CEPA Event Summary: The Future of Sino-Russian Influence in Central and Eastern Europe

On May 26, 2021, the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) hosted a virtual event entitled “Partnership Without Substance: Sino-Russian Relations in Central and Eastern Europe.” Following Bobo Lo and Edward Lucas’s recent report, Partnership Without Substance, panelists Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and Mira Milosevich-Juaristi joined Lo and Lucas to discuss the nature of China and Russia’s relationship with Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the future of Sino-Russian influence in the region.

Panelists agreed with Lo and Lucas’s report, finding that China and Russia’s relationship with one another may be understood as insubstantial rather than as a strong partnership. Rather than being based in shared cultural values, it is the result of mutual interests in CEE, as both China and Russia stand to economically benefit from their growing influence in the region. China and Russia are wholly autonomous actors and do not coordinate foreign policy with one another; thus, the West must view Sino-Russian actions in CEE not as a coordinated effort, but an accumulation of power that threatens to undermine European sovereignty.

Additionally, Allen-Ebrahimian described China as having learned from Russian strategies to gain power in CEE. Traditionally, China has viewed these states as an entry to gain influence in the EU and NATO, which it hopes to reshape or infiltrate for its economic benefit. On the contrary, Russian strategy has been to paralyze the EU and weaken it to the point of collapse. Recently, Chinese strategy has borrowed from that of Russia, with an increasing emphasis on disinformation and the creation of chaos in CEE to break down the EU and weaken support for liberal democracy.

The West must address Chinese and Russian influence in the CEE by promoting Western liberal democracy and investing in infrastructure in CEE. Lo stated that the West won the Cold War due to the particular context of the time, in which liberal democracy was a much more effective form of governance than communism. In the decades since, the West has failed to demonstrate that liberal democracy has been effective when measured against Chinese economic success, so it is crucial that the West makes an effort to display the strengths of liberal democracy. Further, Lucas noted that Chinese infrastructure projects in CEE have not been entirely successful; for example, the construction of a highway in Poland became a disaster. The West must invest in CEE’s infrastructure to strengthen the region against Sino-Russian economic influence. Milosevich stated that the lack of a common vision for the future within the EU makes it vulnerable to Sino-Russian influence and a reaffirmation of its objectives and principles is important to counter Chinese and Russian power.

Watch the full event here: https://cepa.org/event/partnership-without-substance/

By PAC Policy Intern Caroline Nowak

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Caroline Nowak is a student at Tufts University pursuing International Relations and Russian and East European Studies.

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