If the West – the US and EU – planned to “isolate” Russia following the latter’s military operation in Ukraine, that plan has clearly failed. Russia was duly represented at the recently concluded ministerial meeting of the G20 in Bali, Indonesia. The fact that Indonesia, instead of bowing down to the US pressure to force Russia out of the summit, still hosted Russia means that the US ability to dictate global politics is already in deep recession. The decline is essentially a direct result of the combined failure of the US and the EU to defeat Russia in Ukraine through sanctions and direct military support worth billions of dollars. Instead of forcing Russia out of Ukraine, western policies have caused their own economies to nose dive to high inflation and low growth. Furthermore, the uncertainty surrounding the availability of Russian gas and oil to Europe is also adding to the pressure.
According to the head of the German Federation of Trade Unions, “Entire industries are in danger of collapsing forever because of the gas bottlenecks.” This collapse – a major economic crisis – means that the EU’s ability to shape global politics stands seriously compromised. Indeed, the western policy of imposing “sanctions from hell” on Russia has brutally backfired. If nothing works for the west, can it truly be the ‘centre’ of global politics?
Russia’s Vladimir Putin was succinct when he said that the Russian military operation in Ukraine was not just a typical war; it was/is a key step towards dismantling the US-centric global system. To quote from the speech that he recently delivered, the war in Ukraine “is the beginning of the transition from liberal-globalist American egocentrism to a truly multipolar world.”
This is evident elsewhere as well. China has refused to stand with NATO against Russia. Despite US diplomacy and even threats of “consequences”, Beijing continues to support Russia. This was clearly evident at the G20 ministerial meeting where China ensured that multilateralism, rather than unilateralism, prevails. Indeed, the way the Chinese diplomats led by foreign minister Wang-Yi conducted diplomacy ensured the failure of western efforts to “isolate” Russia.
Within a short time span of 48 hours, Wang-Yi met with counterparts from a number of G20 members to convey a message regarding Russia and Ukraine war. For one thing, Wang, through his meeting with Russia’s Lavrov, made it absolutely clear that Beijing has no intention of walking away from its “no limits” friendship with Russia. This message set the stage for the rest of his bi-laterals.
As Russia’s top diplomat confirmed, Moscow fully supports China’s Global Development Initiative and Global Security Initiative. In practical terms, what this means is that Russia fully supports China’s plans to change the global order. This support directly reflects the message that the recently concluded BRICS summit gave, and this is the very message that Putin, too, strongly voiced in his said speech. The support and momentum for an alternative, multi-polar and decentralised global system is gradually but surely building, which the West is unlikely to be able to reverse.
Wang-Yi, after his meeting with Lavrov, also met his Indian counterpart and effectively conveyed China’s position on Ukraine. Wang said that Beijing opposes western efforts “to incite Cold War mentality, hype up bloc confrontation, and create a new Cold War” and that it also opposes Western sanctions on Russia, which are “neither justified nor legal.” The message was conveyed to India’s Jaishankar, who has previously – and publicly – refused to support the western narrative of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, emphasising that the West cannot and must not expect the entire world to support them on any and all issues. He was quick to remind his western audience that India will always follow policies that protect and enhance its national interests. The US, despite its deep ties with New Delhi and the latter’s membership of the QUAD, has thus failed to either get India to oppose Russia and/or stop it from buying Russian oil.
Building on India’s assertion of strategic autonomy in a crisis situation, Wang-Yi was shrewd enough to pitch China’s position to India and thus use this as a platform to convey the message to the rest of the countries – especially, the developing and underdeveloped countries in Asia and Africa – that have been directly and indirectly hit hard by the war and western sanctions, which pushed oil prices spiralling.
With more and more countries joining the bandwagon for an alternative, multipolar world, it is clear that these countries consider the fact that this war has, first and foremost, been triggered by the US push to expand NATO to include Ukraine. There is, therefore, not enough support for the US narrative on either Russia and/or the politics of countering China via its new multi-billion dollar project that is supposed to rival China’s BRI but lacks the money to achieve its objectives. It has left the rest of the world tired of western/US policies.
This frustration is real and is being very clearly and unambiguously expressed in terms of more and more countries dumping the US dollar in favour of alternative currencies, with China’s renminbi being the favourite. According to the International Monetary Fund’s latest data, “Central banks aren’t holding the greenback in their reserves to the extent that they once did,” causing the dollar’s share of global foreign exchange reserves to diminish below 59% in the final quarter of last year, extending a two-decade decline. It is not just the US rivals dumping the USD; countries like Israel, too, have implemented plans to acquire other currencies. This is the beginning of a wholesome crisis in the west.
To conclude, this crisis is a very clear reflection of two things: a) the world system is getting decentralised and old hierarchies are being dismantled, and b) there is a much wider acceptance of the idea of a multipolar world than is reflected through BRICS or the G20 groups. Welcome to the post-American century!
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.