(Art design: Jean-Dominique Lavoix-Carli)
Russia’s attack on Ukraine on 24 February 2022 is profoundly changing the international order.
The shock is notably hard for countries such as the members of the European Union, who thought they would be at peace for ever. Suddenly, these countries, their economic actors and their citizens rediscover war and the pertinence of geopolitics. It is also the ideological basis of the creation and promotion of the European Union, that it brought and brings peace, that is under threat (see European Union, “Key European Union achievements and tangible benefits“, “Aims and Values“). The liberal paradigm of international relations is similarly deeply questioned (among many, Jonathan Cristol, “Liberalism“, Oxford Bibliographies, November 2019).
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The spectre of nuclear war and MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), i.e. the doctrine of deterrence, is again upon us, following Russian President Putin speech according to which he was “moving Russia’s nuclear deterrent to ‘special alert'”(e.g. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “mutual assured destruction“, Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 Dec. 2021; Nota: at the time of writing it was impossible to access normally the website of the President of Russia, hence we had to rely on secondary sources, BBC News, “Putin puts nuclear deterrent on ‘special alert’ during Ukraine conflict“, 27 February 2022).
Actually, these international changes have been slowly building up (e.g. Helene Lavoix, Towards a New Paradigm?, The Red Team Analysis Society, 2012; Graham Allison, “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?“, Harvard Belfer Center project, 2015; Helene Lavoix, “The Paradox of U.S. Decline”, part 1, 2, 3, The Red Team Analysis Society, Oct and Nov 2017). Yet, for most, such tragic and upsetting changes were not imaginable. They probably remain actually impossible to truly fathom, despite posture and discourse. Deep down, many believe nothing will change and that we shall come back to the world ante.
How China responds to the Russian war in Ukraine and handles the evolution is one key element in what will come next.
On 25 February, China abstained but did not veto a U.S. and Albania sponsored draft resolution at the UN Security Council “intended to end the Russian Federation’s military offensive” (U.N. “Security Council Fails to Adopt Draft Resolution on Ending Ukraine Crisis, as Russian Federation Wields Veto“, Security Council, 8979th meeting, SC/14808; William Mauldin, “Russia Blocks U.N. Bid to End Ukraine Conflict; China Abstains From Vote“, Wall Street Journal, 25 February 22). India and the U.A.E also abstained, while obviously Russia vetoed the draft resolution (e.g, Zainab Fattah, “UAE Joined China, India in Abstaining on UN Ukraine Vote, Bloomberg, 26 Feb 22, The Indian express).
The U.S. and their allies, through media analysis interposed, were quick to hail China’s vote as a win and as an evidence of Russia’s growing isolation: “a move Western countries view as a win for showing Russia’s international isolation” (Michelle Nichols and Humeyra Pamuk, “Russia vetoes U.N. Security action on Ukraine as China abstains“, Reuters, 26 February 2022; Mauldin, WSJ, Ibid.).
Below are two short videos explaining better China’s current position on Ukraine and Russia. The first consists in the answers Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson gave to media after the invasion, on 25 February 22. The second, no less important published 23 February 22, shows the perception of the unfolding tension, as expressed by the Chinese Government’s sponsored international media Global Times. This vision is what China’s transmits to the world.
These videos show that it is unwise to assume that China is turning its back on Russia. For China, the U.S. are the real culprit behind the tragic evolution in Ukraine. China also highlights similarities of strategy between the way the U.S. handles Ukraine and Russia on the one hand, China and Taiwan on the other, while paying attention to stress the difference for the two situations.
As a result, it is highly likely that changes in the international order and related tension will not stop at Ukraine. In terms of influence, it is uncertain that the U.S. and the EU will see an improvement of their relative position.