(Bloomberg) -- Vladimir Putin is wrapping up a trip to China, where his warm ties with President Xi Jinping have led to booming trade and increasing defense coordination. More than two years since his February 2022 invasion of Ukraine began, it’s a far cry from efforts by the US and its Group of Seven allies to isolate the Russian leader.

They imposed sweeping sanctions, froze Russia’s foreign assets and kicked major Russian lenders off the SWIFT financial messaging system. A year later the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin, alleging war crimes. Moscow seemed cornered.

China’s embrace is mirrored by a network of other states that have kept Russia from pariah status. Many join with Moscow to bolster joint interests at summits like the Group of 20 and to rival Western powers in clubs like the BRICS. Some are driven by pragmatic self-interest, focusing on energy, trade or economic considerations. For others, military cooperation or weapons lie at the heart of the entente. More often than not, they share a common outlook with Russia — a desire to supplant the post-Cold War, US-led world order.


What Russia Gets: China has been a diplomatic and economic lifeline for Moscow. Russia has been buying electronics, industrial equipment and cars, while selling its Asian neighbor oil and gas, even if — as with gas — it’s at a discount to what it once earned from supplying Europe. Bilateral trade reached a record $240 billion in 2023. But it’s having a powerful partner that shares the Kremlin’s goal of challenging the US-led order and shutting Washington-led alliances out of what they consider their sphere of influence that Moscow may prize most. 

What China Gets: Beijing, too, relishes having another powerful authoritarian state by its side as it seeks to re-shape the international order. Russia and China have increasingly coordinated their positions at the United Nations Security Council, where both wield vetoes, and made common cause against the US. Military cooperation is deepening and Russia has sold China some of its most advanced weapons systems. A Russian victory in Ukraine would weaken US influence as China mulls its ambitions over Taiwan, which it claims as its own.

Saudi Arabia 

What Russia Gets: First and foremost, Russia helps shape the global oil market and maximize crucial revenue for the Kremlin through the OPEC+ alliance of crude-producing nations, which the two countries dominate. Saudi Arabia went out of its way in not condemning Russia after the start of the war. Putin also paid the Kingdom a visit in December in a rare foray abroad that demonstrated he was still welcome in some parts of the globe.

What Saudi Arabia Gets: Aside from the OPEC+ partnership, Saudi Arabia has benefited from Russian help in avoiding pariah status. Putin was one of the few leaders to embrace Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with smiles and high-fives at a 2018 G-20 summit two months after agents from his country murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. US President Joe Biden has since reversed course on an earlier vow to isolate Riyadh over Khashoggi’s killing and sought to shore up the two countries’ alliance. But as Saudi foreign policy is increasingly transactional and driven by economic interests, ties with Moscow are only likely to deepen.


What Russia Gets: Putin juggles geopolitical rivalry with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in places like Syria, Libya and the Caucasus region, while fostering trade to its third-largest export market last year. Turkey has also become a key hub for indirect imports of sanctioned goods that Russia seeks, and a help for Putin to keep his country’s global ties.

What Turkey Gets: While siding with Ukraine in the war, Erdogan has refused to join sanctions on Russia which is a major gas supplier to Turkey and is constructing its first nuclear power plant. Turkey’s tourism and agriculture industries rely heavily on the Russian market. Erdogan has positioned himself as a self-declared mediator between Ukraine and Russia, helping to broker deals on grain shipments and prisoner swaps.


What Russia Gets: Russia turned to Iran for drones to aid its war in Ukraine and is building a trade route with Tehran connecting to India that may help weaken the impact of international sanctions. Russian and Iranian officials have discussed boosting financial and banking cooperation to ease sanctions pressure, as Moscow learns from Tehran’s experience of decades in isolation.

What Iran Gets: Iran is looking to Russia for weapons including air-defense systems and fighter jets to replace outdated equipment. It also relied on Moscow to build its Bushehr nuclear power plant. Tehran joined with Russia to support President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s war and shares Moscow’s hostility to the US presence in the Middle East.

Read more: Why Are Putin and Xi ‘Best Friends’?: QuickTake


What Russia Gets: India, the world’s third-largest crude consumer, has been a major buyer of discounted Russian oil since the invasion of Ukraine, but tighter enforcement of US sanctions that seek to choke off the flow of petrodollars to Kremlin coffers is now disrupting supplies. The relationship with India confers legitimacy on Russia as it courts the so-called Global South.

What India Gets: Discounted oil, but Russia has also been a long-time and trusted supplier of weapons. Moscow has been willing to help the South Asian nation by using its veto power at the UN Security Council to back Indian interests. Strong ties with Russia also provide a counterbalance to other major global powers, helping India maintain strategic autonomy.


What Russia Gets: Russia benefits diplomatically from ties with Latin America’s largest economy and the relative leadership it has in the region. Brazil is a founding member with Russia of the BRICS group of countries. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has so far sought to position his country as a neutral nation that can maintain ties with both Russia and Ukraine and has repeatedly rejected calls to send arms to Kyiv, arguing that the US and European Union strategy is undermining the prospect of a negotiated solution. 

What Brazil Gets: On the trade front, Brazil gets imports of Russian fertilizer, as well as diesel and oil products. More importantly, Brazil gets a partner in efforts to reshape the US-led global order; Lula has long pushed for reforms to global institutions like the IMF in order to make them more representative of the Global South. But even aside from Lula, Brazilian leaders have long found in Russia a safe and uncritical ally.


What Russia Gets: Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government has maintained close ties with Putin, with the Hungarian leader meeting his Russian counterpart in Beijing last October. That has provided Putin an ally within the EU who has variously held up financial aid for Ukraine, threatened to scuttle Kyiv’s membership talks with the bloc and even delayed by more than a year NATO accession for Sweden. 

What Hungary Gets: Energy. Hungary is one of the few EU nations still receiving Russian gas, and Russia’s Rosatom nuclear corporation retains a lead role in expanding its sole atomic power plant. Meanwhile, Orban, who’s declared a brand of “illiberal democracy,” gets backing for his ideological alternative to the US-led international order.

South Africa

What Russia Gets: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has refused to condemn Putin over the war, or back United Nations resolutions censuring Moscow for the invasion. The two nations are both members of BRICS and its forums have provided an opportunity for their leaders to regularly interact. Ramaphosa did persuade Putin to skip a BRICS summit in Johannesburg last year and participate virtually instead, sparing Pretoria from having to decide whether to arrest him under the ICC warrant.

What South Africa Gets: While trade between Russia and South Africa is negligible, they have long-standing historical ties that stem from the proactive stance the Soviet Union took against White-minority rule. A number of senior members of the African National Congress sought sanctuary and underwent military training in Russia during the apartheid era. Russian companies were in the running to build new nuclear power plants in South Africa during former President Jacob Zuma’s tenure, although plans to issue a contract have been on ice since Ramaphosa took office in 2018 due to cost.

Russia has also sought to build good will in Africa through security assistance, arms and grain — food supplies that, in part, were cut off because its war in Ukraine threatened Black Sea shipping. In turn, Russia wants access to markets and new allies that can soften the impact of sanctions, and expand its military influence at the expense of Western powers.

A burgeoning friendship with Kim Jong Un has also benefited Russia. The US, South Korea and others allege that North Korea is sending massive amounts of artillery shells as well as short-range nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. In return, Russia is accused of providing Pyongyang with food, raw materials and parts used in weapons manufacturing. Russia also vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to extend a panel of experts that reports on North Korea’s nuclear arsenal developments.

Other countries like the United Arab Emirates, where tens of thousands of Russians made a home after the outbreak of war, and Egypt as well as old allies such as Venezuela and Cuba have also maintained ties. 

For now, despite the best efforts by the US and its allies, Russia remains anything but isolated. 

--With assistance from Michael Cohen, Sam Dagher and Henry Meyer.

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