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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Selling Russia Down the River

Last October, President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly and inexplicably gave China two islands in the Amur River near Khabarovsk. He also handed over a chunk of land along the Tumen River that is of strategic importance to both countries. China has long wanted to expand the Tumen estuary and to build a port on the site with access to the Sea of Japan. So long as the land belonged to Russia, Chinese goods in the region had to go through Vladivostok and Khabarovsk.

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The president stated vaguely that the land had been ceded to China in exchange for future investment in Russia. Last week we found out what sort of investment he had in mind. China provided $6 billion to facilitate Rosneft's purchase of Yuganskneftegaz. Russian officials have insisted that the money was prepayment for future oil supplies. If that's the case, the Chinese got one hell of a deal, locking in a price of $17 per barrel.

The point is that Russia ceded land to China, and in exchange China helped out Putin's inner circle in its hour of need. And the Kremlin's gratitude knows no bounds.

The islands are small potatoes. Chinese investors are actively discussing an investment of up to $1 billion in a state-of-the-art toll road between Moscow and St. Petersburg. This is an interesting project, to say the least. Toll roads never make back the money invested to build them. Revenue from tolls covers the cost of maintenance, but no more. The Chinese investors will never recoup their money from the road, so why are they interested?

This isn't a road-building project. The Moscow-St. Petersburg highway is a future Chinatown 800 kilometers long right through the heart of European Russia. It will attract Chinese construction workers, engineers and farmers.

Have you been to the Primorye region lately? An amazing thing has happened there in recent years: Watermelons have begun to pop up. Watermelons didn't use to grow in Primorye. But they did once the Chinese arrived. I have no doubt that when the Moscow-St. Petersburg toll road is built, watermelons will sprout up there, too.

You have to give the Chinese empire its due: It thinks in terms of millenia. What are a few islands? How about a Chinese Novgorod? Or Pskov filled with immigrants from Hunan province? The updated version of Alexander Radishchev's classic "Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow" might read: "By the side of the road, just beyond a charming Chinese restaurant with a sign in the window reading, 'Russian Spoken Here,' I noticed a marvelous Buddhist pagoda built by the respected Xe family, which owns most of the supermarkets along the highway." Did Peter the Great imagine the Chinese sitting on the sill when he opened his window to Europe?

China thinks in terms of millenia, the Kremlin in terms of dollars. Medieval Chinese military treatises contain a strategic principle: "Flow in slowly so as to destroy from within."

The Kremlin is incapable of strategic thinking. Everything's simple. In the build-up to the Iraq war, Russia took the side of Iraq apparently because Saddam Hussein had bribed Russia's top leadership with oil quotas. This story is being repeated with China.

Europe and the United States reacted poorly to the Yukos affair, calling it a redistribution of property. They are now geopolitical enemies who finance terrorism in the Caucasus and demonstrations in Voronezh. China facilitated the purchase of stolen property for pennies on the dollar. Now it's a geopolitical ally.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.