Understanding the Broader Transatlantic Security Implications of Greater Sino-Russian Military Alignment

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The leadership of both China and Russia recognize that they have a shared goal of working together to challenge what they perceive to be a Western-dominated world order that is structured to constrain their long-term strategic goals. However, there still remain impediments that prevent this cooperative relationship from morphing into a wholehearted alliance. This report examines the writings of Chinese and Russian strategic thinkers to explore Sino-Russian cooperation across four main areas: arms sales and technology transfers, military exercises, space and cyber warfare, and hybrid tactics. The core sources used for this report have never before been translated into English.

Strategic thinkers in both countries recognize that while Russia currently faces increasing diplomatic isolation and economic stagnation, China's global position and strength continues to grow. This widening gulf between the economic and technological capabilities of each country will increase the inequality in their relationship and in turn impact its bilateral dynamic. While Russia used to be the more advanced partner in terms of arms sales and technology transfers, China's rapid development in these areas has put the two partners on more of an equal footing. China and Russia have increased their engagement in the realm of joint military exercises, and this collaboration is expected to continue. Regarding their work together on issues connected to space and cyber, engagement is more limited and is focused more on technical cooperation and joint diplomatic efforts to oppose perceived moves by the United States to militarize space. While China and Russia each recognize the importance of hybrid warfare in contemporary geopolitics, for now they lack a shared strategy of how best to counter Western hybrid capabilities.

Looking forward, the fallout from Russia's war in Ukraine threatens the long-term ability of the Kremlin to carry its weight in its partnership with Beijing. On the other hand, Russian efforts to react to Western-led economic sanctions and support for Ukraine could provide the Chinese leadership with an important guide as to how their own country could resist Western pressure during a crisis in the Indo-Pacific region.

This publication was funded by the Russia Strategic Initiative, U.S. European Command. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Defense or the United States government.

Max Bergmann
Director, Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program and Stuart Center

Andrew Lohsen

Former Fellow, Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program