have turned out correctly.

Independence enjoyed 33% support in Donetsk and 25% support in Lugansk in opinion polls taken before the putsch. After the Odessa massacre, and the punitive expedition to Mariupol, Kiev has only itself to blame for losing the Donbass.

The question now is whether it will pause, think, and reconsider – or try to make Kharkov, Odessa, and even Dnepropetrovsk defect too.

Ukrainians on Federalism

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

Comprehensive, very important PEW poll on attitudes in Ukraine towards federalism, Russia, Crimea (after Crimean referendum, but before the Odessa massacre):

http://www.pewglobal.org/…/despite-concerns-about-governan…/

Two critical points can be made:

(1) There is virtually unanimous support in Crimea for recognizing the results of its own referendum (only 4% are against). This indicates that that referendum was pretty fair and certainly closer to the “real” results than that survey by the President’s Council on Human Rights which does not provide any details of the sample size or methodology.

(2) While easterners are unhappy with the Kiev regime, a solid majority of them are still in favor of keeping Ukraine united (even the Russian speakers in the east) – though this figure will probably be somewhat lower now than before Odessa. THIS IS WHAT MAKES PUTIN SO RIGHTFULLY CAUTIOUS AS REGARDS THE SOUTH-EAST. The reality is that any military intervention there beyond Donbass will be plagued by a fifth column that is simply absent in Crimea. Getting bogged down in a guerilla war is something that Russia simply just doesn’t need.

Massacre in Odessa

Russia’s Channel Odessa has done a real piece of investigative journalism on the Odessa massacre.

It appears to show that the street fighting in Odessa that preceded the massacre bore the hallmarks of a carefully staged provocation in which sections of the police and of the local authorities were actively involved. It shows that the “pro Russian protesters” (if such they were) who initiated the street fighting were a different group from the anti Maidan activists who were driven out of their protest camp and who were then burnt alive in the most barbaric way in the Trade Union building in what can only be called a massacre. These “pro Russian protesters”  appear to have started the street fighting with the active assistance and complicity of the local authorities and of the Odessa police. Once the larger group of Maidan activists who were involved in the street fighting moved towards the anti Maidan protest camp where the local anti Maidan activists were based the “pro Russian activists” who started the street fighting simply melted away.

I understand Channel One did not try to identify who these “anti Russian protesters” actually were.  Given that the local authorities in Odessa support Kiev if this was a provocation as seems likely then their  involvement and that of sections of the police tends to suggest that it was aimed at discrediting the anti Maidan protests in Odessa.  Certainly the provocation cannot have been arranged by Russian Special Forces unless one accepts the entirely farfetched possiblity that they have successfully suborned Odessa’s local administration and polce department.

At this stage any views as to who was responsible for instigating the provocation that led to the street fighting must be tentative. In order to arrive at a definite conclusion there would need to be a proper, impartial and independent investigation. Of course that will not happen at least whilst the present political conditions prevail just as there will not be a proper, impartial and independent investigation of the sniper incident on Maidan.

A few further points:

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Why Constitutional Talks in the Ukraine Should Start Now

The US, Kiev, their EU allies and their media echo chamber are up to their invariable game of rewriting last week’s Geneva Statement to mean not what it says but what they want it to say.

To repeat the Geneva Statement contains NO time line (see my previous post where I discussed what the Geneva Statement actually says). It does NOT require buildings and public places in the east to be evacuated before buildings and public places in the west. It does not require people in the east to disarm before people disarm in the west. Above all it does NOT require the vacation of buildings and public places in the east and the disarmament of the people there before the start of negotiations on constitutional change or make the vacation of buildings and public places in the east or the disarmament of the people there a pre condition for the start of the negotiations on constitutional change.

I make this point because that is how Kiev and its present supporters are currently trying to misrepresent the Geneva Statement. Needless to say if the buildings and public spaces in the east were vacated and the people there disarmed he pressure there currently is to start serious negotiations on constitutional change would abate with the strong probability that negotiations would then never take place at all. In reality there is nothing in the Geneva Statement that says that negotiations cannot start right away whilst the buildings and public places in the east remain occupied and the people there remain armed with the buildings and public places in the east (and the west) and the people in the east (and the west) disarming as part of an overall settlement achieved as a result of the negotiations. Given the history of broken agreements on the part of Kiev and its western sponsors (eg. the 21st February 2014 agreement) the continuing mobilisation of the people of the east whilst the negotiations are underway and until an agreement is reached and secured would seem to be a basic precaution.

I would remind everybody that the people who currently form the regime consistently refused to vacate Maidan whilst they were negotiating with Yanukovitch and he (wrongly in my opinion) never insisted that they do so.

I make this point because so far there is no sign from Kiev of any attempt to begin negotiations at all. We have not even had the announcement of a negotiating team or discussions about the venue for talks. Instead Kiev and the US administration are hiding behind the continuing occupation of the buildings and public spaces in the east and the presence of armed men there as a pretext for not starting talks. It needs to be said clearly and unequivocally that this is a false pretext and that there is no reason or excuse to delay the start of talks on constitutional change which is the overriding priority at the moment if this crisis is to be brought to a peaceful and satisfactory end.

Deconstructing the Result of the Four Party Talks

The media refers to the document that emerged out of today’s four party talks as an “agreement”. This is not strictly correct. The text of the document is here:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/17/ukraine-diplomats-meet-in-geneva-in-bid-to-ease-crisis-live-coverage?view=desktop#block-5350089ce4b056a9012cda6f

As its text makes clear what this document is in reality is not an an agreement to settle the Ukrainian crisis or even an outline of such an agreement but rather a statement of basic principles around which an agreement should be negotiated. The real agreement (if it comes about) will emerge from negotiations based on the principles set out in this document.

A number of points:

1. Kiev’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding, the statement that “all sides must refrain from all violence, intimidation and provocative actions” clearly rules out the “anti terrorist operation” in the eastern Ukraine that Kiev launched on Sunday;

2. As Lavrov has correctly pointed out the provisions in the third paragraph that require the disarmament and dissolution of armed groups is clearly intended to refer as much to Right Sector and the Maidan Self Defence Force as it does to the protesters in the east. Note specifically that the statement calls for a general amnesty except for those who have committed capital crimes (ie. murder). So far no protesters in the east have murdered anyone. Even Kiev admits that none of its soldiers have so far been killed. The same obviously cannot be said of Right Sector and of the Maidan Self Defence Force even if one disregards their likely responsibility for the sniper killings in Kiev on 20th February 2014;

3. The document clearly refers to Maidan itself, which it says must be cleared. Specifically alongside illegally occupied buildings the document refers to “all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities”. The reference to “squares” clearly is intended to refer to Maidan, which the militants in Kiev have said they will continue to occupy at least until the elections on 25th May 2014 and even beyond;

4. Importantly there is NO time line in the document.  There is no demand therefore that buildings be evacuated by any particular date or time.  That has to be agreed and coordinated with the OSCE monitors on the ground.  The people in the eastern Ukraine are therefore entirely within their rights to stay in the buildings at the moment until a timeline is agreed with the OSCE monitors, one requirement of which will surely be parallel evacuations of occupied squares and buildings in Kiev and the west including Maidan.

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Russian Federation Sitrep 2014.04.17

KIEV ATTACKS. On Tuesday what remains of Kiev’s army, accompanied with threats of destruction, entered two eastern cities, Kramatorsk and Slavyansk. The soldiers soon switched sides (or as they say in Kiev “Russian terrorist sabotage groups have been captured six units of armored vehicles”), up went the Russian flags and St George ribbons and the townspeople fed them; I guess the American rations didn’t get to them. Interview. And another column stopped. Good news – especially when you think of what the rhetoric of easterners as “terrorists” and Washington’s enthusiastic encouragement could have led to. Today will probably tell: if the attacks fizzle out, there’s still hope for a federalised Ukraine. I look forward to watching Washington, Brussels (and Ottawa, I am ashamed to include) try and spin their way out of this shattering confutation of their fantasies. Reminds me of the Ossetia War when Wikileaks revealed that the US Embassy had uncritically transmitted whatever nonsense it was being fed by the Saakashvili regime.

TIME TO GO? Staff in Kiev’s power ministries are changing sides, refusing to attack the protesters, melting away; there are more dismissals in the power organs. Kiev’s new rulers have, apart from the uncertain loyalty of the most extreme, little force available (vide Kramatorsk). Moody’s has dropped Ukraine to “default imminent with little prospect for recovery”. Their sponsors in Brussels and Washington have kicked in only a sum that would about cover what China is suing Ukraine for. Meanwhile conditions worsen for the ordinary stiff. Large areas of the east ignore Kiev and demand more autonomy or a referendum. And where’s Right Sector? Disarmed? Mobilising? Or beating up presidential candidates and demanding resignations in Kiev? Can’t think Yatsenyuk will be around for much longer: no power, no money, no support. A visit from the CIA head isn’t much comfort.

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Russia’s Game Plan in Donbass

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

Quick piece I scribbled off for RIA:

First off, an elementary observation: Donbass is not Crimea.

Crimea features prominently in Russia’s historical memory, having undergone two epic sieges over two centuries. It was only given over to Ukraine as a pure formality, to mark 300 years since the Treaty of Pereyaslav that was to usher in Russo-Ukrainian unity, and the overwhelming majority of Crimeans have wanted back ever since Ukraine became an independent state. It hosted Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and Ukraine hadn’t shied from using it as a lever to extract more favorable gas terms from Russia. Finally, though it needs major investments to lift it up to the level of neighboring Krasnodar, once that happens it can be reasonably expected that it will stop being a net drain on the budget and will become the major tourism center for all Russia that it was during the Soviet era.

Donbass has no such significance in the Russian cultural imagination – one doubts that a majority of Russians can find Lugansk, let alone Sloviansk, on a map. It was always part of Ukraine, or to be more precise, Novorossiya – though separatism is not entirely foreign to it (recall the short-lived Donetsk–Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic). Though it is nominally rich, the coal mines – the mainstay of Donetsk’s economy – are antiquated, and unlikely to survive far into the future; and in any case, they are not much use shorn from the neighboring industrial powerhouses of Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, and Poltava, where separatist sentiment is much more subdued relative to the Donbass. Though the latter provinces might support a federal Ukraine, they will almost certainly be very much against joining Russia outright. And Russia itself doesn’t need the Donbass, especially by itself.

Now, bearing this in mind, I will draw two conclusions:

1) Any help or coordination that Russia provides to the separatist militias in Donbass and other cities in the east isn’t a prelude any unification, as in Crimea, but is meant to exert pressure on Kiev to agree to wide-ranging federalization. Ukraine was “lost” to the Eurasian Union when the Maidan overthrew Yanukovych in their coup. The plan now is to win at least half of it back.

2) Short of truly massive bloodletting on the part of the Kiev regime – and I do not think it will come to that, though I have learned not to be surprised to the downside by those folks – the Russian Army will NOT intervene. The ball will be in Kiev’s court. It can either leave the separatists in control, and they will proceed to carry out referendums that Russia could then exploit to cajole Kiev into federalization. Or it will – inevitably, violently – try to wipe out the “terrorists,” which will totally alienate eastern populations that are already very much unhappy with it. Given the mass defections to the separatist cause amongst the eastern siloviki, and the fact that Kiev can only truly rely upon Western Ukrainian units, the chances of success are low. If it were to pursue this route, it may well truly get a civil war on its hands, as historical Novorossiya rises up against the regime.