March 23, 2023
The most profound outcome of Putin’s war will be the massive redistribution of wealth from Russia to China and India, or “Chindia”. Both Asian giants import increasing amounts of energy at deep discounts because of newly imposed oil price caps. Estimates are that Moscow’s oil revenues alone are down $200 million a day because of caps — a massive saving that mostly benefits Chindia’s economies. To bolster this trade, the two stay on the diplomatic sidelines. Both refuse to publicly condemn Putin’s invasion or to sanction it. Both have abstained from the UN votes calling upon Russia to immediately withdraw from Ukraine, and remain “neutral” by not providing weapons to Russia, or Ukraine, and calling for peace. This gambit was on full display recently when China’s President went to Moscow for a marathon of meetings with Putin, which ended with a promise for an “enduring economic partnership” between them, not a military alliance.
China and India practice real politik, or the art of putting practicalities ahead of principles, and by so doing are more rapidly shifting the balance of power globally. Putin’s war is going badly and he desperately needs customers and photo ops as his genocide shreds his country’s reputation and economy. But he’s caught in an East-West vice: The West provides billions in aid and armaments for Ukraine while Chindia snaps up more of Russia’s resource wealth at bargain prices. Since the war began, China’s oil imports from Russia have jumped by 50 percent — Russia-China trade now represents 30 percent of Russia’s total, but only 3 percent of China’s.
India has become the largest importer of oil in the world and switched to Russian supplies from the Middle East because of discounts. Since the invasion of Ukraine, India and Russia have tripled their bilateral trade, mostly involving cheap Russian oil and fertilizer imports.
The energy windfall to China and India alone is breathtaking. By some measures, their recent combined oil purchases are larger than Iran and Iraq’s production. The two also buy more liquefied natural gas and coal than ever. For instance, India’s purchases of coke and metallurgical coal from Russia have surpassed U.S. imports for the first time, and China’s coal imports from Russia overtook those from Australia.
“China’s imports of Russian crude oil spiked 8 percent in 2022, the equivalent of 1.72 million barrels per day (bpd), according to [official] Chinese customs data, making Russia the East Asian giant’s second-biggest supplier. Kpler, a commodities market analysis firm, has estimated that China will import some 5.62 million bpd in February, beating the previous all-time high,” wrote Al Jazeera. “China’s imports of Russian pipeline gas and liquefied natural gas in 2022 soared 2.6 times and 2.4 times, respectively, to $3.98bn and $6.75bn, respectively. India, which has emerged as the biggest customer of Russian oil, in January imported a record 1.4 million bpd of the commodity — a more than 9 percent rise from December.”
Chindia acts in sync to take advantage of Russia’s predicament, but is not a partnership. The two nations, with 36 percent of the world’s population, fiercely compete and have engaged in a low-grade border war for years. They have also clashed politically concerning Tibet, Pakistan,
Kashmir, and other regional trouble spots. But both are hellbent to grow economically and each maintains a good relationship with Moscow. However, China, embarrassed and chastened by Putin’s predations, has no other “friends” while India is the most “networked” nation in the world: It is a ranking member of the British Commonwealth; it founded the Quad with the U.S., Australia, and Japan; it belongs to BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) and the I2U2, or the “West Asian Quad” (India, Israel, the United States, and United Arab Emirates); and is currently Chair of the G20.
Both are successful and combined will overtake the European Union (EU) economically in a generation or two. Their combined GDP is already $16.1 trillion – China with $13.4 trillion and Indian with $2.7 trillion compared to the EU’s at $17 trillion. But India is taking off and optimistic forecasts are that it could overtake Japan or Germany by 2030 and rival China by 2050. America, with its current GDP of $20.49 trillion, will likely remain the world’s biggest indefinitely. Then there’s Russia with a GDP of only $1.77 trillion and shrinking.
India is the West’s counter-balance to China and has begun to attack Beijing for its coziness with Putin. For instance, Indian-owned media conglomerate WION (the World is One) viciously criticized the recent China-Russia meeting. “The crucial summit between Xi and Putin coincides with a surprise visit to Kyiv by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. He visited war-ravaged Bucha [victim of Russian war crimes last year]. Xi Jinping arrives to pomp and circumstance just three days after the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued a warrant for the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes in Ukraine. Another historical first: Putin plays host to another president, Xi Jinping, who has been accused by the United States and several other countries of committing genocide against China’s Uyghur population and other Muslim ethnic groups in the Xinjiang region. The Chinese leader’s visit comes a week after Putin hosted President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, where Russian air power turned the tide in a 12-year civil war, killed nearly half a million people and displaced almost half the country’s pre-war population.”
The WION piece also dismissed Xi’s peace proposal out of hand, as the West has, because it does not demand Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine, as Kyiv has stipulated, and because it suggests a cease-fire that is unacceptable because it would allow Russia to keep the lands it has violently invaded.
As the war continues, it’s obvious that Russia is being ruined. But what’s surprising is the role the East plays. Putin is not only being attacked by Russia’s sworn Western enemies on the battlefield. He is also being attacked and harvested by his two Asian “friends of convenience” in the marketplace.