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Russia, China lash out at US sanctions while forging closer ties

Former President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev met with senior officers of the Prosecutor General’s Office and representatives of the international prosecutorial community. (Kremlin/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian and Chinese leaders are lashing out at U.S. sanctions and tariffs that they say are undermining the global trading system built by Washington, and say the measures have served to cement closer economic and political ties between Beijing and Moscow.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, in a visit to Beijing on November 7, accused the United States of misusing sanctions to gain an advantage in world trade and to resolve domestic political disputes.

“It is obvious that all sorts of sanctions, talks about sanctions against Iran, sanctions against the Russian Federation, restrictions on supplies and duties against the EU, China are made in order to solve domestic political problems,” Medvedev said in comments echoed by Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang.

The two leaders said the U.S. trade restrictions had revived “protectionist” sentiments around the world and put a “time bomb” under the World Trade Organization (WTO), the global trade arbiter created by the United States and its allies to enforce a system of rules on global trade.

“Protectionism and unilateral approaches harm the multilateral trade system, the core of which is the WTO,” Li said. Both Russia and China had to struggle to meet the Western trading standards imposed by the WTO, but recently have become among the organization’s biggest defenders.

Medvedev said Russia will “withstand” the U.S. sanctions imposed over Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine and other matters, but he said the sanctions Washington imposed on Iran this week had the potential to seriously damage Iran’s economy and cause the break-up of Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement, which Russia, China, and other world powers pledged to honor after the United States abandoned it this year.

Washington has reimposed sanctions on Iran despite having “no evidence” Tehran violated the deal, Medvedev claimed, with the result that “what was done with such difficulty may be derailed, because, as far as I understand it, Iran’s patience is not endless.”

Iranian leaders have said they will honor the 2015 deal as long as Iran’s economy continues to benefit from the sanctions relief granted by world powers other than the United States, but they have vowed to walk away from the deal if it no longer benefits Iran.

Russia and Iran have been among the main targets of U.S. sanctions imposed by Washington since 2014, when the United States first hit Moscow with sanctions over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Since then, the sanctions have been widened and ratcheted up in response to alleged Russian meddling in U.S. elections as well as its alleged poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal in England this year.

A round of U.S. sanctions announced against Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors this year was also applied to China recently over its purchase of Russian military aircraft.

Meanwhile, Washington has also been in an escalating trade battle with China, with the two economic titans imposing tit-for-tat tariffs on each others’ exports.

One apparently unintended effect of the sanctions and trade wars has been to drive Beijing and Moscow closer together, while forcing Russia to rely more on its own economic resources, the leaders said.

To “withstand” the U.S. sanctions, Medvedev said Russia had had to adapt in ways that have benefited the Russian economy, turning to China to expand trade while developing Russia’s own industries instead of relying on imports and technology from the West.

As a result, China has become Russia’s biggest trade partner, he said, and that trade should continue to grow quickly if only because China is the world’s biggest energy consumer while Russia is one of the biggest energy producers.

Medvedev told reporters that he expected trade between Russia and China to reach $100 billion this year for the first time, and to eventually double to $200 billion.

Trade between the countries grew by 30 percent last year to $87 billion, according to Stratfor, a U.S. analytical firm.

Li Zhanshu, a top official in China’s National People’s Congress, echoed Medvedev’s comments.

While the United States continues to “swing the club of sanctions” around the world, he said it was important for China and Russia to strengthen their cooperation politically and economically.

Li said China’s goal was to bring relations with Russia “to a higher level through joint efforts.”