The Russian-US relations are now in a deep crisis and continue deteriorating. After the failed attempt to organize a meeting of the two presidents in Buenos Aires, it now seems that such meetings between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will no longer happen. The reason is clear: Trump doesn’t need them, since they make him the target of opposition critics. At present, the US president’s main adversary is China (due to the trade war), so Russia may wait.
The policy of sanctions is being intensified: as many as 146 Russian organizations are now subject to restrictive measures with their assets frozen. Sector sanctions, aimed against 302 companies in the key economic sectors, restrict only business ties, without freezing assets.
At the top level, contacts between Moscow and Washington have dwindled into contacts with John Bolton, whose main task is to tear Russia away from China so that it does not support China in the trade war against the US. Neither James Mattis (now already resigned), nor Michael Pompeo are in direct contact with Russia’s top-echelon politicians. For the first time since the start of 2014, the Russian-American relations are in a dead end. And no one knows a way out: the Russian government does not have a clear tactic or an understanding that it should not focus on Trump alone in contacts with the US.
In relations with China, the United States has been expressly defiant, despite the temporary truce in the trade war. On the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina in early December, the Chinese and US leaders managed to agree on joint concessions: Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to improve the situation with trade misbalance and start buying significant volumes of agricultural produce and other goods from the US, while Trump agreed not to raise duties on Chinese imports totaling $200 billion a year from 10% to 25% from January 1 if the parties reach an agreement on a certain number of issues within 90 days.
Due to US protective duties, Chinese exports to America fell almost by 50% in the first half of 2018 alone, from $505 billion to $296 billion. This affects the Chinese economy, first of all, small and medium-sized businesses, many of which are going bankrupt or significantly cutting operations.
Chinese officials admit that $260 billion is the threshold after which the Chinese economy will start sliding into a huge systemic crisis: if the US continues pressing the country with duties, the system will collapse. The threat spreads even to the biggest infrastructure projects, such as the Silk Road Economic Belt: devised as a direct corridor to Europe, the project is now in a crisis as the European Union is not willing to invest in its development.
In order to effectively resist the trade war launched by the US, China lacks offensive steps, including experience in organizing and executing aggressive operations of an information war. With the backdrop of a powerful propaganda campaign launched by the United States, “golden shields” are of no help: they just partially protect China’s domestic information space from external threats. That is why Russia’s support is so crucial for China now: it has the relevant experience.
Being passively defensive, China is sure to lose the trade war: obviously, the respite given by Washington to Beijing in terms of freezing trade duties is temporary. US officials have often emphasized this in their statements. Notably, on December 22, 2018, Peter Navarro, assistant to the US president for trade, said, “In order to resolve trade issues between China and the United States, Beijing will have to address all of the White House’s concerns without half-measures.” These include “forced technology transfer, cyberintrusions into business structures, state-directed investments, duties and non-tariff barriers.” Formulated like this, it is no longer an isolated hostile move against China, it is an ultimatum requiring unconditional surrender.