Russia, U.S. And China All Know: Ukraine's Fate Will Define The World Of Tomorrow
One year since Russia's invasion, the global stakes of the war in Ukraine have come more fully into focus. It's a battle over fundamental questions of sovereignty and democracy, but also the very meaning of power.
PARIS — When we talk about the state of the world during the time of war in Ukraine, the word that comes up most often is "fragmented." This is of course a euphemism, as we have seen in the deep divisions on display this past week.
As if they had consulted each other, Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden have doubled down on their rivalry: Putin, by brutally attacking the West, the root of all evil – and Biden, by showing his total commitment to Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.
But the world is not as bipolar as it was during the Cold War. China has burst onto the scene this anniversary week, with the visit of head Chinese diplomat Wang Yi to Munich and Moscow. On Wednesday, standing beside Putin, he spoke of a “rock solid” relationship between the two countries, without crossing the line into support of the Russian war.
Alongside this ballet of the three giants, Europe is relatively invisible, and the rest of the world, an irritated witness. What does this tell us? The outcome of the war will define the world of tomorrow, which helps explain the scale of the conflict.
Putin's sphere of influence
Putin launched his army into Ukraine hoping to recreate a “sphere of influence.” The failed invasion has become a test of the balance of power between a Russia with imperial dreams, and a West reinvigorated by the challenge to its borders.
If Putin wins in Ukraine, the whole region is threatened – starting with small ex-Soviet Moldova, which has felt increasingly uneasy of late. Conflicts that have been "frozen" for years in Moldova, Georgia and other precarious situations in the Caucasus and Central Asia would also be affected.
The Americans support Ukraine, but really have China on their minds.
For the U.S., this has become a full-scale test of the nation's credibility after the debacle in Kabul in August 2021 – and in the middle, the growing confrontation with China. As one European diplomat confided, the Americans support Ukraine, but really have China on their minds.
Graves of fallen Ukrainian soldiers in Kyiv
Dominika Zarzycka/SOPA Images via ZUMA
Two powers challenge the West
For the past year, the West has been holding out hope for any sign of distancing between China and Russia, as if waiting for the Messiah. It hasn't happened yet — meanwhile, Chinese propaganda echoes Russian messaging non-stop.
The world would be different if China had not engaged in this conflict, or even, in a worst-case scenario, opened a second front in Taiwan. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has accused China of preparing to deliver arms to Russia, which Beijing has denied. China now says it will present a peace plan, which has been met with immense skepticism.
The reality of this world is that we have two powers who want to challenge Western dominance. What this war has revealed is that much of the world shares this goal, and the feeling that the West has been abusing its powerful position.
Accepting "might makes right" as the rule in geopolitics would force us to regress to the world of the past, when empires were formed through conquest. This is why Ukraine has become a symbol that cannot fall.
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