Russian President Putin relentlessly continues stirring things up in Ukraine in spite of Western sanctions, dropping oil prices and a looming recession. He even sends bomber planes into the airspace of NATO countries. It is about more than just trying to bully neighbors or demonstrate strength. Putin operates on the basis of an offensive concept he himself describes as the ‘new Warsaw Pact’.
In May this year, Putin concluded a gas deal with China solidifying, according to him, ‘true partnership’ between Russia and China. The deal involves an amount of 400 billion dollars. Simultaneously, the Russian and Chinese launched combined naval exercises in the East Chinese Sea. Last year, Chinese President Xi JinPing arrived in Moscow on his first official state visit abroad. Russia and China have become true partners in a political, economic and military alliance. Both countries compose the core in a ‘League of Autocratic States’, according to Putin the ‘new Warsaw Pact’. That alliance should create a counterweight to the West in general and to the US in particular.
Other autocratic countries are keen to join the coalition around the axis Moscow – Beijing, like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Pakistan intends to become ‘candidate member’ and Iran ‘observing member’. Turkey, NATO member and candidate member state of the EU, wants to join as ‘dialogue partner’. Turkish President Erdogan and President Putin get along very well. Recently, Putin cancelled the gas pipeline ‘South Stream’ to Europe, but continues to serve Turkey, after Germany the second biggest recipient of Russian gas.
Philosophically, the autocratic states turn against the West. So far, they did not elaborate a full-fledged ideology, but three components cement their thinking: nationalism, cultural backwardness and political centralism. On issues like free speech, political opposition and women rights the autocrats spend little time. The rejection front says: No.
Putin also tries to involve the Brics-countries: next to Russia and China also including India, Brazil and South-Africa. As a counterweight to the World Bank and the IMF, in their eyes extensions of the West, Brics-countries established their own Development Bank, headquartered in Shanghai. Putin wants the Brics-countries to develop ‘common positions’ on global political key issues’. He plays on anti-American sentiments among the leaders of India, Brazil and South-Africa.
To break ‘Western dominance’ Russia and China have to isolate the US and neutralize Europe. The latter is not that hard because Europe is mostly divided, in spite of its ‘Unity’ rhetoric. To Putin Germany is crucial. Many German politicians and opinion leaders expressed understanding for the acts of Putin, in particular the occupation of the Crimea. To manipulate the German opinion climate Moscow set up a German version of its propaganda channel ‘Russia Today’ in Berlin. Far right groups in Europe also happen to present themselves as ‘useful allies’ to Putin. The Brit Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), stated his ‘admiration’ for Putin. Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, received a bank loan of 9 million euro from Moscow. If the autocratic strategists succeed to neutralize Germany, destabilize France and on top the UK leaves the EU, Europe is where Putin wants to have it.
What Russia is doing in Ukraine, China is doing in the East- and South-Chinese Sea. Combined naval exercises are aimed at intimidating Japan. North-Korea is even for China a difficult, if not unpredictable partner, but it acts as the ‘useful idiot’ of the region to prevent Korean re-unification which undoubtedly would shift the entire peninsula to an alliance with the West, in particular the US. By the way, Russia regards Iran also as a client state, for nearly the same reason: limiting American influence in the Middle East.
About 45% of Chinese goods and 80% of its oil supply pass through the South Chinese Sea. China claims it nearly entirely for itself. Chinese naval ships simply ram into fishing boats from Vietnam and the Philippines to make their point felt. China is the most important trade partner of Africa. It is setting up a naval base in Walvisbaai, in Namibia. South-African President Jacob Zuma calls China the ‘anti-colonial power’. China is also planning to construct a canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific, through Nicaragua; as an alternative to the Panama canal. The West is merely observing this display of economic and military power. It seems unaware that this global autocratic coalition is being set up.
Obviously, the new Warsaw Pact has the same problems as the old version. The military giant has lay feet. In Russia this has become visible now because the price of oil has dropped under 70 dollars per barrel, mainly as a result of the energy revolution in the US. Energy exports make up about 50% of the Russian budget. Western sanctions push Russia deeper into a recession. China needs to realize an annual economic growth figure of 7% of GDP to cushion the impact of urbanizing hundreds of millions of people. If not, social unrest will increase.
The autocratic countries all have problems of their own and they will cling to nationalism, cultural backwardness and political centralism to keep their regimes in charge. They will push for more domestic repression and military power display to the outside world.
They cannot operate without an enemy; and their foe is the West. But somehow, the West fails to notice the strategy of the autocratic League.