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Russia Seeks Stronger Security Ties with China

Publisher Jamestown Foundation
Publication Date 25 January 2013
Cite as Jamestown Foundation, Russia Seeks Stronger Security Ties with China, 25 January 2013, available at: [accessed 13 December 2017]
Comments Sergei Blagov
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Russian Orthodox Church has reformed its organizational structures in the North Caucasus twice in the last few years alone. Thus, on March 22, 2011, Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia became part of the previously created Vladikavkaz and Makhachkala diocese ( Chechnya and Dagestan were thereby separated from the Baku diocese. Prior to this separation, Dagestan had been part of the Baku and Caspian diocese since 1998. Chechnya and Ingushetia were part of the Stavropol and Vladikavkaz diocese.

These dioceses went through yet another change at the end of 2012. On December 26, the Russian Orthodox Church announced the separation of Vladikavkaz and Makhachkala diocese. The Makhachkala and Grozny diocese was created for Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan. The Vladikavkaz and Alanian diocese was created for North Ossetia-Alania ( It is unclear why North Ossetia needed a separate diocese with its tiny territory of 8,000 square kilometers and an Orthodox Christian population of little over half a million. The figures are even lower in the newly created Makhachkala and Grozny diocese, where there are probably less than 100,000 Orthodox Christians.

Although officials tend to portray the ethnic Russian population of the North Caucasus as explicitly part of Russian Orthodoxy, the relationship between the two is much more complex. There were Protestants in the area even at the time of the Soviet Union. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Protestants intensified their activities in the North Caucasus, proselytizing to members of the Orthodox communities and building numerous Protestant churches (

Various types of Protestants are present today in the North Caucasus. There are Seventh-day Adventists, Evangelical Baptist-Christians, Evangelical Christians, Pentecostals and Jehovah's Witnesses ( It can be concluded that Christianity in the region is less clear-cut than the Orthodox clergy likes to portray it.

According to the Dagestani government committee for religious affairs, as of March 1, 2007, there were 41 Christian organizations in Dagestan, of which only 15 were Russian Orthodox and 26 were Protestant. In Ingushetia there is one Orthodox church, while in Chechnya there are six churches and in Dagestan there are 16 churches and one monastery. In Chechnya there are also three Protestant prayer houses, two Baptist prayer houses and one Seventh-Day Adventist prayer house. There is no Protestant community in Ingushetia. Even though the number of Orthodox Christian parishioners exceeds the number of Protestant parishes, the upward trend of the Protestants apparently worries the Orthodox clergy (

One of the specific features of Protestants in the North Caucasus is that unlike the Russian Orthodox Church, they engage in proselytizing activities among the native, non-Christian population of the region. The missionary work of the Protestants in the region is far superior to that of other Christians. For example, the Dagestani association of the Pentecostals is headed by the pastor of the Osanna (Hosanna) church, Suleimanov Artur Magomedovich, an ethnic Avar. Suleimanov managed to involve hundreds of native Dagestanis from traditionally Muslim ethnic groups in Pentecostal activities, including Avars, Laks, Kumyks, Dargins and others ( According to Protestant leaders, Chechens are the hardest to convert and working among them is considered to be a dangerous enterprise. Against the backdrop of Protestant proselytism, the Russian Orthodox Church does not even attempt to engage in similar missionary work.

Why, then, would the Russian Orthodox Church redraw its dioceses' borders yet again? Is it an attempt to fight against the spread of Protestantism? That is unlikely. One possibility might be that the new Russian Patriarch is simply replacing the old team of the clergy with his own supporters, some of whom are fairly young. When an ethnic Ossetian priest, Sava Gagloev, was dispatched from Moscow to North Ossetia, he said that the new redrawing of dioceses' borders would strengthen Orthodox Christianity in the North Caucasus ( However, he probably did not actually believe this. It appears that Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan were separated from other regions in order to prevent their deleterious influence on the rest of the region (

It can be assumed that the Orthodox Church works closely with Russian authorities. Essentially, the church in this case is simply the instrument of the government, which is trying to prevent a total exodus of ethnic Russians from the region ( The exodus of Russians from the region has reached the point of no return: while ethnic Russians comprised a quarter of the population of Chechnya and Ingushetia only 20 years ago, these two republics are now

Russia has repeatedly pledged to boost strategic security cooperation with China. In the past, both sides preferred only to make verbal statements on the matter. But now Moscow and Beijing appeared to pledge actual joint action in connection with issues of strategic security, including the United States' missile defense plans in Asia.

The Kremlin has long been keen to add a security element to what was officially described as a bilateral strategic partnership with Beijing. The latest development in the security dialogue surfaced during the most recent round of top-level talks in China's capital. Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Russian Security Council, traveled to Beijing on January 8–9 to attend the eighth round of bilateral strategic security consultations. He held talks with Chairman Xi Jinping, state councilor Dai Bingguo, head of Politics and Law Commission Meng Jiangzhu and public security minister Guo Shengkun. Xi reportedly urged both countries to increase mutual political support and coordinate their respective international and regional policies (The Voice of Russia, January 9).

During the talks in Beijing, Chinese and Russian officials focused on matters of Asian-Pacific security. Both sides also discussed the situation in Central Asia in connection with the upcoming withdrawal of the international forces from Afghanistan next year.
Russia and China voiced satisfaction concerning their security cooperation and pledged to develop bilateral security ties, Patrushev said after the talks. "We expect bilateral security cooperation to develop strongly in the nearest future," Patrushev said (RIA Novosti, January 9).

Russian officials made no secret of the fact that Russia and China banded together to oppose perceived Western inroads into the region. After the talks, Patrushev reportedly stated that Russia and China intended to coordinate their measures of response following the deployment of US missile defense facilities in Asia.

The official Voice of Russia radio commented that Patrushev's statement indicated an important change as both sides for the first time openly pledged some kind of joint strategic action. The US missile defense facilities to be deployed in Japan, South Korea and Australia are set to target Russian and Chinese ballistic missiles, Voice of Russia claimed. These Asian nations should bear in mind Poland, Czech Republic and Romania—the Central and Eastern European nations that agreed to deploy US missile defense facilities. A retaliatory deployment of Russian missiles in Northwestern Russia could make these and other European nations vulnerable, the Russian government-sponsored news outlet commented. And this situation may repeat itself if Tokyo, Seoul and Canberra opt to ignore Moscow and Beijing's concerns, according to the Voice of Russia. The latest round of bilateral strategic security consultations gave a clear signal that Russia and China have started to coordinate their action on this matter, according to Voice of Russia (The Voice of Russia, January 10).

Russia and China initiated the bilateral strategic security consultations framework in 2005. But now the Kremlin appears to argue that its strategic security dialogue with China is becoming an urgent matter. In August 2012, Dai Bingguo was received in the Kremlin by President Vladimir Putin. Regular meetings between the countries' leaders and top security officials thus highlight the importance of the stated goal to coordinate their international policies, the Voice of Russia commented (The Voice of Russia, January 9). The high-level bilateral consultations become increasingly important against a background of a dynamically changing international situation, Patrushev said. Russia and China voiced joint concerns following continued US moves to create a missile defense system in the Asia-Pacific region, Patrushev told Russian journalists. "Of course, we cannot remain indifferent," he added (ITAR-TASS, January 9).

Patrushev also noted that the Asia-Pacific region was becoming increasingly volatile amid deepening divisions and territorial disputes. However, he argued that these disputes should be settled diplomatically. In addition, Patrushev pledged Russia would take into account the respective positions of the other major regional players, Japan and South Korea (ITAR-TASS, January 9).

One Russian expert argued that Russia and China could move toward joint strategic action as both nations shared a multipolar world concept. Moscow and Beijing maintain similar positions on a variety of international issues, added Yevgeny Bazhanov, the head of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry. In particular, both nations have voiced their opposition to a world order dominated by the US and the West, he said. Russia and China advocate a multipolar world where all members of the international community have equal rights, Bazhanov argued.

Proactive US policies in Asia were seen as a threat in Beijing, Bazhanov commented. Subsequently, China's relations between the US and Japan have been declining in recent years, so Russian support is important for Beijing. But the Russian foreign ministry official also warned against antagonizing Washington or Tokyo. Russia should not forge a closer alliance with China against the US and Japan or direct bilateral Russian-Chinese cooperation against any third nation, Bazhanov cautioned (The Voice of Russia, January 9).

Russia reiterated its pledges to expand strategic security cooperation with China. Yet, simultaneously, there is an understanding in Moscow that stronger security ties with Beijing should not entail a decline in relations with other powers in the Asia-Pacific region. Questions, therefore, remain as to what such bilateral cooperation would actually entail. This first instance of Russia and China openly pledging to boost strategic cooperation on security matters is certainly a beginning step in translating words into actions by the two countries. However, their partnership remains bedeviled by their own sources of bilateral discord, not the least being Russia's concerns over growing Chinese assertiveness in the region (see EDM, November 14, 2012). It, therefore, remains to be seen if the Chinese-Russian relationship will indeed develop into tangible cooperation in the security sphere, or if bilateral conflict will prevent the two Asian giants from solidifying closer coordination of action in the coming years.

practically mono-ethnic entities ( Russia's presence in the region, today comprising five percent of the population, will soon fall to 1–2 percent. All republics of the North Caucasus without exception are losing their ethnic Russian population. The latest trends show that the proportion of non-Russians is growing even in the Russian-speaking Stavropol region (

Against this backdrop, the Russian government's plan to return ethnic Russians to the North Caucasian republics looks like a mockery of the hundreds of thousands of Russians who have left the region. The authorities are using this issue to show to the world that there are no problems in the region and that those who left are now going back. In reality, however, as Georgiy, the prior of the church of Michael the Archangel in Grozny, said, the program for return of Russians is not working. He said he knows of no Russians, "except for one or two," who have returned to Chechnya ( The behavior of the ethnic Russians is understandable, given that the North Caucasus is experiencing an armed resistance movement, Islamic radicalism, ethnic conflicts, tense relations between religions, etc.

It is no accident that Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan were singled out to form a separate Orthodox diocese. This might be a tentative step toward the future separation of these three republics from Russia. In any case, the redrawing of the church borders was certainly not only about internal ecclesiastical affairs, given that the Russian government closely cooperates with the church. Such reform could have been undertaken only with the approval of the Kremlin, which closely watches all the political players in the North Caucasus, and which causes so much trouble for the federal authorities. The redrawing of the Orthodox Church is unlikely to stop the exodus of ethnic Russian from the region: it will only help the government retain its presence in the area under the guise of the church. Moscow is finding it increasingly difficult to find its place in the North Caucasus, and the church in this respect is unlikely to be of much help to the government either.

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