An Uneasy Ménage à Trois

Reliance on Russian and Ukrainian Weapons Puts China in a Tight Spot

By Michael Kofman
DECEMBER 4, 2014

Kofman_China Ukraine

A soldier stands guard near a tank positioned close to the Russian border near the Ukranian city of Kharkiv, March 24, 2014. (Dmitry Neymyrok / Courtesy Reuters)

China is popularly viewed as the winner in Russia’s clash with the West over Ukraine: For starters, the dispute has diverted the United States’ political energy and resources away from its Asia-Pacific pivot and handed China leverage over Russia on energy and economic issues. But this conflict does not leave Beijing unscathed, especially when it comes to the country’s own defense modernization plans and future security cooperation with Russia. China’s history of technological dependence on Russia and Ukraine—the heirs of the Soviet Union’s military-industrial complex—is now pulling Beijing in two conflicting directions. It can either markedly increase its reliance on Russia’s defense exports or support Ukraine’s fledgling defense enterprises in order to maintain bilateral trade relations and access to Kiev’s technological expertise.

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