Observers were quick to point to Putin's recent state visit to the People's Republic of China as being indicative of a new strengthening of relations that should be of concern to the West. Burgeoning trade figures aside (China has now become Russia's largest trading partner and the two nations hope to more than double bilateral trade by 2020), attention has gravitated towards their increasing military ties. Only recently the two nations participated in shared naval exercises in the Yellow Sea, building upon their anti-terror initiatives through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization - seen in the West as being a counterbalance to NATO in the region.
Given recent developments, Western nations' concern isn't unfounded. Military cooperation corresponds with similar diplomatic cooperation. The Sino-Russian reaction to the Syrian crisis is the brazen Realpolitik of Putin, defending Russia's arms sales to Assad whilst at the same time looking to snub the interventionist approach previously taken to oust Gaddafi. The idea of a joint Sino-Russian behemoth has aroused Western anxieties for a long time; now that their links are solidifying, these sceptics have found that their predictions are becoming self-fulfilling.
But is this necessarily a correct view? The relationship is far less cosy. Putin's aforementioned visit to China was much less significant than many like to portray. Putin visited both France and Germany before heading east. Even Medvedev displayed little change in continuity as far as foreign visits are concerned; both Presidents' first official visits were to Kazakhstan (Medvedev) and Belarus (Putin) - countries which would form part of the proposed Eurasian Union.
Unfortunately for Russia, China may not be so content to let another nation vie for influence in this resource-rich region. It may have played a less active role abroad in previous decades, but China is playing catch-up and exerting its influence across the globe, crucially in Central Asia, through soft power and generous loans.
Russia's relationship with China, too, is economic. Resource-rich Russia is a supplier of, and China a consumer of, energy. Consequently, energy pricing is something which has already been bickered about between the formalities and festivities. Decades-long Russian negligence of the Far East, with a population of less than 7 million, has allowed Chinese influence to be felt - clashes have already broken out between locals and the Chinese. Moves to rejuvenate the region by Russia can be mutually beneficial. Infrastructural projects in Vladivostok, such as the world's longest cable-stayed bridge, form part of an effort to ready the region for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in September. A Pacific-orientated Russia can be of benefit to China. But a conscious decision to strive to be both a Eurasian and a Pacific power has implications that place it in conflict with China's own emerging ambitions.
As it stands, Russia and China aren't equal partners. A renewed Russian assertiveness in the Far East and Central Asia may rile those who see Beijing and not far-off Moscow as being the real force in the region. The realization of the Eurasian Union by as early as 2015 (Putin's target) might be tactical. By establishing it in the next few years, Moscow can anchor itself in the region for the forseeable future without having to out-bid Beijing for political power, which is increasingly unaffordable.
This isn't the only time that relations have been strained. Whenever significant shifts in policy have been undertaken by one nation, relations tend to sour. Stalin's death in 1953 caused ideological ruptures, as did the break-up of the USSR. The two powers engaged in a seven-month military conflict over borders in 1969. Consistency is certainly not a feature of the relationship.
On the international stage, solidarity between them is useful, but closer to home well-concealed tensions do exist. It would be prudent to cease imagining them as a single anti-Western 'bloc' and to see them as two separate nations with their own similarities, disputes and differences. Geopolitically, it would be good to keep a watchful eye on events in Central Asia; influence there is a prize which neither Russia nor China will be prepared to share.
Adam Lenton studies at the University of Exeter and is a blog writer on Russian and Eurasian affairs at Future Foreign Policy, where this article was first published.