Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping and Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt share something in common: their intent to remake the world in a way that suits them.
Against the backdrop of the Winter Olympics and less than one month before the Russian military attacked Ukraine, Putin and Xi publicly unfurled a comprehensive roadmap for China-Russia 2.0, held together by their shared ambition to undermine America’s power in key spheres of influence.
Since the launch of Putin’s attacks in Ukraine, Xi has been claiming neutrality in this war effort (it’s a hassle getting caught up in secondary sanctions), all the while buying up Russian hydrocarbons and food. In a recent telephone call between Xi and Putin, the Chinese leader didn’t outright criticize or endorse Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But when the Kremlin reported on China’s continued support for the legitimacy of Russia’s security and sovereignty concerns, Xi didn’t contradict Putin’s interpretation of their discussion.
Why do we keep pretending this agreement isn’t sincere, especially given the trajectory of Chinese and Russian relations with the U.S. since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014? At that time, China, undeterred by western sanctions, invested heavily to help advance a $27 Billion LNG project in the Russian Arctic and contracted with Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas giant, to ramp up long-term gas deliveries.
Most of us can cite the date when the United States joined World War Two–December 11th, 1941—a few days after Pearl Harbour was bombed. What people often forget is a precursor agreement between Britain and America, called the Atlantic Charter, signed by British Prime Minister Churchill and American President Roosevelt four months earlier on August 14th, 1941. Although the U.S. had not yet entered the war, the two countries set out shared aims for a postwar world in this document.
The Atlantic Charter was a significant roadmap to the future. It became the basis for the modern United Nations and has shaped the Anglo-American relationship for decades. In 2021, a “New Atlantic Charter” was signed by U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In 1941, Roosevelt and Churchill, two friends and allies who opposed the brutality of Adolf Hitler, dared to set the scaffolding for a postwar world. If anyone asked Putin and Xi, the 21st-century’s most powerful autocrats, what they intended in the unveiling of a long-term cooperation agreement that challenged—the United States as a superpower, democracy as a political model, and NATO as the basis for global security—their answer would be similar. Xi and Putin, in their declaration of a friendship between the two states that “has no limits,” set out their shared vision for a postwar world.
Hegel’s theory of history is once again in play: the collision of one idea and it’s mirror opposite, resulting in world changing events. If the German philosopher were alive today, I bet he’d be watching this scenario closely.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is carrying out his strongman role with bravado. Weaponizing energy. Keeping Europeans on the wobble. Thumbing his nose at sanctions. Countries like Germany are vulnerable. And applying logic in these tense situations doesn’t always seem to help. Putin seems capable of harming the interests of his own country to stay on the offensive. But he’s also wily and a proven survivor. The International Energy Agency reports that Russia’s oil revenue has grown 50 percent since January to $20 billion a month. China and India are buying up available reserves—at a discount—and some of the oil is being refined and re-exported to Europe.
Are Russia’s decisions—to demand payment for hydrocarbons in rubles, to cut off oil and natural gas exports to Europe, to approve sales of Russian resource assets to non-western buyers— strategies in some master plan or are these ad hoc choices made by Putin in the heat of the moment? Although we are loathe to say this out loud, our instincts tell us that some overall strategic plan exists, at least in Putin’s mind. And worse, it’s hard to imagine that China’s leader, Xi Jinping, isn’t aware of most of the details.
What’s next in the rollout of this Putin-Xi master plan?
Nothing is too crazy. Everything is permitted in the deathly dance of opposites. It’s now a matter of weighing probabilities and outcomes and getting ready for them.
Winter is coming.
This column is the consensus opinion of the writers Donna Kennedy-Glans & Don Hill. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to BEYOND POLARITY — scroll down on your phone or tablet, or look to the right in the panel beside this post. Enter your email to FOLLOW, a wheel spins, hamsters get fed.
One thought on “Lest we forget.”
If the West has any leaders capable of the kind of strategic thinking on the level that both Roosevelt and Churchill engaged in, they’re awfully well hidden. My biggest concern has been watching both Putin and Xi stoking nationalist sentiment and expectations to support their rule in their respective countries. Nationalism is a powerful force, but also very unstable/unpredictable.
In the 1930s, Churchill compared the dictators of his day to the image of men riding tigers, noting they dared not dismount and that ‘the tigers are getting hungry’. Even if you think that Putin and Xi are capable of reining in and directing their tigers (which is debatable, at best), there’s certainly no guarantee that their successors will be able (or inclined) to do so.