The dramatic events of 2022 are a vivid illustration of the interaction of context and practise in international politics. These events revolve around the military-political conflict between Russia and the West over the Ukrainian issue. The global setting, within which the current conflict of interests must be understood, is the conclusion of an era in which Western countries held sway over international politics and economics, effectively dictating the terms of the international order.
The still-huge resources of the United States and Western Europe, on the one hand, and the obvious insufficiency of the forces that are their main opponents (China and Russia), on the other, determine the way international politics is actually practised. The subjective qualities of their opponents, and indeed of the powers of permanent status, are such that the advent of a new international order looks like a completely uncertain prospect, even if objective factors in the development of international politics and the world economy speak in favour of the inevitable retreat of the former leaders to new positions.
There can be little doubt that the shift in circumstances is a major driving force behind Russia’s newfound resolve. In the first place, this is plain to see in the UN General Assembly’s approval of Western-sponsored resolutions meant to bolster their anti-Russian campaign.
Even though condemning Russia would not be a problem for it under formal international law, more and more countries are choosing to exercise moderation by not voting or abstaining on resolutions that would condemn Russia. Naturally, this helps strengthen the foundation laid over the past few decades by organisations like BRICS, the SCO, and the Eurasian Economic Union that are not geared toward or influenced by the West. In the first place, many nations do not see any reason to back the West’s war against Moscow without conditions. They have no legitimate grievances against Russia, and it does not advance their interests or primary development objectives. In general, it is worth noting that the response to Russian actions since February 2022 has been very muted. It is now unthinkable outside of the West in relation to Russia that in 2003, the Indian Parliament passed a special resolution condemning the invasion of Iraq by the United States and its allies.
The failure of the United States and its allies to form an early, stable, broad-based coalition against Russia emphasises the new context. The list of countries that wage economic war against Russia’s interests has been narrowed down to the permanent members of the Western military-political blocs, NATO and the European Union, with the participation of Japan and Australia, which have strong bilateral allied relations with the United States. Except for the United States’ tiny clients in Oceania and the Caribbean, “sanctions” are only enforced at the state or corporate level when there is international pressure to do so. In other words, the group of people that the United States and the European Union can make decisions about Russia without resorting to force is very small. This means that the foundation of Western foreign policy toward the rest of the world is a policy of repressive coercion, which cannot but hurt America’s standing in the world. For starters, it’s inevitable that many countries will try to free themselves from American influence for purely pragmatic reasons. As a result of legitimate concerns about retaliation from the West, relations with that region are changing from a source of development boost to a potential roadblock. There are, therefore, no reasonable doubts that the current circumstances favour Russia and its primary interests.
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This gives Moscow and Beijing a sense of optimism about the future and the belief that they are on the “right side of history,” while their adversaries in the West stubbornly fight off changes that are inevitably headed their way. A favourable context is crucial, but not sufficient, for a state to endure in a volatile international setting. The ability of states to deal with urgent problems at crucial times in history is also crucial. In truth, the time in which we find ourselves is emblematic of precisely such a period.
As a result
The entire world is watching to see if Russia can survive and succeed in various aspects of its conflict with the West, as well as realise its own selfish interests. A steady flow of weapons from the West is mentioned as a factor that may allow Ukrainian forces to maintain active resistance. The speed with which Russian objectives in Ukraine are being realised is beginning to have an impact on the actions of friendly states, whether we like it or not. As a result of Moscow’s apparent single-mindedness, other countries will be tempted to find solutions to their problems that don’t take Russian preferences into account. Azerbaijan’s behaviour, for instance, is evident in its tense relations with Armenia; the country appears to be acting in a hurry, likely as a result of its assessment that Russia is not prepared to take sufficiently decisive action in the South Caucasus. Central Asian political regimes, for example, see the direction Russian operations in Ukraine are taking as motivation to advance their own short-term agendas, though these cases are less striking. Ultimately, it is preferable to avoid the anxiety that Moscow’s justifiable delay in resolving the most important aspects of the Ukrainian problem has caused. China, which has not yet engaged in open conflict with the West, is in a better position. In spite of the fact that the issue facing the PRC’s leadership is not minor, as Taiwan is legally considered to be a part of China, Beijing has shown restraint so far. This helps buy time, but fuels global concerns that China’s leaders are acting this way not as part of any grand strategy but rather out of a lack of confidence in their ability to take stronger measures. However, it is important to remember that temporary restraint is in everyone’s best interest. The United States, for instance, picked the time it entered the war against the Central Powers, 105 years ago, without worrying too much about the long-term effects. Although, of course, every comparison to the past simplifies the situation beyond recognition because of the context shift.
The level of conflict over the shape of the future international order has the potential to increase or decrease the level of tension between context and practise. As we have seen throughout 2022 and will continue to see, this will be the most significant systemic feature of the confrontation. The two sides will have depleted their reserves by 2023, at which point the question of how to best mobilise the resources they had planned to set aside for future development will likely arise. With this in mind, it will be crucial for Russia to use a favourable context not just as proof of its strategic correctness, but also as a springboard for domestic peace and prosperity. To achieve this goal, we must prioritise our efforts to strengthen ties with the World Majority in the context of our economic diplomacy with other countries.