Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 52

Unnamed Russian Defense Ministry sources are quoted this week as saying that Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently signed a secret decree which would suspend the transfer of sensitive military technology and know-how to China. According to a private Russian news service, the decree puts on hold the transfer of some defense technologies that had been promised by Russian President Boris Yeltsin during his talks last December with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Putin’s action was ascribed to concerns in Moscow that China is seeking to purchase Russian military technology and know-how while doing its best to avoid large, off-the-shelf purchases of Russian-made military hardware. Beijing’s goal, the sources suggest, is to gradually develop its own productive capabilities as a way of lessening its dependence on Moscow. The sources also say that Putin is prepared to adopt a more pragmatic policy toward China than the one followed by his predecessor. Putin’s approach would reportedly do more to accommodate those elites in Moscow who remain concerned over a potential military threat from Beijing (The Times of India, March 13).

News of Putin’s alleged secret decree–or at least of the strategic motivations that are said to underlie it–dovetail with at least one Russian news account of Putin’s recent meeting in Moscow with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan. According to the Russian daily Segodnya, reporters have begun to observe a shift in the rhetoric used by Russian officials to describe Russian-Chinese relations. The newspaper suggests that the Putin administration is beginning to inch away from descriptions of a Russian-Chinese “strategic partnership”–the standard formulation used by both Moscow and Beijing over the past several years–and that the Kremlin is now emphasizing more pragmatic technical and economic ties between the two countries. Segodnya suggests that the change in rhetoric signifies a slight shift in Russia’s foreign policy priorities vis-a-vis China (Segodnya, March 2).