Ukraine War And BRICS Ambitions? Why The Superpowers Still Hold The Cards
The war in Ukraine has become globalized, with its effects being felt from Africa to China. The only hope of de-escalation is in a potential diplomatic summit between the U.S. and China this autumn.
PARIS — Beware of optical illusions. The fact that the war in Ukraine has become globalized doesn't mean it's a world war. Nonetheless, its impact is being felt everywhere, and political decisions regarding the unfolding conflict in Ukraine, fueled by doubts and ideological divisions, cannot be reserved to the European theater alone.
Take the BRICS Summit (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in Johannesburg this week: It may give the impression that a coherent anti-Western bloc is emerging. The reality is more complex, and while the participants all benefit from this political display, their differences are immense. Yet, we must not overlook the political message being sent out by this emerging "club" of nations.
When it comes to the Sahel region of north-central Africa, for example, we risk falling into the same distorted reflection of reality. After the putsch in Niger, it would be a mistake to see these repeated coups d'état as just one facet of the new global Cold War. The presence of the Wagner group and the specter of Russia are an opportunistic result of instability rather than its cause: the political crisis is first and foremost an African one.
Confusing cause and consequence can lead to over-reactions, of which history is full of examples. Still, the African continent is being dragged unwillingly into the shockwave of the invasion of Ukraine.
Who lost Asia?
Ultimately, as tensions continue to mount in the Pacific, the Russian war has become an inescapable factor in a strategic equation that both precedes and surpasses it. The United States is obsessed with its rivalry with China – not with Russia or the future of Europe. It is supporting Ukraine on such a massive scale only because it knows that a Russian victory would give Beijing wings, perhaps encouraging it to be even more aggressive in the heated waters of the South China Sea or in Taiwan.
This debate is first and foremost a political one.
If that were the case, the American debate would not be about "who lost Ukraine" (as in 1949, after Mao’s victory in Beijing, where the question in Washington was "who lost China?”), but instead "who lost Asia", and thus the world.
It is in this complex and confusing context that a new debate on military aid to Ukraine has arisen. The debate is at times caricatural, as seen in Nicolas Sarkozy's "Putinophile" stance in France; or more strategic, in Washington's doubts about the Ukrainians' ability to shift the balance of power after the undeniably mixed results of their summer offensive.
However, this debate is first and foremost a political one, based in part on the Americans' initial analysis of the global impact of this conflict. In the highly inflammatory context of the U.S. election campaign, any setback in Ukraine would be interpreted as a gain for Xi Jinping's China, and therefore a failure for U.S. President Joe Biden.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa during a meeting in Pretoria, South Africa.
All eyes on Biden & Xi
The only hope of de-escalation, in an atmosphere more conducive to war than détente, lies in a possible summit between Biden and Xi Jinping, which diplomats from both countries are trying to organize this coming fall. It's not to make peace, either in Ukraine or with each other, but to agree on how to disagree without dragging the world into widespread conflict. It's not much, but it's a lot.
We now need to relaunch the détente process.
This was already the issue at stake during their last meeting in Bali, in November 2022 on the sidelines of the G20, but the process of détente was quickly derailed. We now need to relaunch it before an incident in the China Sea makes the situation turn sour, before a new incursion in Taiwan sets the world ablaze, or before Vladimir Putin leads the world in a headlong rush.
The Europeans are largely spectators because the Ukrainian issue has become global: That's the reality of this end-of-summer at gunpoint.
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