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Tensions over Ukraine are only a part of the order which is increasingly challenging the West

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By: Aditya Vashisht

The year 2022 has not only seen a barrage of tensions unveiled in Europe but also frantic diplomatic efforts of the same intensity to contain it. Ukraine is again the focal point of attention as the West is worrying a repeat of 2014 when Russia revealed its true intentions towards the ex-Soviet nation, but this time on a much profound level. The United States has been repeatedly warning of an imminent Russian invasion into Ukraine and is using this opportunity to showcase the solidarity of the West in order to tackle Russia and to give a defining response to the Russian president. The NATO is once again adopted an assertive stance and words of solidarity are gradually becoming the norm.

President Vladimir Putin has sought to counter this situation in his characteristic calculative manner by trying to twist the arm in order to secure his interests. Putin has found the situation apt to lay out his apparent longstanding grievance of the threat of NATO reaching Russia’s border. He is trying to ensure that the unity of the West doesn’t remain as solid as it intends, an example being the apparent neutral stance of Hungary, and he has also engaged France with the hope of rekindling the 2015 agreement reached in the Normandy format talks among Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany, which is tactically more amenable to Russian interests. Putin has also received backing from Beijing, which from the beginning has demanded a proper consideration of Russia’s concerns.

But the ongoing tensions regarding Ukraine aren’t a complete manifestation of the challenge posed by Russia and China to the West. The Russian stance on Ukraine is an escalation of a rivalry which has been brewing since the rise of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jingping, with its contours not being confined to Europe but reach towards Africa, Asia and Latin America. Throughout these regions, both the countries are complementing each other.

The recent coup in the West African nation of Burkina Faso showed the spectacle of its supporters waving Russian flags. Similar events were seen in Mali where the junta has locked horns with its former colonial power France. It is undoubtedly a signal that Moscow’s popularity is on the rise. Taking advantage of the perilous security situation in many African countries and backing their leaders, Russia is progressively making a formidable ground in Africa. The country is currently the biggest exporter of arms to Africa and the number is expected to grow considering the longetivity of the crooked state of security.

Russian mercenaries are active in Libya, backing the Eastern based faction of Khalifa Haftar, and Moscow aspires to become a dealbroker, taking advantage of the rift between the Libyan factions which has taken a recent blow with the postponement of the presidential election. These private soldiers have made a mark in the Central African Republic too, where they have been a vital tool for President Faustin Touadera to counter the rebel insurgency in his country. Moscow’s concern in the region can be seen in the Russian ambassador’s comment where he publicly gave a death threat to the rebel leader.  These mercenaries, working under the Wagner group and been accused of human rights violations, have now landed at Mali where the junta hopes to quell the violence which has plagued the country for long. Even Sudan’s current military leader is also considered an ally of Russia, and it has been suggested that the recent derailment of transitional process in Sudan might have involved a hand of Moscow.

To talk of China, Beijing has taken full note of Africa’s potential for economic growth, with the African economy expecting to reach approximately $2 trillion by 2025. More than ten thousand Chinese owned firms are operating in different countries. Taking heed of the lack of infrastructural development being the biggest barrier to Africa’s progress, China now claims more than 35% share in African infrastructure, which is more than that of Europe and the USA, who only has a paltry share of 6.7%. Be it developing a major railway network in Nigeria or an economic zone in Tanzania, China is fully demonstrating the spirit of South-South cooperation and thus undermining the West.  The narrative of debt trap diplomacy is misplaced in some spheres, partly due to the presence of Western creditors and partly due to the way the receiver has spent the money.

China and Russia are becoming alternatives for African nations and no wonder that there are being many Africa forums being organized by both which are nothing short of a warning sign for the West which no doubt has a considerable influence over the African people, but the trust of African governments upon it is being eroded. The talk of Russian trained military officers initiating coups might have ground, but the security situation hasn’t seen much improvement since France launched Operation Barkhane in 2013.

Recently, the Russian deputy foreign minister stated that he could neither confirm nor exclude the possibility of deploying military assets to Latin America if the US didn’t reduce its military activities near Russia. Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are the Russian allies which have been recognized as such. But in a region which the United States considers its own backyard, it’s the Chinese which have been making the foothold required to tackle American hegemony.

While Wagner mercenaries provide security to the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, it’s Beijing which is funding the development of his country, with Chinese loans amounting to more than $60 billion. Moreover, China has built a large hydropower plant in Ecuador which is responsible for fulfilling 30% of the country’s needs. Significant investments have also been made in Argentina and cooperation with Brazil has also been increasing. Total trade between China and Latin America within a span of ten years from 2006 to 2016 had increased by more than 150%, with that with the US during the same period being just above 35%. It has also succeeded in ensuring that Nicaragua withdraws its recognition of Taiwan, thereby stripping it of another ally.

To talk of Asia, Moscow and Beijing have been progressively developing a loose nexus with Iran And Pakistan, whose Prime Minister is accusing the US of just using them and calling China a true partner. Tehran has agreed to a free trade deal with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, not to mention the $400 million deal agreed with China which has a span of 25 years. Iran also held a joint naval drill with the two powers in January. But while backing Iran, Russia and China have been sensitive regarding the Arab nations, hoping not to jeopardize their friendly ties with these countries, and it’s not surprising to see Russian FM Sergei Lavrov suggesting the organization of a joint conference where Iranians and Arabs can resolve their disputes, thus laying bare the hope of Russia to gain diplomatic traction throughout the sensitive region.

India might have upgraded its relations with the West in recent years, but it’s in no ways expected to have a heavy tilt towards West and therefore in its pursuance of multialignment, is only tacitly allowing the development of a scenario where the West is being faced with many challenges from various spheres, and with this being the case, it might be safely added that the advent of multipolarity has also been established.

-Writer is Student & Blogger

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