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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Isolating Uncle Sam

President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin signed the first post-Soviet friendship treaty between the two nations this week. "The treaty will bring friendship from generation to generation," Jiang said after the signing ceremony. "This is a milestone in the development of Chinese-Russian relations."

In a joint statement, Putin and Jiang said they were hoping for a "just and rational new international order" to reflect their concept of a "multipolar" world led by the United Nations, rather than Washington.

The treaty made it clear that the two countries had no immediate plans to form a military alliance. Article 7 of the treaty specifies that Russia and China will promote military cooperation, arms trade and military technology transfers, but this is "not aimed against third countries."

The U.S. State Department was quick to announce that the Chinese-Russian pact is no threat. But behind the scenes the new closeness between Moscow and Beijing is causing serious headaches in Washington.

Two months ago The Washington Times published a story, based on leaks from the Pentagon, that alleged that a February 2001 Russian strategic exercise was in fact a preparation to attack U.S. bases in the Far East in support of China. The exercises involved Russian Tu-22 Backfire bombers that flew close to Japanese airspace.

"The Russians were practicing nuclear intervention against U.S. troops on Taiwan," said an unidentified American intelligence official, familiar with classified reports.

High-ranking Russian generals and diplomats I interviewed on the subject said that these allegations are crazy, that if and when the U.S. and China clash over Taiwan, Moscow would do its best to keep neutral.

A Chinese-U.S. confrontation over Taiwan is perceived in Moscow as a distinct possibility in the coming decade. The repeated emphasis that the new pact with Beijing is not a military alliance is a clear indication of Moscow's desire to keep out of the fray. But Russia's neutral stance will most probably be tilted strongly in favor of China.

In the last several months, Washington has been regularly probing Russian officials on the possibility of forming a closer alliance based in part on a coordinated effort to contain China — a possible threat to both nations in the future. But these advances have been rejected.

The newly signed pact specifically mentions that China and Russia will not enter any alliances that can threaten each other's territorial integrity. From Beijing's — and Moscow's — point of view, the problem of Taiwan is first and foremost a problem of China's territorial integrity, of a renegade province attempting to break away.

Russia is today supplying China with modern weapons and will most probably continue to supply arms if a conflict erupts over Taiwan. In 2000, according to industry sources, Chinese military procurement in Russia doubled to nearly $2 billion (more than 60 percent of all Russian arms exports). China is today negotiating the purchase of Russia's newest anti-ship missile, the Granit, which is deployed on Oscar II (Kursk-type) nuclear attack submarines.

There are two almost completed Oscar II subs stranded after the collapse of the Soviet Union at the Severodvinsk "Sevmash" shipyard. Finishing the subs, using Soviet-made equipment and parts, would not cost Russian industry much, but China could be pressed to pay up to $2 billion. The consequences of such a deal coming through are already strongly influencing Russian defense and foreign policies.

The Granit cruise missiles are designed to carry nuclear warheads to knock out U.S. aircraft carriers. China could equip Russian Granits with its own nukes and alter the strategic balance in the Eastern Pacific.

Russian military sources say that Granit cruise missiles have a very sophisticated computerized guidance system that uses an on-board radar and also can take in data from Russian spy and navigation satellites. Today it's reported there's a package deal being negotiated with Beijing that will involve Chinese investment to help prop up Russia's ailing military satellite constellation in exchange for data.

Russia and China are forming a relationship that is an alliance in everything but name. We will not fight for China, but we hope that our weapons and military technologies will help diminish U.S. influence in Asia and in the Pacific and promote a "multipolar world," while the proceeds of arms trade will be used to keep our defense industry ticking.

Of course such a policy may end in disaster, but the Kremlin seems ready to take strategic risks.

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent Moscow-based defense analyst.