Since the conflict broke out, Germany has increased its defense spending, Finland’s public opinion on NATO membership went through a major change, and Georgia applied to join the EU. However, in my view, those three developments were already latent trends that only accelerated in light of recent events. Germany was already on the path to remilitarization, Finland and Sweden were already de facto members of NATO minus the mutual security guarantees and official place under the US’ nuclear umbrella, while Georgia had long ago officially pursued EU membership. The acceleration of these trends is important but not anything new, just like Poland’s rising role in Eastern Europe, though that unexpectedly led to it merging into a de facto confederation in Ukraine from late May onwards.
The most notable change since 24 February is that the US succeeded in comprehensively restoring its declining unipolar hegemony over Europe on an anti-Russian basis, coercing its transatlantic vassals into “decoupling” themselves from Russian energy to the detriment of their economies, subsequently exploiting the aforementioned to simultaneously weaken the dollar’s euro competitor while also taking out businesses that compete with American ones, and doubling down on its provocative regional deployment of military forces in Central & Eastern Europe that Russia was already concerned about.
Another change worth paying attention to is the Russian Armed Forces’ liberation of all of Kherson Region and parts of Kharkov and Zaporozhye Regions, which will most likely hold referenda alongside Donbass to become part of Russia once the fighting finally ends. This could literally change the geopolitical map exactly as Crimea’s reunification with its historical Russian homeland did in early 2014, but it’s difficult to predict exactly when it’ll happen since nobody can precisely say for sure when the conflict will end or at least freeze.
On the global level, it’s clear that Europe is becoming more militarized and will likely be exploited by the US as its largest vassal thus far to participate in more foreign military conflicts in the future. Its forced “decoupling” from Russian energy will enable the US to replace Moscow’s former role, but unlike its rival, it’ll probably weaponize this in order to institutionalize the successful reassertion of its declining unipolar hegemony over those countries. This will in turn take the form of solidifying the creation of what can be described as the Western civilizational bloc.
Regarding Russia, the unprecedented US-led Western sanctions against it have compelled the Kremlin to pivot towards the Global South, particularly African, Asian, and Muslim-majority countries, though Latin America is also expected to play a role in this as well. Moscow has been forced by circumstances to most directly lead the ongoing global systemic transition to multipolarity, to which end it’ll seek to lead Eurasian integration processes so as to solidify the emergence of the Global South as a diverse multi-civilizational bloc in the New Cold War to counter the US-led West’s Golden Billion.
The evolving dichotomy of the New Cold War is therefore between the US-led Western-centric system of globalization that’s fighting to reverse unipolarity’s decline and the jointly Russian- and Chinese-led multipolar system of globalization that intends to restore equality, justice, and stability to International Relations. This paradigm provides plenty of opportunities for Great Powers like India, Iran, and Turkey to play key roles in accelerating the global systemic transition to multipolarity since their objective civilizational-national interests rest in supporting the Global South against the Golden Billion.
NATO will become the military core of the US-led Western civilizational bloc’s efforts to restore the declining unipolar world order. It’ll continue expanding in Europe, whether formally or informally, while branching out into the Indo-Pacific via the complementary initiatives of the AUKUS anti-Chinese alliance and EU countries like France and Germany’s newfound interest in dispatching their naval forces there. Additionally, it’s also expected to play a greater role in Africa, particularly its northern and western parts, on the pretext of defending against illegal immigration and refugee flows. It therefore most certainly has a future and its expansion hasn’t reached anywhere near its limits.
Indian scholar Sanjaya Baru posited around two years back that the global systemic transition to multipolarity was presently in what he described as a bi-multipolar intermediate phase. According to him, the American and Chinese superpowers are at the top of the international hierarchy and thus exert disproportionate influence over it. Below them are a growing number of Great Powers like Russia, India, Iran, Japan, Turkey, and Europe (which can either be conceptualized as a unitary actor or divided into separate Great Powers like France, Germany, and the UK). At the bottom of the international hierarchy rest comparatively medium- and smaller-sized states that have the least amount of influence in shaping International Relations.
According to Baru, the future will be defined by complex and dynamic interactions between the second and third rungs of this hierarchy as they balance both within their ranks and between them in pursuit of maximizing their strategic autonomy vis a vis the American and Chinese superpowers. Some might also openly side with one of those two while others will try to balance between them. Moreover, it’s predicted that their policies will regularly remain in flux as they constantly recalibrate them in light of ever-changing international conditions connected with the increasingly chaotic world order. This Indian scholar’s assessment of the global systemic transition is very accurate and should form the perspective through which other observers analyze present and forthcoming developments.
Prior to the commencement of Russia’s ongoing special military operation in Ukraine, Moscow attempted to diplomatically resolve its issues with Washington through the security guarantee requests that it shared with it and NATO in December but which were regrettably ignored by both. The Kremlin seemingly intended to avert the conflict that it was planning as a last resort to uphold the integrity of its national security red lines with a view towards redirecting the US’ grand strategic attention away from “containing” Russia and towards focusing more fully in this respect on “containing” China instead. That’s not to imply that Russia supports China’s “containment” whatsoever at all, but just that it would have been a natural outcome with time if the US and NATO agreed to its security guarantee requests.
Had that happened, Russia might have tried balancing between East and West in order to maximize its strategic autonomy within the present bi-multipolar intermediate phase of the global systemic transition. It also planned to work hand-in-hand with India to this end because they share the grand strategic goal of jointly assembling a new Non-Aligned Movement (“Neo-NAM”) for creating a third pole of influence in International Relations that can lead to a tripolar system for more rapidly accelerating the inevitable transition to more complex multipolarity. Nevertheless, while the first-mentioned scenario is impossible to actualize given the newfound conditions in which Russia finds itself, it’s still actively pursuing the second one.
In fact, India’s decision intervention after 24 February to become Russia’s irreplaceable valve from Western pressure preemptively averted Moscow’s potentially disproportionate dependence on China that could have tipped the New Cold War in Beijing’s favor and thus pressured India to submit to becoming the US’ “junior partner” in defense of what it regards as its national interests. Instead, Russia and India jointly maximized their complementary strategic autonomy and are thus continuing to work towards creating a third pole of influence in the present bi-multipolar intermediate phase of the global systemic transition, but this time they plan to include Iran as an equal partner in these efforts because the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) is Russia’s only remaining logistics corridor to the world.
Iran’s capability to shape the emerging world order is much less than Russia’s and India’s, not to mention the American and Chinese superpowers’, but it nevertheless unexpectedly found itself in the advantageous grand strategic position of becoming the irreplaceable link in the Russian-Indian axis. That in turn endows it with disproportionate influence that can completely revolutionize its role in International Relations if it plays its cards well like this civilization-state’s world-class and millennia-experienced diplomats are expected to. This being the case, while the world system presently remains bi-multipolar, it’s moving a lot faster towards tripolarity than previously thought due to the emerging Russian-Indian-Iranian axis.
Some observers say that Putin’s intention is to establish a “little Soviet Union” centered in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, with Central Asian countries as a buffer zone. But I think that’s a grossly inaccurate interpretation of Russia’s 21st-century grand strategy, which is formally known as the Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP). This policy doesn’t envision the restoration of political control over former Soviet Republics nor the creation of so-called “buffer zones”, the first because it entails too many costs and responsibilities while the second have lost their prior significance in the era of Hybrid Warfare whereby information operations can turn one’s own citizens against their government by provoking Color Revolutions among other unconventional security threats.
Rather, the GEP aims to comprehensively integrate the Eurasian supercontinent, first by strengthening the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and then using it as the platform for engaging with similar regional integration blocs such as ASEAN and SAARC in Southeast and South Asia respectively. Moreover, the EAEU and its peers are expected within the GEP paradigm to work closely together under the umbrella organization of the SCO, with the Russia-India-China (RIC) core of BRICS playing the leading role in multi-managing everything.
The initial intent was for the EAEU to balance between the EU and China, but that’s impossible now that the former has been coerced by the US into unilaterally “decoupling” from Russia. The emerging alternative to that plan now seems to be for the EAEU to connect with India via the NSTC through fellow SCO member Iran and the Central Asian Republics (CARs), some of whom (Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) are already part of this Russian-led regional integration platform. The NSTC is therefore becoming especially significant since it also functions as a trans-civilizational integration project.
What’s meant by this is that Russia’s historically Orthodox-dominant civilization will gradually expand relations with Iran’s Muslim-majority one and India’s Hindu-dominant civilization, though observers should also remember that there exists a lot of religious diversity with Russia’s and India’s as evidenced by their prominent Muslim minorities, and not to mention all three’s Muslim-majority CAR partners. By facilitating the increased and improved movement of goods, services, and people between them, the NSTC will bring these diverse populations into closer contact with one another.
This aligns with one of the other trends connected to the global systemic transition to multipolarity, and that’s the emergence of civilizations as actors in their own right as elaborated upon in detail by Russian scholar Leonid Savin in his summer 2020 book titled “Ordo Pluriversalis: The End Of Pax Americana And The Rise Of Multipolarity”. By pure coincidence, it was released the same year as Baru’s article “The Geo-economics of Multipolarity” in the book “Asia between Multipolarism and Multipolarity” where he described his bi-multipolarity concept.
This observation goes to show that great minds can indeed think alike and independently formulate complementary grand strategic concepts. Putting these two scholars’ contributions to International Relations together in the context of Russia’s amended GEP plans, it therefore appears likely that the Kremlin’s new grand strategic vision is to facilitate the rise of its distinct civilization as an actor in International Relations in parallel with comprehensively integrating it with Iran’s and India’s via the NSTC in pursuit of their shared goal of creating a third pole of influence in the evolving world order.
Generally speaking, several lessons can be learned from the US-led NATO proxy war on Russia through Ukraine. First, the US will continue unilaterally threatening its rivals’ national security red lines. Second, it can’t be trusted to negotiate in good faith. Third, the US is perfecting a new and unprecedentedly intense proxy warfare model that includes kinetic and economic aspects. Fourth, the kinetic form manifests itself through comprehensive aid to its proxies and having them militarize residential areas in order to slow the advance of its opponent through human shields. And fifth, the economic form aims to completely cut off its target from the US-led Western-centric model of globalization.
With these lessons in mind, those states that are concerned about being future targets – and in theory any one of them can be if the US decides to punish them for pursuing too independent of a foreign policy – can begin brainstorming contingency plans for this scenario. They’ll differ depending on which country it is as well as the state of the global systemic transition whenever they’re victimized since its particular phase can present both obstacles and opportunities for their defense. The primary takeaway from these five lessons is that decision makers and strategists must immediately begin planning for this scenario since Russia definitely won’t be the last country to be targeted like this by the US.