Although not formal allies, China and Russia have steadily increased their strategic cooperation. However, crises and tensions in each other’s areas of strategic interest continue to complicate each country’s relations with the other and the rest of the international community. In this article we explore China’s reaction toward major crises in the post-Soviet space (the Caucasus crisis of 2008 and the Ukraine crisis of 2014) and Russia’s responses to the South China Sea dispute and show that they share many similarities. To explain the reaction patterns and better understand the nature of contemporary China-Russia relations, we apply a neoclassical realist framework, which helps assess the impact of both system-level and unit-level factors on great powers’ behavior. The assessment demonstrates that the observed behavior pattern is an outcome of causal forces of different levels simultaneously pushing in different directions.


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pp. 411-437
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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