China just signed a 30-year, $400 billion natural gas deal with Russia, handing a big win to Russian energy companies desperate to find new export markets. But the pact may have delivered Russian President Vladimir Putin an equally important win in his ongoing standoff with the Obama administration and its European allies over the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Put simply, the deal may deal a death blow to the foundering Western efforts to punish Putin for his meddling in Ukraine and annexation of the country's Crimean peninsula.
The new pact strengthens an emerging Moscow-Beijing economic alliance that's out of the reach of Western influence -- and financial pressure. The deal, which capped years of tense negotiations, was inked in Shanghai on the sidelines of an Asian economic and security conference that included 40 countries, including Iran and Kazakhstan. Though it will be years before the gas starts flowing to China, the deal raises doubts about how effectively Western countries will be able to use sanctions as a weapon against Putin's Russia.