State-owned Russian Helicopters announced on Monday that the company has signed an agreement to develop a multipurpose heavy helicopter. Russia will contribute parts for the aircraft, including the transmission, steering screw, and anti-icing system, according to a transcript on the Kremlin website. Reuters has dubbed the contract “a sign of closer technological cooperation between Moscow and China.” The contract marks the continuation of Russia’s further alignment with Beijing, following the decline in Russia’s relationship with the West after the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
The contract has been under negotiation since 2008, with terms finally being agreed upon last week. The agreement will see Russia develop some of the technology on the helicopter, while the Chinese, led by Avicopter, will design, test, and develop the aircraft prototype to then certify, serial produce, and market it. The helicopter is likely to be used by the Chinese military. The announcement will no doubt worry those in the West, as it signals the development of a diplomatic and military alliance between parties with a history of antagonisms towards it.
A 2019 argument by Wall Street Journal writer Yaroslav Trofimov outlines the nature of modern Sino-Russian relations: “there is no overt ideological alignment between Russia and China today, the two governments share a hostility to dissent, deep suspicion of Western interference and a strong desire to impose tighter controls over their societies.” For China, the disputes with the West originate from tensions over control of the South China Sea, as well as trade and technology policies. For Russia, the main dispute with the West stems from economic penalties imposed upon Moscow by the West after the West perceived Russia’s annexation of Crimea as militarily illegal and antagonistic. China does not recognize this annexation either, but recent years have seen the development of an informal agreement to coordinate political and economic moves in opposition to Western influence.
This informal agreement has manifested itself in many spheres. Recent Security Council votes have seen China and Russia vote in conjunction against Western interests. In 2019 and 2020 alone, Russia and China jointly enacted their veto power a combined five times. In the resolutions which they vetoed, all other Security Council members voted in favor of the proposals. These voting patterns are indicative of a potential Sino-Russian coalition to shape world events over a shared opposition to the West. As Moscow has been shunted from the world economy in many ways after the annexation of Crimea, the Wall Street Journal describes the resulting relationship between the two countries: “for Moscow, Beijing has become an indispensable partner—a source of the capital, technologies and markets that it can no longer easily find elsewhere.” For China, the story is much the same. The Wall Street Journal has reported that “President Donald Trump’s determined effort to roll back China’s world-power aspirations—and to restrict its trade and access to technology—has nudged Beijing closer to Moscow.”
In Western efforts meant to curb the countries’ influences, China and Russia have found a new, powerful axis meant to rival the dominant Western-led geopolitical bloc. The newly found relationship has produced obvious economic benefits for the countries. In addition to the economic ties fostered between Russia and China, the countries have developed a military alliance as well. Many of the resolutions vetoed together by Russia and China have been concerning the Syrian Civil War, with the two nations keen to shift the proxy war in their joint favor. The agreement on the military development of heavy aircraft signals the evolution of both an economic and military relationship between the two nations. While the West will no doubt fear where the development of this relationship will take world politics, they must recognize their hand in ostracizing these two powerful blocs and goading them into an alliance.
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