Russia, which has long been thought to be one of the main players on the international scene, is struggling with the demographic and economic collapse caused, in particular, by the effects of the war. This gives rise to questions concerning the future of this country and its relations with other superpowers. Will Russia, in the face of such difficulties, become a vassal state of China?

Increasing demographic and economic collapse

Russia has been grappling with a debilitating demographic and economic crisis for several years now. According to the Russian Federal Service for State Statistics, the population has decreased by over two million in the last decade, representing a significant 1.5% of the total population. In addition, the country suffers from a lower average lifespan compared to most European countries, a low birth rate, and a high prevalence of poverty, prostitution, and drug addiction. These challenges pose a threat to the very existence of the state.

Russia is a country that is economically dysfunctional, as evidenced by the big crises and turmoil in the markets. The eastern neighbour of Ukraine always suffered at times of declines in fossil fuel prices, the collapse of global demand or credit crunch. Since 2008, Russia’s economic growth has been very weak, lacking a solid foundation. The war in Ukraine has only intensified all the negative economic aspects. Western countries introduced economic sanctions, further weakening the Russian economy. 

The alliance between the bear and the dragon

Russia may seek support from its international partners, including China. Russia and China maintain close relations, which have been growing closer for many years, and the war has made them even stronger. The beginning of the invasion of Ukraine and the introduction of the sanctions made China an important trade partner for Russia, buying key energy resources at reduced prices. Chinese life support is not free. China may expect total subordination, or even vassalisation, in the future. The vision of a Russian-Chinese alliance is a very bad perspective for the global power system. The realisation of this concept will create a counterweight to the USA-EU alliance.

Russia and China as rivals

Although Russia and China have good relations, they are two countries with different interests. Russia wants to maintain its influence in Europe and the Middle East, while China, as the “factory of the world”, wants to be the most important importer for developed countries. Also, China is a competitor of Russia in terms of rare-earth metals, which may lead to tension between the two countries.

In the end, it will be the geopolitical situation in the world that will decide the fate of this exotic alliance. If the war in Ukraine continues and the West does not lift the sanctions, the Chinese-Russian alliance will grow stronger, becoming a tangible threat to the US dominance in the Pacific and Atlantic region.

Bartłomiej Haba