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Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. Photo: Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Pool/Getty Images

Security officials increasingly view Russia and China — separately and together — as a threat to U.S. security.

Between the lines: “What I consider two of our strongest adversaries are now working together to try to undermine stability in the United States of America,” former CIA director and Defense secretary Leon Panetta says. “This is not like dealing with some kind of rogue nation."

  • “They have great cyber capabilities. They have capabilities in space and on missiles. They both have very strong military capabilities," Panetta tells "Axios on HBO." (See a clip.)
  • “Their cooperation in order to make use of some of these capabilities against the United States — that is a very dangerous moment for the United States of America.”

Zoom out: Russia and China aren’t formal allies but they are de facto allies.

  • They share about 2,600 miles in border and major economic synergies.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin have emphasized their newfound cooperation through steps trivial (flipping pancakes together) and substantial (joint military exercises and a linked oil-and-gas system).
  • As both McMaster and Petraeus point out, both countries have suffered serious economic blows from U.S. sanctions and tariffs, and consequently share a deep and recently elevated desire to challenge the U.S.-led global order.

What to watch: Historically speaking, there may be limits to how close the two powers can get. They are longstanding regional rivals, and there is specific tension over influence in Central Asia and China's record of copycatting Russian military technology.

  • And while he may be happy for another cudgel against the despised U.S., Putin won't be satisfied in the role of second fiddle to the giant next door.

Our thought bubble, per future editor Steve LeVine: Smart U.S. policy will attempt to create discord between Russia and China through carrot and stick.

  • A major blunder would be pushing too hard with financial punishments, and incentivizing Moscow and Beijing to bypass the U.S. trade and monetary order.
  • When the dollar's primacy materially dwindles, that will be game over in the balance of power with the East.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Pakistan PM will "absolutely not" allow CIA to use bases for Afghanistan operations

Pakistan will "absolutely not" allow the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to use bases on its soil for cross-border counterterrorism missions after American forces withdraw from Afghanistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan tells "Axios on HBO" in a wide-ranging interview airing Sunday at 6 pm ET.

Why it matters: The quality of counterterrorism and intelligence capabilities in Afghanistan is a critical question facing the Biden administration as U.S. forces move closer to total withdrawal by Sept. 11.

4 hours ago - World

U.S. wants nuclear deal done before Iran's new president takes power

Iranian negotiatorAbbas Araghchi arrives at the Grand Hotel Wien for the nuclear talks. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration wants to finalize a deal with Iran to return to the 2015 nuclear deal in the six weeks remaining before a new Iranian president is inaugurated, a U.S. official tells Axios.

Key quote: The official said it would be "concerning" if talks dragged on into early August, when Iran's transition is due to take place. "If we don't have a deal before a new government is formed, I think that would raise serious questions about how achievable it's going to be," the official said.