Russia vs China
Cooperation between Russia and China has deep historical roots, and its earliest manifestations can be found already during the Chinese civil war. It seems that both countries should be most united by their communist ideology, but the ambitions of their leaders and the willingness to be the first and the most powerful was in fact the dominating force. Relations between these nations have seen times of flourishing, as well as times of military conflict.
The relationship between both countries are currently presented as friendly, but it is difficult to call them truly friendly. Even in the past, relations between the USSR and China were based on each nation’s calculations and attempts to play the leading role, and it doesn’t seem like something has changed at the present, although China has become a “smarter” and resource-wise richer player than Russia.
We will now look at the “similarities” between China and Russia, the ways they are cooperating and future prospects for both of them.
Russia is a semi-presidential federative republic, while China is a socialist nation ruled by the secretary general of its Communist Party.
Already we can see formal differences, but if we dive deeper both countries essentially feel like Siamese twins. There are more than one party in Russia, but only one party decides everything that takes places in the country – United Russia. Russia isn’t even attempting to hide the aim of establishing the said party, which is to support the course taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
China, too, has nine parties, but only one of them is allowed to rule and it is the Communist Party of China which answers to the secretary general who is also the president of the state.
Therefore, there is a single ruling party both in Russia and China, and this party is responsible for implementing and executing whatever the president wishes, meaning that both countries are ruled by a rather narrow circle of people. Forecasting election results in Russia and China is as difficult as being able to tell that the day after Monday is Tuesday. To write this piece, I spent a lot of time reading about the history of China and Russia and the current events taking place in these countries, and for this reason I figured that we also have to look at the meaning of the word “totalitarianism”.
Totalitarianism is a political system in which a country is governed without the participation of its people and decisions are made without the agreement of the majority of the people; in a totalitarian regime the most important social, economic and political affairs are controlled by the state. It is a type of dictatorship where the regime restricts its people in all of the imaginable aspects of life.
Power is held by a small group of people – a clique;
Opposition is suppressed and general terror is a tool for governing the state;
All aspects of life are subordinate to the interests of the state and the dominating ideology;
The public is mobilized using a personality cult of the leader, mass movements, propaganda and other similar means;
Aggressive and expansionist foreign policy;
Total control over public life.
Are China and Russia truly totalitarian states? Formally, no, but if we look at the essence of it we see a completely different picture. We will look at all of the signs of totalitarianism in China and Russia, but we will not delve too deep into events and occurrences that most of us are already familiar with.
Can we say that the majority of Russian and Chinese citizens are engaged in decision making? Formally, sort of, because elections do take place in these countries, but can we really call them “elections”? It would be impossible to list all the video footage or articles that reveal how polling stations operate in order to provide the required election results. Therefore, we can say that the general public is involved in making decisions, it’s just that the results are always determined by those in power.
The last paragraph brings us to the first point: power is held by a small group of people – a clique. Both nations are ruled by presidents who appoint whoever they wish and dismiss whoever they wish. This is power held by a small group of people. The next point – suppressing the opposition and using general terror to govern the state. Media outlets have written enough about suppressing the opposition in both countries, and everyone has seen at least a video or two on this topic. To stop their political opponents and any events organized by them Russia and China use not only their police forces, but the army as well. From time to time, information appears that an opposition activist has been murdered in either of the countries, and these murders are never solved. We will not even begin talking about criminal cases and administrative arrests of opposition activists. We can say that the point in question is completely true. Regarding all of the aspects of life being subordinate to the state and ideology – is there anyone who isn’t convinced by this? If Russia is engaged in restricting and “teaching” its citizens quite inconspicuously, China has no time for ceremony – the Communist Party of China has published new guidelines on improving the “moral quality” of its citizens, and this touches upon all of the imaginable aspects of one’s private life – from organizing wedding ceremonies to dressing appropriately.3 Is the public in Russia and China mobilized using the cult of personality, mass movements, propaganda and other means? We can look at 9 May celebrations in Russia and all of the surrounding rhetoric, and the events dedicated to the anniversary of founding the People’s Republic of China. I’m sorry, but it feels like I’m watching some Stalin and Hitler era montage but in a more modern fashion, and instead of Stalin and Hitler there are some new faces. What is left? Of course, aggressive and expansionist foreign policy. China has been very active in the South China Sea for many years now, which has aggravated tensions among the armed forces of its neighbors – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
China is continuing to physically seize, artificially build and arm islands far from its shores. And in the recent years China has been particularly aggressive towards Taiwan, which the regime sees as being rightfully theirs. China is also willing to impose sanctions against those nations who intend to sell arms to Taiwan.
However, when it comes to armed aggression China pales in comparison to Russia, which isn’t shy to use armed aggression against its close and far neighbors in order to reach its goals. Russia’s aggression goes hand in hand with its nihilism. I am sure I don’t have to remind you about the events in Georgia, Ukraine and previously in Chechnya as well. Russia will use every opportunity to show everyone its great weaponry, and this also includes directly or covertly engaging in different military conflicts.
Maybe some of you will disagree, but as I see it China and Russia currently are totalitarian states in their essence.
History has shown us that up to a certain point even two totalitarian countries are able to cooperate. Let’s remember the “friendship” between Nazi Germany and the USSR, but let’s also not forget what this friendship resulted in.
It is also true that the economic sanctions imposed against Russia have pushed it to be more friendly with China, but it seems that China will come out as the winner of this relationship.
According to data from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, in 2018 the Chinese economy received 56.6 million USD in direct investments from Russia (+ 137.4%), meaning that by the end of 2018 the amount of direct investments from Russia reached 1,066.9 million USD.
In 2018, the Russian economy received 720 million USD in direct investments from China, resulting in a total of 10,960 million USD in direct investments from China by the end of 2018.
The main spheres of Chinese investments in Russia are energy, agriculture and forestry, construction and construction materials, trade, light industry, textiles, household electric goods, services, etc.
The main spheres of Russian investments in China are production, construction and transportation.5 We can see from the amount of investments that in this “friendship” China has far exceeded Russia. We also cannot ignore the fact that China has launched more large-scale investment projects in other nations than Russia has.
It should be noted that China’s procurement of military equipment has allowed Russian armaments programs to exist. Russia sold modern armaments to China, despite the concerns that China will be able to “copy” the received armaments and then improve them. But the need for money was much greater to worry about such things. As a result, in early 2020 it was concluded that China has surpassed Russia in producing and selling armaments.
If we look at the ways Russia and China are attempting to shape public opinion in the long term, we can see some differences. Russia tries to do this using publications, demonstrative activities and attempts for its compatriots to become citizens of their country of residence while maintaining their cultural identity in order to establish an intellectual, economic and spiritually-cultural resource in global politics. China, in addition to all of this, has established Confucius Institutes that are subordinate to the Chinese Ministry of Education. There are a total of 5,418 Confucius Institutes or classes around the world. These institutes, named after the most known Chinese philosopher, have drawn sharp criticism globally for its foreign policy views – ones that avoid discussing human rights or believe that Taiwan or Tibet are inseparable parts of China. These institutes have been accused of espionage and restricting academic freedom.
“The Confucius Institutes are an attractive brand for our culture to spread abroad,” representative of the Communist Party’s Politburo Li Changchun said in 2011. “They have always been an important investment in expanding our soft power. The brand name “Confucius” is quite attractive. By using language tuition as a cover, everything looks logical and acceptable from the outside.” The leadership of the Communist Party calls these institutes a crucial part of its propaganda toolset abroad, and it is estimated that over the past 12 years China has spent roughly two billion USD on them. The constitution of these institutes9 stipulates that their leadership, personnel, guidelines, tuition materials and most of their funding is ensured by the Hanban institution which is under the Chinese Ministry of Education.
Both Russian and Chinese citizens either buy or rent property abroad. Russians do this so they have somewhere to go in case the necessity arises.
Chinese citizens and companies slowly rent or purchase large swathes of land in in the Russian Far East. There is no precise estimate of the amount of land handed over to the Chinese, but it is said it could range between 1–1.5 billion hectares.
What can we conclude from all of this? China and Russia are, in essence, totalitarian states with bloated ambitions. If Russia tries to reach its ambitions in an openly aggressive and shameless manner, then China is doing the same with caution and thought. If Russia often uses military means to reach its goals, China will most likely use financial ones. If Russia attempts to fulfill its ambitions arrogantly, then China achieves the same result with seeming kindness and humility.
Which country has gotten closer to its goal? I believe it is definitely not Russia. In addition, just as the USSR, Russia too believes it is better than China. But for those observing from the sidelines, it is evident that in many areas China has far succeeded Russia and is now even acquiring Russian land.
This brings us back to history – what happens when two totalitarian states share a border? One of them eventually disappears. For now, it seems that China has done everything in its power to stay on the world map.
ICC’s Arrest Warrant Limits Putin’s External Visits
The first simple interpretation of the warrant issued by International Criminal Court is that Russian President Vladimir Putin could be arrested in 123 member states around the world. These members are now legally bound to arrest, detain and hand him over to the court.
According to a press release from the International Criminal Court, there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that “each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population” under Article 8 (war crimes) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
As there are currently 123 states parties to the Rome Statute, Putin and Lvova-Belova’s arrest warrants are binding in 124 states (123 states parties plus Ukraine, which granted the ICC jurisdiction over its territory for crimes committed there since 2014).
On 17 March 2023, pre-trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued warrants of arrest for two individuals in the context of the situation in Ukraine: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, says the website of the ICC.
Generally, the court participates in a global fight to end impunity, and through international criminal justice, the court aims to hold those responsible accountable for their crimes and to help prevent these crimes from happening again.
The court does not reach these goals alone. As a court of last resort, it seeks to complement, not replace, national courts. Governed by an international treaty called the Rome Statute, the ICC is the world’s first permanent international criminal court.
According to Russian BBC service, citing Kevin Jon Heller, professor of international law at the University of Copenhagen said” “This is an incredibly important event. It’s not every day a sitting head of state is accused by the international court. But of course, the likelihood of Putin being detained any time soon is quite low.
From a legal point of view, any ICC member state is obliged to execute this ruling. If Putin arrives on the territory of this country, it should arrest him and hand him over to the court. But in reality, states don’t always do that.
For instance, serious accusations were made against the President of Sudan, and he visited several ICC member states after that but was not arrested in any of them. So an arrest warrant is no guarantee that Putin will be handed over to the ICC. Yet from a legal point of view, countries are obliged to do that.”
Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International said: “This announcement is an important signal – both for Ukraine and the rest of the world – that those who are allegedly responsible for crimes under international law in Ukraine will face arrest and trial, no matter how powerful they are.”
She added: “President Putin is now officially a wanted man. Following the ICC’s indictment of President Putin and Children’s Commissioner Lvova-Belova for the war crime of forcible transfer of children, the international community must stop at nothing until they are arrested and brought to trial. Should President Putin or Ms Lvova-Belova leave Russia, states must deny them safe haven by arresting them immediately and surrendering them to the ICC.”
Secretary General Callamard explained further that “the arrest warrants are an impressive first step, but they are so far limited to the war crime of unlawful deportation of children. This doesn’t reflect the plethora of war crimes and crimes against humanity for which the Russian leadership is potentially responsible. We expect the ICC and other justice actors to issue further arrest warrants as their investigations into crimes under international law committed in Ukraine begin to show results.”
Russia’s State Duma, the lower House of Representatives, condemned the action taken by the ICC. “Yankee, stay away from Putin! All that nonsense from the Hague means that West is hysterical. The papers of the alien Hague court do not apply to Russia,” emphasized Vyacheslav Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma.
According to him, Washington and Brussels have exhausted all possibilities of sanctions and hostile actions. “They have failed to break the citizens of the Russian Federation and destroy the economy of our country. Washington and Brussels understand that if there is Putin, there is Russia. That is why they try to attack him. Putin’s strength is in the people’s support, consolidation of society around him. We consider any attacks on the President of the Russian Federation as acts of aggression against our country,” added Volodin.
Chairman of the Russian Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin has requested providing the legal assessment of German Justice Minister’s statements on arrest of Russian citizens on German territory, the press service of the Investigative Committee said in a statement.
“Chairman of the Russian Investigative has tasked its central office within the framework of the ongoing inspection with providing the required legal assessment of statements by German Justice Minister on fulfilling the International Criminal Court’s unlawful requirement to arrest Russian citizens on German territory,” the statement reads.
German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said earlier that the country would comply with the demands of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for issuing an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin and arresting the Russian leader if he set foot on German soil.
The ICC issued arrest warrants for Putin and Russia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova. The court’s statement said they could be responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of children and unlawful transfer of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
Commenting on this decision, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted that Moscow did not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC. “We view the very approach to the matter as outrageous and unacceptable. Russia does not recognize this court’s jurisdiction. Hence, any such decisions are null for Russia from the legal standpoint,” he said. In turn, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that the decisions of the ICC had no meaning for Russia, with possible arrest warrants legally void.
The ICC jurisdiction is valid in the countries that have ratified the Rome Statute. Ukraine is not party to the Rome Statute, but Ukraine has granted the ICC the right to investigate crimes committed on its territory.
The Rome Statute has been ratified by 123 countries, including South American countries and nearly half the countries of Africa, so they must consider warrants issued by the ICC. China, India, Belarus, Türkiye and Kazakhstan are among the countries that have not ratified the statute. Russia, like the United States, signed the statute but later revoked its signature.
The first head of state in history to be prosecuted by the ICC was Laurent Gbagbo, fourth President of Côte d’Ivoire, in 2011. He was accused of crimes against humanity committed during an armed conflict in the country in 2010-2011. Eight years later, in 2019, Gbagbo was acquitted.
Uhuru Kenyatta, who later became President of Kenya, was accused by the ICC of committing crimes against humanity during the political crisis in Kenya in 2007-2008. The accusations were revoked in 2014 due to the lack of evidence.
Omar al-Bashir, the seventh President of Sudan, is in custody in Sudan and is waiting to be handed over to The Hague. He is accused by the ICC of organising and carrying out a genocide.
The first head of state to be convicted was Charles Taylor, 22nd President of Liberia. He was prosecuted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The court found him guilty of assisting in and inciting war crimes and of complicity in crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison on 30 May 2012.
Former Serbian President Slobodan Milošević died in the UN prison in The Hague before being sentenced. He was prosecuted by a predecessor of the ICC – the Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
The International Criminal Court is an intergovernmental organization and international tribunal located in The Hague, Netherlands. It is the first and only permanent international court with jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. The ICC began operations on 1 July 2002.
China-Russia’s Dichotomy: Cooperation or Confrontation on Global Questions
As geopolitical confrontation intensifies between the United States and Europe on one side and China and Russia on the other, it has increasingly become tight for offering much information publicly. And of course, that would be the case especially with Russia facing criticisms for its ‘special military operation’ in the neighbouring Ukraine. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Kremlin administration have been extremely cautious the least on leaders visiting Moscow.
Local Russian media have reported that the Kremlin would not comment on the agenda of possible talks between Presidents Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping until their meeting is officially announced. “I don’t know. Once we make an announcement, we will be able to say something,” Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TASS this March 14, when asked if Putin and Xi could discuss China’s plan to resolve the situation in Ukraine. “We haven’t made any announcements (about the Chinese president’s visit). Every contact between the two leaders is an additional impetus for stepping up cooperation on a variety of tracks,” Peskov pointed out, adding that the two sides usually announced such visits simultaneously.
Moscow and Beijing have established friendly relations based on partnership and intend to develop them further collaboratively against the collective West. “The Russian-Chinese dialogue continues. It is of a friendly, partnership-based, strategic nature. It will remain on course. The relationship is multidimensional, and it is important for both sides. And both sides devote significant attention to the theme of developing this relationship further,” Peskov said.
Nevertheless, the main news-stream are all awash with the forthcoming visit, various analysis and presumptive expections. The Chinese media have earlier followed up to splash the news over their media space and global foreign media, and that Xi Jinping intended to visit Moscow for a meeting with Putin as early as next week.
Our media monitoring, for instance, shows that the two leaders last met in person on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in the Uzbek city of Samarkand in September 2022. In late December, Putin held a video conference call with Xi Jinping, inviting him to make a state visit to Moscow in the spring of 2023.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that China’s Xi expected to make symbolic visit to Russia, and that comes off, soon after he was awarded a third term to lead China during the 14th National People’s Congress. Over the years, Xi Jinping has performed excellently, transforming the internal economy and prominently put his Asian country on the global stage. In addition, he consolidated the Chinese economic presence or footprints around the world. China is considered as an emerging global leader.
However, just like in any other country, authorities in China do not discuss everything openly and they sometimes allow leaks. These include a Reuters report saying that Xi will visit Russia next week. His visit will take place sooner than expected, and the news is important, for it is China who proposed a peace plan for Ukraine. Since Beijing has been providing diplomatic support to Moscow, the West was skeptical about the peace plan.
Scientific Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of China and Contemporary Asia Alexander Lukin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that visits are paid every year, but that they were postponed during the pandemic. “Now, it’s the Chinese leader’s turn to visit Russia. This is fine. Of course, the international situation has changed. I think, they will discuss this as well as the political and economic cooperation which has been growing by leaps and bounds in price terms. Often, new contracts get signed and new gas or oil pipeline projects are approved during such visits,” Lukin said.
“Over the past decade, China has seen a significant consolidation of power in the hands of Xi Jinping, and the Communist Party’s supremacy over the state and society has also become more apparent,” Deputy Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations Alexander Lomanov told Kommersant. According to him, the next decade will be a difficult one for China, given that the old economic development model is exhausted, with cheap labor and free resources no longer available, while the external environment – relations with the US and its allies – is getting more and more toxic.
“In this situation, the old structure of power, which involved fighting factions and looked like collective leadership from the outside, has lost its usefulness as it does not allow decisions to be made quickly when responding to threats and challenges. In contrast, Xi Jinping’s current model of government is aimed at ensuring stability amid internal and external difficulties. Hopes for the liberalization of this model may emerge only when China is confident that the hardest times are behind it,” Lomanov concluded.
The likelihood that the United States and China will continue consistently engaging in a direct confrontation is quite high, political scientist Vladimir Kireyev told Izvestia. According to him, some predicted back in the early 2000s that as China’s economic and hence political influence in the world increased, the country would “inevitably start collapsing the US-centric system” by the simple fact of its existence.
“These forecasts were made in the US political, expert and military communities. In the mid-2010s, this understanding drove (44th US President Barack) Obama and then (45th US President Donald) Trump to adopt a policy to contain China, which reflects real US interests aimed at preserving its global dominance,” the political scientist pointed out, added that economic tensions were invariably pushing political elites in both countries towards a confrontation, in one form or another.
According to the analyst, Washington has started to realize that it “wasted too much time,” because the best moment to contain China was ten years ago. However, the Americans’ focus was on Russia back then, Kireyev stressed. “Now, the probability that the US and China will come to a direct conflict is quite high. It is the US that is provoking the situation as the window of opportunities to cause serious damage to China is closing. China is trying to postpone the conflict as much as possible and even avoid it altogether. The reason is that taking into consideration economic development, in 10 to 15 years, China will be much stronger than the US and the Chinese won’t need to engage in a conflict to protect their interests,” the expert concluded.
In spite of the arguments and debates on vaious important global issues involving China and Russia, however, the South China Morning Post said that Russia’s special military operation has harmed China’s national interests. What is of the most common interest and concern relates the emerging new configuration, multipolar system which should necessarily work integratively and suitable solution to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis. China has called for cooperation while Russia adopts more confrontation approach.
Our monitor shows that majority of global leaders, researchers and analysts has already lifted their up for China’s expected muscular role, efforts to mediate between Russia and Ukraine. Under its headline “White House hails possibility of Xi Jinping speaking with Ukrainian president Zelensky” published March 14, South China Morning Post wrote that a senior White House official has praised a reported plan by Chinese President Xi Jinping to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and confirmed US President Joe Biden’s “willingness” to schedule a talk with the Chinese leader.
“We have been encouraging President Xi to reach out to President Zelensky because we believe that the PRC and President Xi himself should hear directly the Ukrainian perspective and not just the Russian perspective on this,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said.
Sullivan was referring to a Wall Street Journal report which, citing people familiar with the plan, said that Xi would make the call after visiting Moscow next week. Beijing’s recent engagements with Moscow, including a trip there by its top diplomat Wang Yi last month, have prompted US and other Western governments to accuse the Chinese government of siding with Russia in the war, which has dragged on for more than a year.
A 12-point peace proposal Beijing offered on the war’s one-year anniversary did little to change that assessment, partly because it did not call on the Kremlin to withdraw its forces. Reports that Xi would visit Moscow soon have thrown more doubt on Beijing’s claims to be impartial. Sullivan cast some doubt on the Xi-Zelensky call plan when he added that Kyiv officials were not able to confirm the report.
For the discussions here, it is necessary to consider carefully here, in the context the China’s Global Security Initiative (GSI) that could play important role in resolving he Russia-Ukraine crisis and many others around the world. In the first place, China prominently places “cooperation” as the key component in its foreign policy, as oppose to Russia that is confrontational and yet talk about multipolar – in fact ‘multipolar’ in its basic sense means inclusive and integrated approach to global developments including conflict resolutions.
According to the concept, the Global Security Initiative aims at eliminating the root causes of international conflicts, improve global security governance, encourage joint international efforts to bring more stability and certainty to a volatile and changing era, and promote durable peace and development in the world.
The concept is guided by six commitments or pillars, which are (i) pursuing common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security; (ii) respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries; (iii) adhering to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter; (iv) taking the legitimate security concerns of all countries seriously; (v) peacefully resolving differences and disputes between countries through dialogue and consultation; and (vi) maintaining security in both traditional and non-traditional domains.
Gleaning from these core principles, it’s safe to say that the GSI could and probably would become a catalyst for the world to chart a new path to building sustainable peace, stability and development. The Global Security Initiative (GSI) was first proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference on April 21, 2022.
One year on, here’s how the Ukraine conflict is changing the world order
In his recent landmark address to Russia’s parliament, President Vladimir Putin cited the war in Ukraine and US/NATO involvement in the conflict as the main reason for his decision to “suspend” Moscow’s participation in the 2010 New START Treaty on strategic nuclear weapons. Putin also suggested that Russia should be ready to resume nuclear testing.
Effectively, this announcement, promptly turned into law by the Russian parliament, means a formal end to the long-ailing institutions of strategic arms control that began over 50 years ago. If New START is followed by the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) and then the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), strategic deregulation will be complete. Putin’s logic is that the United States cannot be allowed to inspect Russian missile bases while at the same time pursuing a policy of “strategically defeating” Moscow in Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s decision was anything but a bolt from the blue. The proxy war in Ukraine came as the culmination of a decade-and-a-half-long process of steady deterioration of Russian-American and Russian-EU relations. Ever since it became clear – somewhere in the mid-2000s – that Russia would not fit into the US-dominated order, and that Washington, and its, allies would not let Russia sign up on terms that Moscow would find acceptable, the trajectory of the relationship has generally pointed toward confrontation.
True, there was a brief period, which coincided with the presidency of Dmitry Medvedev (2008-12), which witnessed, besides the signing of New START, an attempt to build a strategic partnership between Russia and NATO and modernization and technology partnerships between Russia and key Western countries, including the US and Germany. That attempt, however, turned out to be the last hurrah of the efforts to integrate Russia into, or at least with, the West following the end of the Cold War.
Essentially, while Moscow was looking for equal and indivisible security, as well as technology and business opportunities, Washington and Berlin were mostly interested in softening and diluting Russia’s domestic political regime. There was also no question of treating Russian security concerns about NATO’s enlargement seriously: Moscow had to accept the post-Cold War order in which it no longer had a decisive voice. That mismatch of key goals could not last long. Already by 2011-12, the outlook for Russia-West relations could be summarized as something like: it will get worse before it gets worse.
Right now, we are still on the same trajectory – things can become even more grim than they are now.
Hopefully, the credible threat of complete annihilation – the heart of nuclear deterrence – will still protect us from the very worst outcome, but the changes wrought by the Ukraine war on the global strategic landscape during its first year are indeed massive. Strategic deregulation between Moscow and Washington has already been highlighted. In practice, this will mean that each party will be free to build, structure, and deploy its strategic forces as it sees fit, and rely on its own so-called national technical means – such as spy satellites and other forms of intelligence – as the prime source of information about the other. It is natural to expect that under such circumstances both parties would have a powerful incentive to engage in worst-case-scenario planning.
It is true that of the five ‘established’ nuclear powers and the four other countries that possess nuclear arms, only two – America and Russia – have historically engaged in nuclear arms control. For years, Washington sought to find ways to link Beijing to the US-Russia strategic dialogue, thus leading to a tripartite arrangement. China, which was never interested in the US offer, is now believed to be in the process of substantially expanding and improving its strategic nuclear forces. Whether and when Beijing will be ready to engage Washington in strategic arms talks is anyone’s guess. After the the US formally designated China as its principal adversary, Sino-American relations have been growing increasingly tense. In any event, managing a strategic equation among the three leading nuclear powers, one of which regards the other two as its adversaries, will now become more difficult.
Strategic deregulation is not just the absence of binding treaties. It is also likely to mean the unraveling of the conceptual framework for arms control, which was originally developed by the Americans in the 1960s and then accepted by the Soviet Union. Any future arrangements among the world’s nuclear powers – whenever it comes – will require a wholly new concept that might be based on the agreed-upon and mutually fitting elements developed by the participating countries, with their vastly different strategic environments and cultures. It will certainly be a most daunting task.
Putin’s angry reaction to NATO’s call for Russia to observe New START and let US inspectors in has opened up another relatively minor issue: the nuclear weapons of Britain and France. The Soviet Union had long insisted on including those two countries’ nuclear arsenals in the US ceilings, and only relented during Gorbachev’s perestroika. With Paris and London taking an active role in the proxy war in Ukraine, Moscow is no longer pretending that UK and French nuclear forces are there solely to defend their own countries. They are seen as part of the combined arsenal of the adversarial, US-led West. This is no big deal for the moment, but any conceivable future arrangement would have to address the issue of the Anglo-French forces.
In geopolitical terms, the war in Ukraine energized Washington to build a global coalition to oppose Russia. This is often presented as a major achievement of the administration of President Joe Biden. Yet, to look at this from a different perspective, the Russia (and China) policies of the three successive US administrations – Obama’s, Trump’s, and particularly Biden’s – have led to a major split among the great powers that widened from competition to bitter rivalry (with China) and proxy war (with Russia in Ukraine).
US efforts to get China to distance itself from Russia appear ridiculous in a situation where Washington’s strategy appears to be to defeat/contain its two main adversaries one by one, and, moreover, to pit them against each other. The famous Kissingerian triangle is now pointed in a different direction: it is Washington that has the worst possible relations with the other two. As for Moscow and Beijing, they are getting even closer as a result.
Closer cooperation and coordination between China and Russia amid the war in Ukraine, which is gradually emerging on the platform of common strategic interests, represents a major shift in the world power balance. What is more – and what goes well beyond the usual Western concept of ‘great power competition’ – is the rise of over a hundred actors of different caliber in many parts of the world that have refused to support the US, and its allies, on the Russia sanctions and have maintained or even expanded their trade and other relations with Moscow. These countries insist on following their own national interests as they see them and seek to expand their foreign policy autonomy. At the end of the day, this phenomenon – call it the Rise of the Global Majority (no longer silent) – could be the single most important development so far en route to the new world order.
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