World Economy

Russia's pivot towards China could damage ties with Europe, Belgium's top official says

Key Points
  • Russia is experiencing tense relations with the U.S. and Europe and warmer ties with China.
  • Xi described Russian President Vladimir Putin as his "best friend" on Wednesday.
  • Europe and the U.S. continue to impose sanctions on Russia.
Biggest threat to the EU is a trade war: Belgian deputy prime minister

Russia might be enjoying a blossoming relationship with China but it should beware drifting away from its neighbor Europe in the process, according to Belgium's deputy prime minister.

Russia's international relationships could be seen as ones of love and hate currently, with tense and fractious relations with the U.S. and Europe and increasingly warmer relations with China.

The apparent "special relationship" between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping was conspicuous at the start of Xi's three-day state visit to Russia Wednesday as he praised Putin and pledged to deepen Sino-Russian cooperation.

Xi described Russian President Vladimir Putin as his "best friend" on Wednesday and vowed to foster deeper diplomatic and trade relations between the countries, a move that comes as both Russia and China's relations with the U.S. remain tense amid U.S. sanctions on the former and tariffs on the latter.

Russia's apparent ease with cozying up to China is likely to be closely watched by the U.S. and Europe - both of which have strained relationships with Russia.

Both the U.S. and EU have imposed sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, role in a pro-Russian uprising in east Ukraine, and for U.S. election interference and the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal with a nerve agent in the U.K.

Ukraine continues to be a source of tension and turbulence. Europe has tried to broker a peace deal (known as the "Minsk agreements") between Russia and Ukraine over contested territory in the east of the country but both sides accuse the other of contravening the accords, and the peace is fragile at best.

In the meantime, Europe's sanctions on Russia are expected to be rolled over as they are tied to the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements.

"Russia must also be aware that doing business with Europe and solving the problems that are in the Minsk agreements are not only very positive for Russia but also for Europe," Kris Peeters, deputy prime minister and economy minister of Belgium, told CNBC Thursday.

He noted that while Russia might be looking to China for friendship and an economic boost, it should not neglect its neighbor Europe.

"The President of China is here to say to the world, 'Ok, we can do business,' but Russia must be aware that Europe is very close, very nearby to Russia and that when there is an agreement over the Minsk element, we can do business again." he told CNBC's Geoff Cutmore at SPIEF.

"My conviction is that the relationship between Europe and Russia is a very important one, when you look to history we are very close. Of course, the problems with Ukraine we can solve that with dialog and respect for each other – but if that's not the case we need to persuade Putin and other ministers to come to the table and find other solutions."