Unfortunately for Russia, the deal ended up being nothing short of a disaster. After building 100 or so jets, China canceled the contract in 2004. Beijing said the planes no longer met its specifications. Three years later, China completely cast the agreement aside when it developed a new fighter aircraft—the J-11. The plane looked like an exact copy of the Su-27. China denies that it copied the SU-27, explaining that the plane uses mostly indigenous parts and that it developed superior domestic avionics and radar equipment.
While debate heats up in Washington on ways to impose costs on Russia for its actions in Ukraine, Moscow does have multiple pathways to strike back if the West arms Ukraine. Indeed, the above is just one of many possibilities. Moscow could pursue a course of action like I have described with China, giving them arms and technology that would exacerbate trend lines in the South China and other areas of contention for years to come. However, Russia has many other ways it could create trouble for the West; for example, in the Iran nuclear talks or by cozying up to other nations on the outs with the West, like North Korea, Venezuela, and various others. And Russia of course has the ability to raise the stakes in Ukraine dramatically by giving the separatists even more advanced weapons to counter possible Western arms.
While Russia might not be a superpower anymore, it does have the power to create lots of havoc for the United States and its allies all over the world. Such moves would then see the West again look to strike back at Moscow, creating a dangerous dynamic that would see the conditions ripe for a new Cold War that is in no ones national interest. This is all the more reason for all parties concerned when it comes to Ukraine to find a political settlement to the crisis.
Harry J. Kazianis serves as Editor of RealClearDefense, a member of the RealClearPolitics family of websites. Mr. Kazianis is also a Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Center for the National Interest (non-resident) and a Senior Fellow at the China Policy Institute (non-resident). He is the former Executive Editor of The National Interest and former Editor of The Diplomat. Follow him on Twitter: @grecianformula. Note: The above article is loosely based on several articles and scholarly research Mr. Kazianis has done over the last several years as well as a presentation he gave at the Center for the National Interest back in November 2014.
Image: Wikimedia/Artem Katranzhi