April 2017 has produced an unexpected swing in what used to be known as the Strategic Triangle. In 2014-16, China-Russia relations appeared closer than ever, as neither state offered an opening to the United States to alter the triangular dynamics. With Donald Trump’s bid for presidency and subsequent win, there was much talk in late 2016 and early 2017 of US overtures to Russia amid a harsher line to China. But suddenly, with the US bombing in Syria following its use of chemical weapons (and Vladimir Putin’s unyielding defense of his ally) and Trump’s summit with Xi Jinping, an entirely different triangular dynamic was being discussed in April. Rarely has there been so much instability and confusion in a triangle that since the 1950s has changed only gradually at decade-long intervals.
To bring some clarity to what is happening, we turn to a US observer for a negative assessment of the Russia-US relations within this triangular context. For a more positive assessment—at least of the potential for Russia-US cooperation—we present the views of a Russian observer. Both consider scenarios of how the recent developments could impact the strategic triangle over the coming period.