Multipolar World

From ‘Great Russia’ to ‘Little China’

Jorge Costa Oliveira

Until the invasion of Ukraine, European countries considered economic interdependence, in addition to NATO’s military presence, to be the main assurance of peace on the European continent. Russia had much more to lose than gain from a war, making it wise, even in the event of confrontation, never to involve the use of armed forces.

The invasion of Ukraine has led to a profound shift in Europe’s stance. Henceforth, there is no long any trust in Russia, regardless of its leadership. And no longer will it be taken for granted that economic interdependence is a sufficient condition for peace; the Russian invasion will serve as a lesson for generations to come. Europe will massively increase military investment.

Furthermore, there is the perception that economic powers with ultra-nationalistic autocratic regimes cannot be trusted. Many Europeans have realized that it is not possible to be neutral in a world in which autocratic regimes make it their mission to attack Europe’s liberal democracies with their foundations of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

However, warfare does not stop at the military level. Cyberattacks and the manipulation of information via data and social networks have been examples of the areas on which Europe has been suffering special offensives. Also in these areas, as in the domain of space, all signs point to Europe changing its passive stance, and its military-industrial complexes will grow.

In this total war in Ukraine, the EU and the “Western world” are using economic, trade and financial sanctions that are deeper than those traditionally imposed in cases of international law violations, and have been extending and refining such sanctions.

These economic sanctions seem to be used in a trans-Clausewitzian sense — not only as a tool for continuing policies aimed at eliminating one (Russian) threat, but also as a general deterrent against other current latent threats.

The gradual destruction of the Russian economy, banking and financial sector (the value of 31 Russian companies traded on the London Stock Exchange has fallen 98%) in the face of the inability to weather these sanctions has meant that some relevant Chinese banks and companies — with exposure to Western markets and integrated within the international banking and financial system — have been reluctant to take action that could expose them to the effects of the extraterritorial nature of the sanctions imposed on Russia. It is possible that China, which has adopted a stance of “collaborative neutrality” with Russia, will realize that it has much to lose from the instability caused by this war and join in the efforts to force an end to it.

But it is also possible that China’s position will evolve into firm support for its main strategic partner, especially if Russia allows Chinese capital to flow into Russian oil, gas, copper, nickel, aluminum and other companies.

The Putinian delusion of a Greater Russia has turned an extraordinary nation into an international pariah that, dependent as it is on China’s goodwill, is one step away from becoming its tributary state.

Categories Multipolar World Opinion