The Cold War ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the diminishing of Moscow’s influence in Eastern Europe. The geopolitical situation of world today has presented Russia with an opportunity to again assert its primacy in Eastern Europe. The United States now is deeply divided politically and is challenged by China in an unprecedented manner which is seeking to displace the United States as the most powerful nation in the world. As the United States has changed it’s priorities to focus its defence and geopolitical influence towards countering China in the Indo-Pacific region, Russia has sensed an opportunity it was waiting for and has directly challenged NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in Europe.
Russia’s relevance as a great power
The biggest advantage which Russia has is its vastness which makes it a major player in Europe, Central Asia, Arctic, Pacific and East Asia. Russia is also one of the largest producers of natural gas and crude oil which gives it a huge advantage and leverage over many countries especially in Europe. Russia’s military remains as strong as ever, having the largest nuclear arsenal in the world and being the world leader in military technologies. Despite some arguments trying to portray Russia as a junior partner of China, the fact remains that Russia remains an independent great power having considerable influence and power projection capability around the world. Russia remains one of the largest exporter of defence equipment to India and Vietnam despite both India and Vietnam having a tense relationship with Beijing. During the ongoing India – China standoff in the Line of Actual Control, Russia proved to be reliable defence supplier by its supply of advanced S-400 missile to India which is a significant boost to India’s defence capabilities against Chinese military aggression. Russia also retains significant influence in Central Asia, Western Asia and Eastern Europe which is a legacy of the former USSR. Russia has Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan as its formal allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization. What happens in Eastern Europe will greatly shape the geopolitics of the world. Russia has been a great power in world politics for centuries and is now attempting to reestablish its hegemony in what it considers as its zone of influence.
The world today is increasingly Multipolar and this is evident across many regions of the world. In the Middle East, Iran continues to challenge the west and sanctions have failed to deter its nuclear and other activities inimical to the west. The Afghanistan fiasco of the US which ended the 21 years war with a humiliating defeat was has also dealt a huge blow to the credibility of the US as a military superpower. China has continued to threaten Taiwan and may launch a full scale invasion at an opportune time in the near to medium term.
The United States though still enjoys the undiluted support of the English speaking western countries like UK and Australia. This is evident in the AUKUS alliance which aims to build nuclear submarines for Australia.
The western world is increasingly fragmented and divided with Brexit issues, France’s disappointment with AUKUS, disagreements over sanctions against Russia, transatlantic trade disputes, ideological issues within the European Union, differences in the Iran Nuclear Deal, different threat perceptions against China, etc.
If Russia is successful in its ambitions in Eastern Europe it will truly signal the advent of a Multipolar world. Western European nations especially France are already trying to have strategic autonomy and developing the security of European Union without having dependence on the United States. European Union is one of the key players in the emerging multipolar world.
India is one of the fastest growing economies of the world with more than a billion people and also being a nuclear power has one of the strongest military force in the world and will only grow in its power and influence in the world in the future. India is therefore also another significant power of the multipolar world order currently in the making.
Therefore the Multipolar world will have US, China, European Union, India and Russia as the major powers, each of them having the capability to shape geopolitics of the world in pursuit of their interests. It will be a more fragmented world and will therefore also witness more conflicts as the status quo in many regions is changed. This is what is happening in Eastern Europe.
Impact of the situation in Eastern Europe on India
The situation in Eastern Europe has serious implications for India also. It is in interest of India that US and Russia are not in conflict for two reasons. First, amicable relations between US and Russia will improve India’s situation because US and Russia are both most important strategic partners of India and it will help India in balancing and maintaining better relations with both of them. Secondly, lasting peace between US and Russia would imply that US can then devote more of its resources against belligerent China in the Indo-Pacific. India should therefore try to act like a bridge between the West and Russia as it has excellent relations with both of them and is the ideal country to play this role.
Can the United States manage conflict with both Russia and China simultaneously?
During the Cold War, the United States sought rapprochement with China to gain advantage in its conflict with USSR and was eventually successful. Similarly, with today’s geopolitical realities, the United States would be wiser to seek a compromise with Russia in Europe and focus its defence capabilities to counter the rising aggression of China in the Indo Pacific. China is the primary adversary of the US as China threatens the US hegemony in an unprecedented way with its aggressive foreign policy, its exponentially growing nuclear stockpile and with the Chinese economy projected to dwarf US economy within a few years. Defence of Taiwan against a potential Chinese invasion should be a priority for the United States over confronting Russia in Europe. The United States does not have the capability to be successful against an alliance of China and Russia and therefore the US should give incentives to Russia to atleast remain neutral in US-China conflict by lifting sanctions which have already proven ineffective to deter Russia from pursuing its interests assertively.
The Indo Pacific is today the primary theatre of great power competition similar to what Eastern Europe was during the Cold War, but what happens in Eastern Europe will also greatly shape the geopolitical situation of the contemporary world and may also signify the very nature of the emerging world order. The strategic importance of Europe continues to decrease for the US as the geopolitical centre of gravity shifts to the Indo-Pacific. Moscow’s assertiveness and influence will definitely now only increase in Europe and in a scale unprecedented since the disintegration of Soviet Union.