John P. Ruehl

John P. Ruehl is an Australian-American journalist living in Washington, D.C. He is a contributing editor to Strategic Policy and a contributor to several other foreign affairs publications. He is currently finishing a book on Russia to be published in 2022.

Chinese Geopolitical Inroads Into Central Asia Are Coming at Russia’s Expense

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At the recent Commonwealth for Independent States (CIS) summit held on October 14 in Astana, Kazakhstan, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon expressed previously inconceivable remarks. His public admonishment of Russian President Vladimir Putin to treat Central Asian states with more respect showed the growing confidence of Central Asian leaders amid Russia’s embroilment in Ukraine and China’s expanding regional influence.

After coming under Russian imperial rule in the 18th and 19th centuries, five Central Asian states—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—emerged independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.

While these countries remained heavily dependent on Russia for security, economic, and diplomatic support, China saw an opportunity in their vast resources and potential to facilitate trade across Eurasia. Chinese-backed development and commerce increased after the Soviet collapse and expanded further after the launch of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013.

Billions of dollars in investment, access to Chinese goods, and opening up China’s enormous consumer market allowed Beijing to restructure Central Asian economies. Soviet-era gas pipeline networks, for example, traditionally forced much of the region’s natural resources to flow through Russia to access the European market. The Central Asia-China pipeline and Kazakhstan-China oil pipeline are just some of the newer pipelines built to transport resources to the Chinese market instead.

These developments have added to friction between Central Asian states and Russia. Disputes between Turkmenistan and Russia over gas prices and a mysterious pipeline explosion in 2009 saw Russian gas imports from Turkmenistan decline until they halted completely in 2016, upending Turkmenistan’s access to Europe. Turkmenistan redirected much of its supply to China for the next three years, before a rapprochement with Moscow in 2019 saw imports to Russia resume.

Billions of dollars in investment, access to Chinese goods, and opening up China’s enormous consumer market allowed Beijing to restructure Central Asian economies.

This affair demonstrated the economic opportunities China could provide to Central Asian states that were previously dependent on Russia. Competing Chinese and Russian attempts to supply Central Asia with COVID-19 vaccines was another demonstration of Beijing’s multifaceted approach to increasing its regional influence.

Sensing the inevitability of Chinese investment in revolutionizing regional economies, the Kremlin announced the “Greater Eurasian Partnership” in 2015. This partnership attempted to integrate the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are members of, with the BRI. Though this partnership has only been partially successful, Putin has sought to use Chinese investment to help develop Russia’s Far East.

Russia’s connections to the remaining Soviet political networks and military power in the region have allowed Moscow to contend with China’s growing economic edge in Central Asia over the last two decades. But the increasing international pressure on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine has suddenly upset the traditional “division of labor” between Russia and China in Central Asia. Though still a vital partner to Central Asian states, Russia risks losing greater economic and security ground to China in the coming years.

After cross-border trade between the EU and Russia and Belarus was reduced following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for example, China placed renewed focus on developing the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), or “Middle Corridor,” of the BRI. Instead of Chinese trade flowing from Russia into Europe, it is increasingly being transported through Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Turkey. The newly built Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway, as well as other projects like the China-Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan (CKU) railway, will further erode Russia’s importance to the BRI.

On September 14, 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping traveled to Kazakhstan on his first foreign trip since the pandemic began. His destination was symbolic—the BRI was first announced by Xi in Kazakhstan in 2013, and the country has fashioned itself as the “buckle” of the project.

Alongside signing economic deals during his visit in September, Xi vowed to back Kazakhstan “in the defense of its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.” This contrasts with Russian political figures who have questioned the validity of Kazakhstan’s statehood in the past, including Putin. Xi then traveled to Uzbekistan to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit on September 15 and 16 and signed deals worth $16 billion with Uzbekistan, dwarfing the $4.6 billion signed between Uzbekistan and Russia.

China’s auto industry has also increased its manufacturing presence and share of the market in Central Asia in 2022, as sanctions have hindered Russia’s production capabilities.

China’s growing military presence in Central Asia has similarly been a major concern for the Kremlin. Over the last decade, China has rapidly increased its arms exports to the region. And though China has conducted bilateral military exercises in Central Asia since 2002 in coordination with the SCO, in 2016 China held its first antiterrorism exercises with Tajikistan, and held the “Cooperation 2019” exercises with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, “marking the first time their national guard units had trained with China on counterterrorism.”

In 2021, Tajikistan also approved the construction of a Chinese-funded military base in the country near its border with Afghanistan—though China’s focus on Tajikistan is “linked more to Afghanistan than to Central Asia as a whole.” However, the use of Chinese private military and security companies (PMSCs) in Africa and the Middle East has also led to concern in Moscow that China’s PMSCs may expand further across Central Asia.

Moscow’s strained military situation became evident in September, when Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, both members of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military alliance, engaged in deadly border clashes. While Russia and the CSTO were unable to calm hostilities, the leaders of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan met on the sidelines of the SCO summit on September 16 to cool tensions.

Nonetheless, several factors inhibit China from eclipsing Russia’s geopolitical influence in Central Asia. Beijing has typically been hesitant to commit military forces abroad and continues to see the Russian military as an asset against instability in the region. The Russian-led CSTO intervention in Kazakhstan in January 2022 showed the Kremlin was capable of stabilizing vulnerable national governments facing social unrest in the region, as well as cementing their authority and international legitimacy.

Russia also operates a military base in Tajikistan, while Kyrgyzstan hosts a Russian military air base. Kazakhstan’s large ethnic Russian minority, meanwhile, holds local economic and political power, and the Kazakh government remains fearful of a Russian military intervention ostensibly to protect them.

Additionally, Russia retains some economic leverage over Central Asian states. Russia conducts billions of dollars worth of trade with them annually and maintains several Soviet legacy projects that have bound Central Asia to it, such as common gas and oil pipelines, waterways, railway networks, and electricity grids. Central Asian states also have some of the largest annual remittance rates in the world, with the remittances from Russia to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan accounting for roughly 30 percent of their gross domestic product in 2021.

The Kremlin also has the ability to shape local perceptions of Russia through its dominant media and social media channels in Central Asia. But positive public opinion toward China across the region steadily declined between 2017 and 2021 for a variety of reasons, especially in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Many Central Asians are concerned over China’s “debt-trap diplomacy,” while large numbers of Chinese workers brought in to develop BRI projects in the region have resulted in deadly protests and clashes with locals.

Competition between China and Central Asian states over scarce regional water supplies, as well as China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, a Turkic-speaking, largely Muslim ethnic group, who “see themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations,” have also damaged China’s ties in the region.

Evidently, China’s own obstacles and Russia’s lingering presence in the region have helped sustain the geopolitical balance in Central Asia. But mutual pledges by China and Russia to respect one another’s core interests, most recently repeated in June 2022, have contributed the most to preventing greater agitation in the region. While Beijing and Moscow are destined to compete in Central Asia, careful diplomacy will likely prolong their cautious cooperation.

Ultimately, China remains more concerned with Taiwan, the South China Sea, and the broader Asia Pacific region, while Russia is more preoccupied in its eastern and southern regions, most notably Ukraine.

Russia has so far borne the brunt of U.S.-led efforts to contain their foreign policies. But the launch of the U.S.-China trade war in 2018 under former U.S. President Donald Trump marked a serious turn in the U.S.-Chinese relationship, which has continued under President Joe Biden. The Biden administration (as well as the EU) has criticized and sanctioned China over its policies in Xinjiang, and most recently imposed significant technology export controls on China on October 7.

Heightened tensions with the West will draw China and Russia closer together. While Central Asia is where their interests collide the most, Beijing and Moscow will continue to avoid conflict there to focus on pushing back against Western power elsewhere in the world.

Why Support for Ukraine Could Dwindle in the Final Months of 2022

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Since February 24, 2022, Ukraine’s armed forces have successfully defended much of their country. But without American assistance, the Ukrainian military campaign would have likely floundered months ago. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. has provided the lion’s share of military aid to Ukraine, alongside enormous financial and humanitarian assistance. With the U.S. midterm elections to be held on November 8, 2022, both President Joe Biden’s administration and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fear that these channels of support for Ukraine will diminish significantly.

The economic effects of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, such as higher energy prices, have taken their toll on American voters, and recent polling shows that U.S. support for the war is waning, especially among Republicans. According to Pew Research Center, the belief that the U.S. is providing too much support to Ukraine surged among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents from 9 percent in March to 32 percent in September.

While the U.S. economy is in a relatively good state compared to much of the rest of the world, Republicans have exploited domestic economic concerns to undermine Biden and the Democrats for months. And though many influential Republicans, such as Senator Lindsey Graham, continue to voice strong support for Ukraine, others aligned with the Tea Party and former U.S. President Donald Trump form the GOP’s increasingly vocal “isolationist wing.”

The influence of this populist group has been reflected in the growing split between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, with both of them recently sparring over the issue of Ukraine aid. In May, 57 House Republicans voted against the $40 billion aid package to Ukraine, and during the middle of October, McCarthy warned that the U.S. is “not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.” With elections polls predicting a Republican House majority, future aid packages to Ukraine are likely to face greater GOP resistance.

Support for NATO and Ukraine among Trump-leaning Republicans has traditionally been low. Trump derided NATO throughout his 2016 presidential campaign and presidency, and his July 2019 phone call with Zelenskyy led to the first official efforts to impeach him. Florida Republican Governor and Trump ally Ron DeSantis was also comfortable enough to ignore calls to pull his state’s $300 million investments from Russia shortly after the war began.

Unfortunately for Kyiv, Democratic support for Ukraine has also fallen, according to the September Pew Research Center poll, as anxiety over the economy, access to abortion, and other issues have mounted. Another Pew Research Center poll from October found that the economy is the top issue for voters heading into the midterm elections. Biden’s explanation of rising inflation as “Putin’s price hike in gasoline” has only reinforced the notion in some voters’ minds that U.S.-led sanctions targeting Moscow and support for Ukraine have been partly responsible for their economic pain.

And on October 24, 30 members of the progressive caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Joe Biden urging him to hold direct talks with Russia and end the war. While the letter was retracted the next day, it further demonstrated Ukraine’s falling support with the left in the U.S.

Any significant drop in American assistance to Ukraine—the U.S. has provided more than 52 billion euros in military, humanitarian, and financial aid to Ukraine from January 24 to October 3, 2022—will severely impact the latter’s ability to defend itself. According to Christoph Trebesch, head of the team compiling the Kiel Institute for the World Economy’s Ukraine Support Tracker, “The U.S. is now committing nearly twice as much as all EU countries and institutions combined.”

The UK has led major European efforts to defend Ukraine and is on track to train up to 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers on its own soil this year. But the UK is experiencing political destabilization following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September and the resignation of two prime ministers in under two months. These events have inhibited the British government’s ability to form a coherent foreign policy and expand its support for Ukraine.

Furthermore, the UK has its own disputes with the EU regarding Brexit and is unlikely to rally many of the EU states to join its efforts to support Ukraine without strong U.S. coordination.

The EU has sent billions of euros of financial aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict, but far less humanitarian and military aid. Bilateral military aid from Ukraine’s most important EU suppliers—France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Poland—fell significantly since the end of April 2022, with no new military pledges being made in July. Large-scale European military assistance only resumed following the launch of the successful Ukrainian offensive that has reclaimed a large part of the territory since early September.

Yet around the same time (on September 5), EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned that member states’ weapons stocks were “severely ‘depleted’” after months of providing Ukraine with arms, reinforcing perceptions of the EU’s inability to provide long-term military support to Kyiv.

On October 17, the EU formed its own military training program for Ukrainian soldiers. France declared it would train 2,000 on its soil, while other EU members will train another 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers. Though they are unlikely to match NATO-led initiatives, the latest round of EU sanctions against Russia, which were approved on October 5, demonstrate Europe’s commitment to keeping pressure on Russia.

A drastic increase in EU assistance to Ukraine and confrontation with Russia, however, remains unlikely. Poland, the leading member state advocating for these policies, was the largest recipient of EU funds between 2007 and 2020, and will not be able to coalesce the bloc for these purposes on its own. And with Europe’s energy costs mounting, the ability of the EU countries to maintain, let alone increase, their support for Ukraine may also soon come under much further strain.

As in the U.S., much of Europe’s political right wing (as well as left-wing political elements) is already far less enthusiastic about maintaining support for Ukraine than the political mainstream. Citing economic pain at home, fueled in part by rising energy costs, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has led the continental criticism against Russian sanctions since the Ukrainian invasion. His enthusiastic reception at the August 4 Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Texas, proves that these policies have not caused much concern in the GOP.

With the threat of reduced support from the U.S. and Europe, Ukraine’s ability to hold off Russia will weaken significantly in 2023. While most UN members voted to condemn Russia for its invasion, only Western allies like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have chosen to sanction Russia and aid Ukraine. This is unlikely to change, particularly if pressure from Washington and Brussels subsides.

Because the newly elected and reelected representatives in the 2022 U.S. midterm elections will not take office until January 2023, the Biden administration appears intent on using this window to build up its support for Kyiv. Lawmakers have begun discussing a $50 billion aid package for Ukraine that is expected to be finalized by January.

One problem with this strategy is that winter weather risks grinding Ukraine’s autumn offensive to a halt. Any potential Russian counteroffensive may wait until next spring, and Ukraine’s needs may have changed by then. Russia has shifted strategies throughout the war, including bolstering the use of artillery, Iranian drones, and other weapons. The first of the roughly 300,000 Russian reservists and volunteers are expected to arrive soon in Ukraine, allowing Russia to change strategies once more.

By then the war would be more than a year old, and U.S. public and political support would likely have fallen further. Having already provided more than 52 billion euros in military, humanitarian, and financial aid to Ukraine since January 24, 2022, Washington is unlikely to provide Ukraine with more large aid packages until the U.S. domestic economic situation improves.

It remains to be seen if Republicans win the House or the Senate. And if Ukrainian forces manage to regain a significant amount of territory from Russia over the next few months, then current levels of U.S. support could be mostly maintained even if Republicans gain control over either chamber of Congress. Nonetheless, Kyiv may be wise to prepare for one more extensive U.S. aid package and focus on maintaining support for current sanctions while appealing for greater help from Europe. While the Ukrainian armed forces may not mount any new major offensives for the foreseeable future, they may be able to prevent the Russian military from doing so.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

How Europe Has Navigated Its Energy Crises

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While European energy prices have eased slightly in recent months, stress continues to build across a continent that has long been dependent on access to cheap Russian energy.

Protests related to high energy costs have been held from Belgium to the Czech Republic in Europe. Fuel shortages have led to long queues to buy petrol at gas stations in France. The Don’t Pay UK movement has urged British citizens to enter a “bill strike” by refusing to pay energy bills until gas and electricity prices are reduced to an “affordable level.” Europe’s remarkably high energy prices have also fueled climate change protests across the continent.

European governments have resorted to diverse measures to manage the crisis. After the EU banned Russian coal imports, coal regulations were reduced in Poland, which has led to illegal coal mines being operated in the country. Aid packages, such as Austria’s 1.3 billion euro initiative, aim to help companies struggling with mounting energy costs. The UK “has capped the price of average household energy bills at 2,500 pounds ($2,770) a year for two years from October” and also announced a cap on energy per unit for businesses, charities, and NGOs in September.

Italy has shown considerable capability in diversifying its energy imports from Russia since the beginning of the year to reduce its dependence on the Kremlin. Under former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Italy began to increase its reliance on Russian energy, a process that continued even after his election defeat in 2011 and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

This reliance came to an abrupt end after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Italy signed natural gas deals with Egypt and Algeria in April and held additional talks with the Republic of Congo and Angola regarding energy supplies as well. In June, Italy also purchased two additional liquefied natural gas (LNG) vessels, adding to the three LNG terminals it already operates, to further diversify its natural gas (gas for short) supplies.

Not all countries, however, have matched Italy’s success of diversifying their energy imports. France declared it would cap power and gas price increases for households at 15 percent in 2023. But since more than half of France’s 56 nuclear reactors have been shut down for maintenance (Europe’s summer drought also prevented the water-based cooling systems of the French nuclear plants from functioning), France will struggle with mounting energy costs as well as upholding its traditional role as an electricity exporter to other European countries.

Like other European countries, Germany chose to nationalize some of its major energy companies, such as Uniper in September. In October, the German government proposed a 200 billion euro energy subsidies initiative. With gas storage projected to reach 95 percent capacity by November, Germany has also provided itself with significant protection.

But Germany lacks LNG infrastructure and remains vulnerable if Russia cuts off gas through pipelines completely. Currently, Germany is at level two of the country’s three-tier emergency gas plan, with the last stage introducing direct government intervention in gas distribution and rationing.

Because Germany makes the largest contributions of funds to the EU, its economic vulnerability poses concerning implications for the rest of the bloc. And in addition to suffering from gas shortages, Central European countries will “also suffer from the effects of gas rationing in the German industrial sector, given their integration into German supply chains.” Such uncertainty has blunted investment in the region, further compounding Europe’s economic issues.

These issues have underlined the perception that while Russian coal has been relatively easy to ban in Europe and Russian oil is slowly being phased out, Russian natural gas remains too important for much of the continent’s energy mix to be shunned completely.

Dozens of ships carrying LNG have been stuck off Europe’s coast, as the plants “that convert the seaborne fuel back to gas are operating at maximum limit.” High gas prices have meanwhile resulted in key industries across Europe that are reliant on the energy source to shut down, sparking fears of “uncontrolled deindustrialization.”

In addition to national strategies, European countries have pursued collective initiatives to confront the energy crisis. On September 27, Norway, Denmark, and Poland officially opened the Baltic Pipe to supply Poland with natural gas. On October 1, Greece and Bulgaria began commercial operation of the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) pipeline, which serves as another link in the Western-backed Southern Gas Corridor project to bring natural gas from Azerbaijan to Europe.

On October 13, France began sending Germany natural gas for the first time, based on an agreement that “Germany would generate more electricity to supply France during times of peak consumption.” The European Council stated on September 30 that EU states will implement “a voluntary overall reduction target of 10 percent of gross electricity consumption and a mandatory reduction target of 5 percent of the electricity consumption in peak hours.”

Additionally, the EU continues to debate imposing a price cap on Russian gas to the EU, and the G7 countries and its allies agreed on September 2 to implement a price cap on Russian crude oil and oil products in December 2022 and February 2023, respectively.

Germany, however, has led criticism over the “proposal to cap the price on all gas imports to the EU,” stating that the EU lacks the authority to do so, alongside expressing concerns that gas providers will simply sell gas to other countries. Norway, traditionally Europe’s second-largest gas provider after Russia, also indicated it would not accept a cap on gas, and Russia stated it would not sell oil or gas to countries doing so either. The resulting restrictions in energy supply would likely further raise prices.

European countries also remain bound by their own interests, further undermining multilateral cooperation. Croatia, for example, announced it would ban natural gas exports in September. Many European countries have criticized Germany’s planned 200 billion euro subsidies plan for fear that it “could trigger economic imbalances in the bloc.” Germany, meanwhile, declared it would not support a joint EU debt issuance on October 11, only later agreeing to the measures out of pressure from its European allies.

In September, the UK accused the EU of pushing British energy prices higher by severing energy cooperation following Brexit. The U.S. and Norway have also been singled out by EU members for profiting off the current energy crisis.

Varying levels of vulnerability have resulted in some European countries breaking with the continental norm and negotiating with Russia. Serbia, which is not in NATO or part of the EU, signed its own natural gas deal with Russia in May, while Hungary drew the ire of Western allies by signing its own gas deal with Russia in August. Hungary was among the first European countries to agree to purchase Russian natural gas in rubles, stabilizing the Russian currency as sanctions were placed on the Russian economy. If the crisis worsens considerably, other countries may follow suit.

As Europe’s energy crisis has continued, many countries across the world have become increasingly wary. European demand for LNG and a willingness to pay premiums has meant suppliers are increasingly rerouting gas to the continent.

Though rich competitors like South Korea and Japan have been able to contend with European competition for LNG, it has caused shortages elsewhere. Bangladesh and Pakistan, for example, have struggled to secure their traditional LNG imports since the beginning of the Russian invasion. Blackouts in these countries have increased, causing them to resort to more carbon-intensive energy alternatives and prompting renewed talks with Russia over LNG imports and developing pipeline networks to supply natural gas to Asia.

Europe’s decades-long exposure to Russian energy means that its current energy crisis will persist for years. Even with predictions for a relatively mild upcoming winter, overcoming this energy crisis will require cooperation and sacrifice among European states—particularly if the war in Ukraine escalates further. While the West’s solidarity will be put to the test, poorer, energy-vulnerable countries will continue to fall victim as a result of the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Iranian and Turkish Moves to Join SCO Raises Its Profile

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Held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, from September 15 to 16, the 2022 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Heads of State Council demonstrated that the SCO was continuing to evolve into a viable international political congregation independent from the West.

Beginning in the early 1800s, international organizations (IOs) began to emerge as modest arbiters of European affairs. But during and after World War II, new IOs established themselves as far more prominent actors on a global scale. The United Nations (UN), the Arab League, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and several other IOs were created to manage the affairs of their member states.

After the Soviet collapse, more IOs were created to manage the independence of new states, globalization, and regional cooperation. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), created in 1991, attempted to coordinate military, economic, and political policies between post-Soviet states. The European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU), created in 1993 and 2002, respectively, bound member states more forcefully to common economic and political norms. Other IOs, like the Arctic Council (1996) and Asia Cooperation Dialogue (2002), aimed to foster broader regional cooperation.

Most new international organizations meshed neatly with the Western-led liberal world order. But in 2001, the formation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was formally announced, and it established itself as an exclusionary outlier. Originally known as the Shanghai Five when it was created in 1996, it included China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, with Uzbekistan later joining when it evolved into the SCO in 2001.

The SCO was created partly to help coordinate a new era of peaceful relations between Moscow and Beijing and to manage their coalescing interests in Central Asian states. In addition, combatting the “Three Evils” of extremism, separatism, and terrorism were major priorities for the organization, which included data and intelligence sharing and common military drills among its member states.

Over time, the SCO began to embrace greater political and economic integration. Support for autocratic rule and limiting criticism of human rights violations set it apart from other Western-aligned IOs, with the SCO also overseeing the growth of joint energy projects, the fostering of trade agreements, and the introduction of the SCO Interbank Consortium in 2005 “to organize a mechanism for financing and banking services in investment projects supported by the governments of the SCO member states.”

But the organization’s most pressing vocation was facilitating a multipolar world order. Investing in an independent forum for economic, political, and military affairs outside of Western influence became a key component of Russian and Chinese attempts to reduce Western power in global affairs.

Russia and China have also developed complementary mechanisms to the SCO, which have helped decentralize its mission. Following the blacklisting of several Russian banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) in 2014, for example, the Kremlin approved the creation of the System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS) to replicate SWIFT and introduced the National Payment Card System (now known as Mir), while China created the Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS).

These initiatives even proved attractive to states that were more aligned with the Western-led global order. India and Pakistan began SCO accession talks in 2015 and officially joined the organization in 2017. Despite relatively positive relations with the West, India and Pakistan have both faced Western criticism over human rights and democratic backsliding in recent years. India’s introduction of platforms like RuPay in 2012 and Unified Payments Interface, which eroded the traditional dominance of Visa and Mastercard in the country, also complemented SCO’s attempts to reduce Western economic preeminence globally.

At the 2022 summit of the SCO Heads of State Council, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev reiterated that the SCO was not an anti-U.S. or anti-NATO alliance. But the organization’s original motive to create a multipolar world was echoed in its Samarkand Declaration, the final declaration of this meeting, and continues to conflict with Washington’s attempts to maintain the U.S.-led world order. According to the declaration, the member states “confirm[ed] their commitment to [the] formation of a more representative, democratic, just and multipolar world order.”

This core stratagem continues to appeal to countries around the world. Alongside the leaders of its eight member states, the SCO invited the presidents of Belarus, Mongolia, and Iran as official observers to the recent summit. Having started its accession process in 2021, Iran signed a memorandum of understanding with the SCO to join the institution by April 2023.

The SCO would likely alleviate Iran’s sense of economic isolation stemming from Western sanctions, a sentiment shared by Iranian officials at the summit and something that was also noted back in 2007. Belarus has also found itself under increasing sanctions in recent years and enhanced its accession procedures to join the SCO in Samarkand.

The presidents of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Turkey were also invited to the SCO summit as special guests, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announcing that his country would seek full membership to the SCO. In 2012, Erdoğan joked to Russian President Vladimir Putin about abandoning Turkey’s EU aspirations if Russia would allow them into the SCO. Turkey’s renewed attempt comes at a time when its ties with the rest of the Western world are increasingly strained and could instigate other NATO states, and potentially the EU states, to join the SCO as well.

The SCO has also established strong relations with other IOs. Representatives from ASEAN, the UN, the Russian-dominated CIS, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) were invited to the 2022 summit. Notably absent were any representatives from the EU or NATO. Meanwhile, in 2005, the U.S. was rejected from gaining observer status, solidifying the SCO’s status as a bulwark against U.S. influence in Eurasia.

Like all major international organizations, the SCO faces systemic obstacles that hinder its effectiveness and long-term viability. At the recent summit in Uzbekistan, China’s Xi Jinping was welcomed to the country by his Uzbek counterpart, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Putin, however, was greeted by Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov, highlighting Russia’s strained relations with many of the former Soviet states and the growing strength of Beijing over Moscow. Unlike in the CSTO and the EAEU, Russia is not the dominant actor in the SCO, and will increasingly have to contend with China’s predominant authority.

Disputes also remain between SCO member states. India and Pakistan, for example, are afflicted with an ongoing struggle over Kashmir. China and India have their own territorial disputes and have engaged in minor violent skirmishes since India joined the SCO. Additionally, deadly clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan erupted during the recent summit, while admitting Armenia and Azerbaijan, both of which are SCO dialogue partners, will only further increase the number of members currently locked in their own territorial disputes.

But the SCO has consistently portrayed itself as a vehicle to supervise these issues. The leaders of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan met for talks during the summit to assuage tensions. And since 2002, the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) has encouraged military coordination between member states, with the Indian and Pakistani militaries conducting RATS drills in 2021. More drills between them are planned for October, and while they are aimed primarily at countering unrest from Afghanistan, they are also part of SCO’s attempts to manage relations of member states.

China and Russia have also agreed to “synergize” the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the EAEU to help mitigate possible tension between them, with both Xi and Putin meeting on the sidelines of the 2022 SCO summit and pledging to respect each other’s core interests.

The SCO member states clearly believe the organization can, and has greater potential to, effectively manage their concerns and regional affairs, and its appeal continues to grow. Besides the additional SCO dialogue partners (Cambodia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt were granted the status of SCO dialogue partners at the 2022 SCO summit. Myanmar, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the Maldives were also granted the status of dialogue partners.

Russian and Chinese influence will fall as more members join, which will also dilute consensus within the organization. But it remains a Beijing and Moscow-led initiative to manage world affairs and to demonstrate that the “international community” is not just the West. With almost half of the world’s population and a quarter of the global GDP, the SCO is increasingly becoming a representative of the Global South.

By pooling together other IOs into an umbrella forum, the SCO can further its goal of challenging the wider Western-dominated IO ecosystem and prevent Washington from setting the global agenda. This will require the constructive management of Russian and Chinese ambitions and the increasingly complex needs of more member states.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Understanding Libya’s Relentless Destabilization

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After leading a military coup in 1969, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi cemented his rule over Libya for more than 40 years. A variety of different political ideologies—Pan-Arabism, Pan-Africanism, socialism, Islamic leftism, and others—characterized his leadership, which were further reinforced by a cult of personality. While living standards for Libyans increased under his rule, Gaddafi attracted resentment among some non-Arab populations, Islamic extremists, and other political opponents.

As the Arab Spring spreadoutward from neighboring Tunisia into Libya in February 2011, protestors and militant groups seized parts of the country. Loyalist armed forces retook control of much of what they had lost over the next few weeks after the outbreak of the protests, but Gaddafi’s historical antagonism toward Western governments saw them seize the opportunity to impose a no-fly zone and bombing campaign against Libyan forces in March 2011.

Alongside assistance from regional Middle Eastern allies, the NATO-led intervention was successful in helping local militant groups topple Gaddafi, who was later captured and executed in October 2011. Soon after his death, questions were immediately raised about how Libya could be politically restructured and avoid becoming a failed state. After militant groups refused to disarm, they along with their allies began to contest territory and control over Libya’s fragile new national institutions.

The National Transitional Council (NTC) was established to coordinate rebel groups against Gaddafi, and naturally inherited much of the Libyan government after the war. But a number of countries did not recognize its authority, and after handing power over to the General National Congress (GNC) in 2012, Libya’s weak central government steadily lost political control over its enormous territory to competing groups.

Libya’s population of almost 7 million people lives in a highly urbanized society that has led to the development of strong regional identities among those living in its northern coastal cities. There has also historically been an east-west divide between the two coastal provinces of Cyrenaica in the east and Tripolitania in the west.

A large Turkish and part-Turkish minority also live throughout Libya’s major cities, particularly in the city of Misrata. Most of them have descended from the Ottoman troops who married local women during Ottoman rule from 1551-1912, and though not a strictly homogenous group, the majority revolted against Gaddafi as nationwide protests began in Libya.

The historical lack of central authority in Libya’s more rural south resulted in widespread autonomy for the Tuareg tribe in the southwest and the Tubu tribe in the southeast. While the Tuaregs largely supported Gaddafi, the Tubu joined the revolutionaries, sparking increased tension between these two tribes to gain control over the city of Ubari, local smuggling routes, and energy infrastructure.

Alongside ethnic and cultural disputes, Libya was further destabilized by radical Islamists after the fall of Gaddafi. Mass unemployment among Libya’s relatively young population fueled recruitment for ISIS and the Al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia. Having gained battlefield experience and with limited economic prospects, many militants in Libya had little incentive to return to civilian life, while the influx of foreign jihadists also kept the violence ongoing.

Rivalries between these numerous factions helped lead to the outbreak of the second Libyan civil war in 2014. The UN-brokered Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) was signed in December 2015 to create a Presidential Council (PC) for appointing a unity government in Tripoli but failed to curtail growing violence between local actors.

Two major entities came to dominate the country. The Government of National Accord (GNA), which was presided over by the PC, was recognized in March 2016 to lead Libya, with Fayez Serraj as the Libyan prime minister. This move partly incorporated elements of Libya’s political Islamic factions.

The Libyan House of Representatives (HoR), meanwhile, refused to endorse the GNA, and relocated to Tobruk in Cyrenaica after political pressure and Islamist militias forced it out of Tripoli in 2014. The HoR is led by former General Khalifa Haftar, who commands the Libyan National Army (LNA).

The GNA retained official recognition by the UN as well as Libya’s most important economic institutions, including the Central Bank of Libya (CBL). But both the GNA and the HoR continued to fight for influence over the National Oil Corporation (NOC), while many other national institutions were forced to work with both factions.

Military force has also been integral to enforcing rival claims to Libya’s leadership. In 2017, Haftar’s forces seized Benghazi, consolidating power across much of the east and center of the country. But his attempt to take Tripoli in 2019-2020 was repelled by GNA and allied forces, prompting an HoR retreat on several fronts. A ceasefire between the GNA and the rival administration of the LNA declared an end to the war in October 2020, but tensions and violence persisted.

Libya’s civil conflict has also been inflamed by outside powers. Turkey opposed the original NATO-led intervention in 2011 but supported Libyan Turks, some of whom founded the Libya Koroglu Association in 2015, to coordinate with Turkey. Ankara has also supported the GNA with arms, money, and diplomatic support for years, and Turkish forces and military technology were integral to repelling Haftar’s assault on Tripoli.

Turkey’s business interests in Libya and desire to increase its power in the Mediterranean remain Ankara’s core initiatives, and in June it voted to extend the mandate for military deployment in Libya for another 18 months. Both Turkey and Qatar, which has also been a strong backer of the GNA, are close with the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and associated political circles in Libya, to attempt to promote a brand of political Islam that rivals Saudi-led initiatives.

With few core interests in Libya, the U.S. has shown tacit support for intervening again in a conflict it had allegedly won, but from 2015 to 2019, U.S. airstrikes and military support helped the GNA push ISIS out of many Libyan cities. Yet, Washington has remained wary of being associated with the Libyan conflict and with Islamists allied with the GNA, and the U.S. harbored and provided support to Haftar for decades to pressure Gaddafi before the civil war.

Egypt has been one of the HoR’s most crucial allies, providing weapons, military support, and safe haven through Libya’s eastern border. Besides protecting Libya’s Egyptian population, Egypt’s military-led government is also seeking to suppress political Islam in the region after Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood briefly ruled Egypt from 2011 to 2013 following Egypt’s own revolution. In 2020, Cairo approved its own intervention in Libya.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have similar interests in suppressing rival political Islamic forces in the region and have provided funding and weaponry to Haftar. Doing so has brought them closer to Russia, which has also supported Haftar with substantial military assistance. This includes warplanes piloted by the Russian private military company Wagner, which is suspected to be partially bankrolled in Libya by the UAE.

Libya’s destabilization complements the Kremlin’s attempts to influence Europe. Haftar’s forces and supporters managed to block Libyan oil exports in 2020 and again earlier this year, threatening continental supply and increasing Russia’s leverage. Additionally, instability in the region and porous borders encourage migrant flows to Europe, often increasing the popularity of right-wing political parties which have grown closer to Russia over the last two decades.

The HoR has also found less direct aid from France. Officially, Paris has supported UN negotiations and the GNA and has sought to minimize perceptions of its involvement in the conflict. But the death of three undercover French soldiers in Libya in 2016 showed that Paris remained deeply involved in the country’s civil war, and it has sold billions in weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE to help Haftar. This is part of France’s efforts to suppress Islamist groups in Africa, where France retains considerable interests.

France’s position has brought criticism from Western allies. In 2019, Paris blocked an EU statement calling on Haftar to stop his offensive on Tripoli, while its support for Haftar has severely undermined its relationship with Italy, which has seen its economic influence in Libya decline.

Since the conclusion of the second Libyan civil war in 2020, steps have been taken to unify the country. A Government of National Unity was established in 2021 to consolidate Libya’s political forces, and the new Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh reached an agreement with Haftar in July 2022 to enforce a ceasefire.

But based on the current dynamics of limited intervention, there is relatively little risk and high rewards for foreign powers to continue destabilizing Libya. Turkey and Russia are also using the conflict to add to their leverage over one another in Syria. With repeated delays in holding elections in Libya and rival local and foreign actors seeking to dominate the country, Libyan citizens risk continuing to be used instead of being helped to ensure a stable and secure future for their country.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

France’s Influence in Africa Faces Strains From Locals and Foreign Competitors

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On August 25, French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Algeria on a three-day visit to begin mending bilateral relations with the country. Ties between France and Algeria have historically been erratic, but they plummeted in October 2021 following Macron’s comments questioning Algeria’s existence as a nation prior to French colonization. The ensuing diplomatic crisis saw the recall of Algeria’s ambassador to France as well as Algeria banning its airspace to French military planes.

France’s ongoing affair with Algeria reflects the complicated relationship it has with many of its former colonies in Africa. The French first began to establish trading posts on the Senegalese coast in the early 17th century and launched several expeditions against Barbary pirates and slave traders in North Africa in the mid-to-late 17th century. The French invasion of Ottoman Algiers in 1830 then transformed France’s relationship with Africa and launched the beginning of French colonialism into the interior of the continent.

By the early 20th century, Paris commanded control over much of West and Central Africa. However, the French Empire grew increasingly strained during World War I as well as during the occupation of France by Nazi Germany in World War II. French decolonization began soon after and was largely finalized relatively peacefully after 1960, save for a bloody seven-year war with Algeria that lasted until 1962.

Yet in the context of the Cold War, France had gained the backing of the U.S. to help contain communism in its former colonies in the African continent. The lingering sphere of influence in the region came to be known as Françafrique—a term coined by former Côte d’Ivoire President Félix Houphouët-Boigny in 1955. Across its former empire, the French-speaking and often French-educated local elites cultivated ties with Paris to help manage internal stability and foreign affairs in their countries after independence.

France implemented economic policies to bind the former colonies to it, including the CFA franc currency zone, created in 1945. The currency was later divided into West African and Central African CFA francs, which had a fixed rate of exchange with the French CFA franc (and later the euro), tying more than a dozen countries to French monetary policy. In addition, 50 percent of their reserves were to be kept in the French central bank, with unlimited convertibility of CFA francs into euros.

Some CFA countries saw relatively low inflation and high growth in comparison to other sub-Saharan African countries from the early 1950s to the mid-1980s. But in the 1980s and 1990s, domestic production fell and imports increased, leading to a rise in public debt. The devaluing of the CFA franc in 1994 also led to wage freezes and spiraling expenses for goods.

Today, the CFA is often criticized for hindering regional trade, restricting access to credit, increasing dependence on exporting a limited number of primary commodities, and enhancing member states’ vulnerability to foreign economic crises. In December 2019, it was announced that the West African CFA franc would be replaced by a new currency called eco by 2027, and would be adopted by 15 countries, including African states outside the current CFA franc currency zone.

African leaders remain divided over the issue of switching to this new currency, but the reform efforts represent growing dismay toward French economic policies in its former colonies. Nonetheless, French companies like TotalEnergies, Areva, Bolloré SE, Bouygues, Vinci, Eiffage, and many others have dominated Africa’s energy, construction, transportation, media, and telecommunications industries for decades. Their command over local economic mechanisms has often made the infrastructure owned by these companies targets, such as seen during the protests in Senegal in 2021.

Over the past 20 years, meanwhile, China’s state-run corporations have come to threaten the regional hegemony of France’s major conglomerates in the continent. While China lacks the post-colonial networks that France enjoys, Beijing has entered Africa with enormous investment potential and without the political baggage of previous colonialism. And while there is little doubt that Chinese companies have entered Africa to pursue their own self-interests, they are a welcome sign of competition away from the previous French monopoly.

France has typically been able to leverage its security role in the region by both extending military support to governments in Africa and by providing direct and tacit support to coups in several countries. In 2013, France began a military campaign in Mali, Operation Serval (followed by Operation Barkhane), to protect its interests and local allies in the Sahel region while coordinating with the U.S.-led war on terror.

However, the French-led military campaigns’ mixed results have been met with increasing regional criticism. And as the U.S. has sought to militarily disengage from much of the continent in recent years, this has put additional pressure on France to drastically reduce its campaign in the Sahel. French forces pulled out of the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2016 and from Mali in August.

France has also had to contend with other countries attempting to increase their military influence in Africa. The CAR’s government invited the Russian private military company, Wagner, in 2018 in response to France’s departure. Later, these Russian mercenaries were deployed in Mali in 2021. Private military companies are cheaper and come without the unpopular specter of using the military of the country’s former colonial power. Turkey’s quick recognition of those leading the Malian coup in 2020 also demonstrated Ankara’s growing role in African military affairs.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s frequent criticism of Macron over his stance on Islam in France and around the world has also put the French president on the defensive. Perceptions of Islamophobia could jeopardize its relations with its majority Muslim former colonies in Africa and the wider Muslim world and could add to the discontent among France’s estimated 10 percent Muslim population.

Much of Africa’s comparatively larger younger populations are less receptive to residual French influence in their countries, while many of the elites who were educated in France are also no longer in power or as relevant as they once were. The Organization Internationale de la Francophonie, or Francophonie, created in 1970 to coordinate integration and cooperation among French-speaking countries, saw two of its members, Gabon and Togo, join the UK’s Commonwealth of Nations in June.

France’s weakening cultural influence was on full display during Macron’s visit to Algeria in August. The Algerian government had already indicated in July that English would be taught in the country’s primary schools, amid deliberations across the region questioning the future role of the French language.

To offset this development, Macron has promoted literature and images from across Africa and the rest of the French-speaking world, and declared the French language’s “‘epicenter’ was in the ‘heart of Africa.’” While some projections have predicted the number of French speakers to reach 750 million by 2050, Macron has recognized that this will only take place with the introduction of a more proactive language policy in Africa that promotes its use and regional adaptability.

France has also taken steps to try and link the European Union to Africa. In February, France led attempts to renew the EU’s partnership with the African Union. The Summit of Heads of State and Government of the European Union and the African Union (AU) in February saw EU leaders announce a 150-billion-euro investment in Africa to assist in the development of the region. But despite the coordination between the AU and the EU, France’s Africa policies face other challenges due to competition with other European countries.

Italy, for example, saw much of its investments in Libya vanish following the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya, which France heavily lobbied for. The two countries continue to support different sides in Libya’s ongoing civil war. And in 2019, Italian deputy prime ministers criticized France for its apathy toward destabilization in Africa and for pursuing economic policies that prevented development and increased migration from the continent.

With the onset of fresh competition from other countries, outdated political and economic mechanisms being used by the French, and lingering opposition to its dominance, France’s Africa strategy is floundering in its former colonies and across the continent. And unlike the British and Spanish empires, which enforced their culture and political systems in various regions over centuries, the French involvement in Africa was not long enough to entrench its influence accordingly. Without a serious overhaul, Paris will continue to lose its ability to compete with other countries and satisfy African populations who are seeking change.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Where Does Russia Receive Its Aid From?

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On August 24, Ukraine’s independence day, the U.S. provided a $3 billion military aid package to the country. The additional assistance adds to more than $80 billion worth of support that Kyiv has already received between January 24 and August 3, the majority of which was provided by the U.S., the UK, and the EU. In addition to gaining access to Western weapons systems, military data, and training, the Ukrainian armed forces have further been augmented by foreign volunteers serving in the International Legion.

With third parties caught aiding Russia risking the imposition of financial penalties by the U.S., open support for the Kremlin has been largely limited to rogue states already isolated from Washington and Brussels. Russia’s seclusion was documented in a UN Resolution on March 2, where 141 countries voted to deplore Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 35 abstained, and just four—Belarus, North Korea, Syria, and Eritrea—supported the Kremlin.

Even most of Russia’s key post-Soviet allies belonging to its international organizations, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), have avoided supporting Moscow. Kazakhstan, for example, a member of both institutions, took steps in July to begin exporting its oil across the Caspian Sea, bypassing Russian-controlled oil pipelines. This directly undermines the Kremlin’s strategy of restricting oil to Europe to compromise the region’s energy security.

The key exception among post-Soviet states has been Belarus. Over the last decade, President Alexander Lukashenko has steered Belarus further into Russia’s orbit. Enticed by cheap Russian oil and gas and lucrative transit fees as both these commodities continue on to Europe, Lukashenko has also increasingly relied on Russian security forces to enforce his rule—notably evident during the 2020 Belarusian protests.

Lukashenko’s response to the popular protests in 2020 essentially cut off all avenues for cooperation with the West. But growing Belarusian support for Russia against Ukraine has been evident for years. In 2017, Belarusian authorities detained a 19-year-old Ukrainian man who had traveled to Belarus and deported him to Russia to face terrorism charges. It was therefore no surprise when Lukashenko allowed Russian troops to invade Ukraine from Belarusian territory in February 2022.

Belarus continues to aid the Russian military campaign, including permitting Russia “to fire ballistic missiles from the Belarusian territory, enabling transportation of Russian military personnel and heavy weapons, tanks, and military transporters, allowing Russian military aircraft to fly over Belarusian airspace into Ukraine, providing refueling points, and storing Russian weapons and military equipment in Belarus,” stated the European Council.

Belarus has also repeatedly conducted its own troop movements near the Ukrainian border since the beginning of Russia’s invasion to distract Ukrainian forces. And though Belarus has not committed its armed forces to the Ukraine conflict, Russia has had access to a stream of foreign volunteers, largely from Europe, since Russia’s initial military action in 2014 in Crimea.

Russia’s volunteer strategy has evolved since the launch of Russia’s invasion. Though a far cry from Western think tank estimates of as high as 40,000 Syrian fighters making their way to Russia in March, hundreds of mercenaries from Syria and Libya, where the Russian military is also engaged, were active in Ukraine by April. Rotating allied forces alleviates the Kremlin’s need for more soldiers without resorting to conscription.

Additionally, the Syrian government recognized the independence of Russian-supported eastern Ukraine breakaway republics, Luhansk and Donetsk, in June.

The Iranian government, meanwhile, declared in July that it supported Russia’s war in the face of NATO aggression. Heavily sanctioned by the West, Iran’s armed forces have been fighting alongside the Russian military in Syria since 2015. The two countries have also expanded bilateral relations through energy and weapons deals since the Ukraine invasion, building on years of growing ties in both these areas.

While Russia has typically supplied weapons to Iran, Russian forces have faced a drone deficit in Ukraine. Russian officials have allegedly repeatedly visited Iranian airfields in recent months to review Iranian-made drones, with the first shipments of these drones from Iran to Russia arriving in August.

According to U.S. officials, Russia asked China for financial and material assistance in March, but these accusations were denied by Moscow and Beijing. Both Russia and Ukraine have been using Chinese drones to target one another, prompting China’s Da-Jiang Innovations (DJI), the world’s premier civilian drone maker, to halt sales to both countries in April. However, Russians have continued to access AeroScope, a surveillance software used in DJI drones, to target Ukrainian DJI aircraft along with the position of the drone’s operator.

China has also provided the Russian military with significant aid along with electronic components and raw materials vital to sustaining its campaign in Ukraine. In June, five Chinese companies were accused of aiding the Russian military and were blacklisted by U.S. officials. Chinese military aid may accelerate following U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan on August 2, which caused a significant downturn in U.S.-China relations.

Additionally, Chinese loans and access to its consumer markets, particularly in energy, have helped Russia cushion the blow of Western sanctions and falling exports. Despite China’s wariness over the threat of Western sanctions and comparisons between the Russia-Ukraine conflict and its dispute with Taiwan, Beijing’s cautious support for Moscow has been crucial since the 2014 annexation of Crimea and continues to help Russia sustain its confrontation with the West.

North Korea has also provided strong support to Russia, with Pyongyang recognizing Ukraine’s two breakaway republics in July. On August 15, Putin wrote a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un proposing the forging of closer ties. This could include additional North Korean workers being sent to occupied Ukraine to help in reconstruction and other sectors. For decades now, North Koreans have traveled to Russia largely to work in highly competitive construction jobs in Siberia, with roughly 20,000 North Korean workers living there today.

Recent saber-rattling between the U.S. and North Korea in the region has also raised the prospect of North Korean soldiers being sent to Ukraine to fight for Russia. Like Syrian and Libyan mercenaries, they could be funneled into Russia through private military companies. North Korean military advisers have been present in Syria since the 1970s, while North Korean soldiers have been suspected of serving in Syria since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011.

Venezuela, Sudan, Cuba, Nicaragua, and other states harboring anti-U.S. sentiment have all reaffirmed their commitment to Russia since the invasion. But more subtle displays of support have come from around the world—even if countries remain cautious of inviting Western financial penalties and perceptions that they are harming Ukraine by supporting Russia.

The 35 abstentions at the UN vote in March represent more than half of the global population, and during a second resolution to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council in April, 93 countries voted in favor, 58 abstained, and 24 voted against.

Distrust toward the West and acknowledgment of Russia’s position as a primary global energy and food supplier have incentivized sustained cooperation with Moscow throughout the world. India, for example, has continued to purchase weapons from Russia, as well as rapidly increasing its energy imports from Russia. Other Western partners and allies, including Turkey, have refused to take part in sanctioning Russia, alongside countries across the Global South.

Inconsistencies and a lack of clarity between Western states have, meanwhile, hampered the effectiveness of Western sanctions, but entities aligned with the West have also wittingly complemented Russia’s war effort. In June, the U.S. Commerce Department added financial actors from several countries, including Lithuania and the UK, to its list of blacklisted companies for helping Russia bypass sanctions and support its war effort.

Russia’s military campaign would also not be possible without the continued purchase of Russian energy by European countries since the beginning of the invasion.

Thus, while countries opposed to the U.S. order have been more open about their support for Russia, the Kremlin continues to receive, openly and subtly, substantial support from other states. This underlines the notion that the war in Ukraine continues to be a conflict between the West and Russia, with most other countries seeking to avoid being drawn in, and reinforces the influential role that Russia continues to play in global affairs.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Did Nancy Pelosi Accelerate Chinese-Russian Military Cooperation With Her Taiwan Visit?

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Following the chaotic U.S. departure from Afghanistan in August 2021 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Washington has sought to reaffirm its commitment to its allies and partners. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan on August 2 assuaged nerves in Taipei and underlined the island’s status as a key component of the U.S. Pacific strategy.

The affair also generated a rare instance of U.S. bipartisanship. Twenty-six Republican senators backed Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, while on August 14, a team of lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties visited the island. The Republican governor of Indiana, Eric Holcomb, also made a trip to Taiwan on August 22.

China’s Foreign Ministry warned of “serious consequences” in the lead-up to Pelosi’s visit, but even after continual visits by U.S. politicians to Taiwan, Beijing is unlikely to pursue military escalation. Doing so could result in a repeat of the 1995-1996 Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, which led to a remarkable loss of face for the Chinese leadership.

The third crisis started when then-Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui was granted a visa by the United States in 1995 to attend a reunion at Cornell University. Hosting the Taiwanese leader was seen as a serious provocation by China, instigating a series of missile tests and Chinese troop buildup over the next few months.

In response, the United States steadily built up its military power in the Asia-Pacific region, including “[sending] two aircraft carrier battle groups to the area” in March 1996. Chinese missile tests concluded days later, with Beijing being forced to accept U.S. military dominance in the region, and it could do little but protest when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich visited Taiwan in 1997.

The Third Taiwan Strait Crisis generated great interest in Russia, which saw an opportunity to exploit China’s desire to push back against the United States. Writing in 1996, Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer stated that defense contracts with China “could become not only a way for our hapless military-industrial complex to preserve jobs and earn money, but also the start of a long-range strategic partnership and a new balance of forces in Asia that would favor Russia.”

Having already accelerated since the Soviet collapse, Russia rapidly increased its weapons export to China after the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis. This helped rejuvenate the Russian arms industry, and has allowed Russia to maintain its status as the second-largest arms exporter up through today. As Washington’s attention turned to the Middle East following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, China gained increasing access to Russian-built missile systems, aircraft, ships, and other military technology.

Initially, Russian imports were largely limited to Soviet-era weaponry. But as China’s domestic arms production capabilities evolved, Russia has offered more advanced and sophisticated shipments of arms over the last decade to ensure China remains a customer, as well as to undermine U.S. strategy in the Asia-Pacific region.

As a result of this, Taiwan and U.S. forces in this area have become far more vulnerable to Chinese missiles, aircraft, and ships. After Pelosi’s departure, China conducted multiple missile tests near Taiwan, while China’s two aircraft carriers, commissioned in 2012 and 2019, were both sent to the regionOn August 21 alone, five Chinese ships and 12 aircraft were detected around Taiwan.

China also indicated that it intends to conduct “regular combat readiness patrols” around the island.

The Biden administration was careful to avoid condoning Pelosi’s visit, instead advocating for calm. Although in the weeks leading up to her visit, the U.S. Navy had sent its warships through the Taiwan Strait on several occasions “in what it calls freedom of navigation operations,” since Pelosi’s return, Washington has been wary of escalation, “keeping an aircraft carrier group and two amphibious assault ships at sail in the region, but not close to the island” of Taiwan, rather than retaliating against China’s recent exercises in the region. On August 12, U.S. Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said that the U.S. plans to cautiously resume its trade and military presence in the Taiwan Strait only in line with its previous “commitment to freedom of navigation” in the coming weeks. Already preoccupied with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. military cannot risk confronting China as it could a quarter-century ago.

Though Beijing has also so far avoided significant escalation, China’s growing defense capabilities have allowed it to aid the Russian military’s campaign in Ukraine. Since the beginning of the invasion, China has increased sales of microchips, aluminum oxide, and raw materials essential to the Russian defense industry. In June, several Chinese companies were also blacklisted by U.S. officials for aiding the Russian military.

After the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan revealed the importance of drones in state-to-state conflicts, Russia has been desperate to offset its drone deficit in Ukraine. The Russian military has modified large numbers of Chinese civilian drones and robots, as they are cheaper and more widely available than Russian variants, to supplement the efforts of its armed forces.

Chinese drone company Da-Jiang Innovations (DJI), the world’s largest drone manufacturer, halted sales to both Russia and Ukraine in April to prevent misuse of its products. But surveillance technology developed by DJI, called AeroScope, can be used to track other DJI aircraft along with the position of the drone’s operator, and Ukrainian experts have indicated that Russia continues to use AeroScope to target Ukrainian forces.

While representatives for DJI and other Chinese drone and robotics companies have stated they do not support the use of their products in conflict, they are ultimately beholden to Beijing. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s criticism of Pelosi’s visit as a “thoroughly planned provocation” and including Taiwan on its list of unfriendly countries and territories in March means Beijing may continue to look the other way on the issue of using Chinese-made civilian drones in the Russia-Ukraine war.

And in addition to growing technological collaboration, Chinese and Russian militaries have also deepened operational integration over the last two decades. Their first joint military exercise took place in 2003, and dozens of others have taken place around the world since then. China also plans to take part in the Vostok military exercises (alongside India, Mongolia, Belarus, and Tajikistan) in Russia’s Far East from August 30 to September 5.

There are numerous limitations, however, to greater military cooperation between these two powers. China is wary of comparisons between the Ukraine-Russia conflict and its own dispute with Taiwan. Beijing has largely focused on nurturing its economic influence over Taiwan since the turn of the century, while isolating it diplomatically.

China also does not want to jeopardize its relatively constructive relationship with Ukraine, nor risk Western economic sanctions by more openly supporting Russia. Certain Russian companies have also criticized China’s weapons technology theft, while Chinese weapons exports have begun to threaten Russia’s market share among its traditional customers. These factors reflect the lingering distrust between Moscow and Beijing that has existed for decades.

However, the mutual opposition of both China and Russia toward the United States is enough to offset these issues for now. The United States had earlier warned China against assisting Russia’s war effort, but clearly it is a line China is willing to skirt. Considering the U.S. sells billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Taiwan annually and has had special forces on the island since at least before 2019, this is no surprise.

Military cooperation between China and Russia has been further augmented by growing energy sales between the two countries, as well as a desire to create international institutions, like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and independent financial payment systems, to bypass traditional U.S.-dominated structures. The Chinese-Russian relationship was reinvigorated just weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with the declaration of a “no limits” partnership.

Both China and Russia increasingly recognize that dividing U.S. attention between Ukraine and Taiwan will allow Beijing and Moscow to consolidate their regional positions. The muted U.S. response to Chinese military action around Taiwan since Pelosi’s visit is yet another indication that Washington cannot confront Russia and China simultaneously, particularly as they grow into a more united front.

If tensions over Taiwan continue, China may be convinced to increase its military support to Russia. If this happens, it will upend the military balance in Eastern Europe, just as Russian military assistance to China has done in East Asia over the last two decades.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Russia and the European Union Continue Transition to Wartime Economies

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Having declared victory over the “economic blitzkrieg” of Western sanctions in March, Russian President Vladimir Putin must contend with continued Western financial support to Ukraine as it combats Russian forces. In addition, the Kremlin will be forced to finance the reconstruction and integration of conquered Ukrainian territory.

With costs mounting, Putin has increasingly promoted the need to fortify the Russian economy’s immediate and long-term position. In April, the head of Russia’s Central Bank, Elvira Nabiullina, stated that the Russian economy would see a “structural transformation” during the second and third quarters this year to offset inflation, supply chain issues, and reduced imports.

To alleviate domestic concerns related to the cost of the war, the Kremlin increased the minimum wage and pension payments by 10 percent in May. The initiative also appeared to help muffle any domestic opposition on June 30, when two bills were submitted to the lower house of Russia’s parliament, the Duma, to give the Russian government greater control over the domestic economy.

The first bill will allow the Russian government to compel domestic companies into accepting government contracts and supply the goods and services required for what it calls its “special military operation” to the armed forces. To reassure the business community that this bill would not impact them negatively, Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov said that the proposed law would “not provide for compulsory conversion of civilian small and medium-sized enterprises for the needs of the armed forces.” Instead, the bill would be primarily aimed at companies in the defense sector that already work with the government.

The second bill, which will introduce changes in the federal labor law, permits the Russian government to overcome potential labor shortages by allowing the government to make employees work overtime, at night, and on weekends and holidays.

Even after agreements are signed, the Russian government will be able to alter the terms of any contract. The Kremlin has indicated that without these “special economic measures,” Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine risks grinding to a halt. After being adopted by the Duma on July 5, the bills now await further review before they can be signed by Putin into law.

These measures are part of Russia’s continuing attempts to stabilize its economy amid rising global economic instability. Despite Western efforts to isolate Russia’s large foreign currency reserves, the Kremlin is also still able to access about half of the $600 billion it built up to protect itself since 2014, after the annexation of Crimea. Russia has attempted to develop rival payment systems and trade networks with China, promoted “a new reserve currency” for international trade to erode the dominance of the U.S. dollar, and supported other similar measures to safeguard its economy.

So far, however, the Kremlin’s saving grace has been the drastic increase in energy prices since it invaded Ukraine in February. Even compared to 2021, which saw relatively high tax revenues for the Russian government, collections were up more than 30 percent in April 2022 compared to April 2021, despite significant reductions in European demand for Russian energy.

European leaders have called for a more assertive response to the global economic instability similar to the decisive actions taken against Russia. On June 13, French President Emmanuel Macron declared that Europe required a “wartime economy” to manage the economic fallout from the conflict and to reinforce its strategic autonomy. On July 6, the French government announced it was nationalizing its nuclear company, Électricité de France (EDF). On July 22, the German government provided a multibillion-euro bailout to the major gas importing company, Uniper, which was the first energy company in the country.

However, these maneuvers are merely a reflection of Europe’s wider economic vulnerability through energy. After the U.S. and China, the 27 EU states form the third-largest energy market in the world. Much of their energy supply comes from non-member states, notably Russia. And even though the West’s economic strength far outstrips Russia’s, money alone cannot solve the issue of dwindling energy supplies stemming from sanctions and Kremlin initiatives to cut energy exports.

In Germany, the “complete and permanent shutoff of the remaining Russian natural gas supplies to Europe” could result in a GDP loss of 4.8 percent between 2022 and 2024 in comparison to the 2021 GDP, states a working paper by the International Monetary Fund. The German government already escalated from level one (“early warning”) of its three-tier emergency gas plan to level two (“alarm”) on June 23. Level three (“emergency”) would allow the German government to impose rationing and to seize control over the allocation of natural gas countrywide. Austria, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, and other countries have also recently raised emergency gas measures.

The EU has sought to introduce collective energy-saving measures to alleviate pain among member states and increase institutional solidarity. The meeting of the European Commission on July 19 saw the EU attempt to introduce the right to impose compulsory gas rationing among member states. But such proposals have faced significant resistance from both the more pro-Russian elements within European politics and the wider political class.

On July 13, for example, Hungary announced an energy emergency plan that included restricting the flow of gas and other energy sources to other countries in the European energy market. The decision prompted criticism from European Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson. On July 21, Spain and Portugal announced they would not support the EU initiative to reduce the bloc’s natural gas usage by 15 percent.

The suggestion by a German parliamentarian in July that Eastern European countries could share gas with Germany also resulted in pushback from several Polish politicians who have previously criticized Germany’s increasing purchases of Russian natural gas since the country’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 until 2022.

As energy concerns push European countries into pursuing self-preservation policies over solidarity, the EU has suggested ambitious price relief initiatives. Alongside the U.S., the EU unveiled a push for a price cap on Russian oil in early July.

Among other issues, however, this would require cooperation with major buyers like China and India, which have already been receiving Russian oil at below-market value, as well as coordination with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which has little reason to take steps to lower the oil prices.

Previous international efforts to influence oil flows and prices from major exporters, such as the oil-for-food program in Iraq in the 1990s and the 2011 sanctions exception regime in Libya, have led to significant exploitation that severely undermined these schemes. Attempts to place a price cap on Russian oil will also likely see the Kremlin use its natural gas reserves to exacerbate the global energy crisis by restricting gas supply further.

And like the problems faced by Russia’s military-industrial complex, supply chain and production issues have become apparent to Western militaries seeking to aid Ukraine’s war effort. By May, for example, stockpiles of various U.S. missiles had been depleted, while the Netherlands announced it could no longer send howitzers to Ukraine.

Additionally, Ukraine’s systemic corruption remains a primary concern of Western governments providing the country with financial assistance. The risk of billions of dollars going to waste will only further add to “Ukraine fatigue” that threatens to erode Western support for Kyiv.

Having grown accustomed to sanctions and economic instability since 2014, the Kremlin believes Russia’s threshold for economic pain exceeds the West’s. As winter approaches and energy demand picks up, the EU risks divisions among member states over supply strains. Bringing the war home to European citizens this way may help Russia reach a diplomatic breakthrough in the conflict and reveals the limitations of the EU in its attempts to supersede the national interests of member states.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.