The highly complex, complicated, ambiguous and yet, indeed, successful relationship between Russia and China throughout the past 25 years is difficult to grasp theoretically.
Russian and Chinese elites are hard-core realists in their foreign policies, and the neorealist school in international relations seems to be the most adequate one to research Russian-Sino relations.
Realistically, throughout this period China achieved a multidimensional advantage over Russia.
Yet, simultaneously those two countries failed to conform to the logic of power politics and have been undergoing a peaceful power transition.
Beijing knows its limits and does not go into extremes.
Rather, China successfully seeks to build a long-term, stable relationship based on Chinese terms, where both sides gain, albeit China gains a little more.
Russia in this agenda does not necessary lose (i.e., money is coming in for resources); the gain may be a little less out of this asymmetric deal.
Thus, a new model of bilateral relations emerges, which may be called by - paraphrasing the slogan of Chinese diplomacy - as "asymmetric win-win" formula. This model is a kind of relapse into the past - a contemporary equivalent of the first model of Russia-China relations: the modus vivendi from the 17th century, achieved after Nerchinsk treaty.