Admiral Stavridis, in excerpts from his memoir published in the Naval Institute Proceedings, reflects my early view of Russia after the Cold War (no link, I'm just reading from hard copy and typing--you're welcome):
Throughout the early days of my time at NATO I was reasonably optimistic about our relations with Russia because I figured that, in the end, they would have nowhere else to go. Suppose you were a Russian strategic planner. You look to the southeast and see China--not a likely partner. Central Asia, to the south, consists largely of Islamic countries with a culture that could not be less like your own. ...
The Russians need to face facts: By midcentury Turkey will surpass Russia in population. Russia's only realistic option is to try and integrate with Europe. Therefore, logic says the Russian should work toward an accommodation with NATO, stop trying to split apart the United States and Western Europe (which id counterproductive and distorts their relations with Europe), and accept the inevitable.
Instead, Russia has spent the post-Soviet era trying to please China by--until recently--selling arms to China that China then copied, and coming to agreements with China on the border that give China room to push for more one day.
Perhaps one day rather soon.
And Russia complains loudly about American and NATO plots against Mother Russia when in fact NATO in Europe has mostly disarmed while America was happy to not think about Russia much.
From our point of view, this makes no sense. Can't Russia see that the West is no threat while China is the threat? Why not work with us?
Well, from the Russian point of view, Russia is acting very logical.
Russian power collapsed in 1991, leaving their Far East vulnerable to China whose power soon began to rise even as Russia's power continued to erode.
Was it logical for Russia to openly treat China as a threat and cozy up to the West that was disarming and never going to help Russia defend the Amur River line?
Not really, when you think about it. Yes, in the end, Russia will have to recognize that China is a threat and not NATO. But we're far from whenever "the end" is and until then Russia can't afford to anger China.
So Russia sells weapons designed to point China's modernizing military out to see against America, Taiwan, and Japan rather than against Russia.
This isn't just clever politics. This is a form of appeasement.
Which, as it was before World War II, a reasonable reaction to a stronger power that has gotten a bad name from World War II as a means to delude yourself into thinking you've stopped an aggressor with pieces of paper.
As I've written, appeasement properly done can make sense if it allows you to avoid war with a stronger power and then use that time to build up your strength to reverse that imbalance.
In many ways, that is what Russia is doing. They have been appeasing China until they can rebuild their strength. One sign of their rebuilding is their massive slow down in weapons sales to China that allowed China to steal military technology from Russia.
But appeasing a stronger power is humiliating. Especially for a former superpower suddenly turned into a near-Third World, alcohol-addled country losing population every day.
So what are you to do when you must appease China?
Pretend the real threat is something that is actually no threat at all--NATO and behind that alliance, America.
Poke at us and what are we going to do? Invade Russia? Hah! European NATO countries struggled to put a division's worth of real troops in Afghanistan.
So NATO is a safe threat for Russia to highlight. NATO isn't going to make Russia pay much a price for treating us as an enemy. And the lack of threat can be put down to the vigilance of Russia in holding back the next Hitler or Napoleon who dreams of sweeping all the way to Moscow and owning that Jewel of the Steppe.
The problem for Russia is that by the time they feel secure enough to recognize that China is the real threat to Mother Russia, NATO and the West will be so disgusted with Russia that Moscow won't be able to even hope for our help should China decide that Russia's Far East is really a Core Interest of China that should return to the loving embrace of the Han Empire.
If we're going to be fully logical, here.
UPDATE: I suspect a close look at these new deals will show a continued pattern of Russian appeasement to keep China's growing power at bay:
Visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, witnessed the signing of the about 40 agreements after holding the 19th China-Russia Prime Ministers' Regular Meeting.
The documents, including governmental accords and business contracts, also cover trade, people-to-people exchanges, advanced technology, satellite navigation, currency swap and customs.
I do look forward to reading analysis about the deals.
UPDATE: As part of a tour of China ("China: The Slow But Certain Road to Conquest"), Strategypage doesn't paint a good picture of the deal:
Russia is being forced to depend on China for tech and cash it can no longer get from the West because of the growing sanctions (over Ukraine. As much as Russian leaders loathe and fear NATO, many also resent being forced to grant China access to Russian markets, raw materials and military technology in payment for help coping with the sanctions. Russian leaders believe they can handle China and Chinese leaders believe their economic power will give them unprecedented control over Russia. Someone has miscalculated here and it is as yet unclear who. While China gains more raw materials and export markets along with improvements to its locally developed weapons, Russia is forced to halt its efforts to diversify its economy away from dependence on raw materials exports. The diversification depended on Western tech and investment. That has been halted for the moment and the Chinese can’t replace it. Many Russians see this as a bad decision and that helps fuel the growing popular opposition to the government.
Not all Russians are happy with this policy, it seems.