By all reputable accounts the most important event in the world last week was a gas deal.
After Vladimir Putin traveled to Shanghai to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the two finally agreed on a deal whereby Russia would sell enormous amounts of natural gas to China. Thus, the two leaders sealed a new political and economic alliance.
The Economist reported:
ON MAY 21st, after a nail-biting session of late-night brinkmanship, China and Russia signed an enormous gas deal worth, at a guess, around $400 billion. Their agreement calls for Russia’s government-controlled Gazprom to supply state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation with up to 38 billion cubic metres of gas a year between 2018 and 2048.
The Economist is less than overwhelmed by the event, but it reports the possible geopolitical consequences fairly:
The deal will help the Kremlin reduce Russia’s reliance on gas exports to Europe. It is proof that Mr Putin has allies when he seeks to blunt Western sanctions over Ukraine. Both Russia and China want to assert themselves as regional powers. Both have increasingly strained relations with America, which they accuse of holding them back. Just over 40 years ago Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger persuaded China to turn against the Soviet Union and ally with America. Does today’s collaboration between Russia and China amount to a renewal of the alliance against America?
To signal the new cooperation between the nations, the leaders oversaw joint military exercises. To seal the new alliance Russia was now going to sell more military technology to Russia.
David Goldman offers some added perspective on the Sino-Russian alliance:
Energy is important, but military and aerospace technology may be even more important. As the Russian newspaper observes, Russia had restricted exports of its best equipment to China because of intellectual property violations. Two weeks ago Putin approved sale of Russia’s new S400 air defense system to China; this reportedly will give China air cover over the whole of Taiwan, among other things.
Russia always has had first-rate designers, but its production capacities never matched the ideas. Merge Russian designs with Chinese engineering, and the likelihood that the Sino-Russian combination might challenge US technological superiority is high. It’s not surprising that Russia responded to US sanctions by cutting off exports of the rocket engines on which the US depends to launch spy satellites. Bloomberg reports that it will take the US six years to build replacement capacity.
Placing these events in the context of recent calls—often from Republicans—for more sanctions against Russia to punish it for its activities in Crimea, Goldman responds to his critics:
I may have lost most of my remaining Republican friends for ridiculing the sanctions and saber-rattling at Russia over Ukraine. We spoke loudly and carried a small stick.
For his part Charles Krauthammer compared the recent events to Richard Nixon’s opening to China in 1972. More so since Putin is trying to undo the results of Nixon’s diplomacy.
The Obama administration called for a pivot to Asia. As reported here, Israel is currently doing so. Now, Russia is doing its own pivot.
As Krauthammer also explained, the new deal undermines Western threats to punish Russia:
By indelibly linking producer and consumer — the pipeline alone is a$70 billion infrastructure project — it deflates the post-Ukraine Western threat (mostly empty, but still very loud) to cut European imports of Russian gas. Putin has just defiantly demonstrated that he has other places to go.
The Russia-China deal also makes a mockery of U.S. boasts to have isolated Russia because of Ukraine. Not even Germany wants to risk a serious rupture with Russia (hence the absence of significant sanctions). And now Putin has just ostentatiously unveiled a signal 30-year energy partnership with the world’s second-largest economy. Some isolation.
Our own fearless leader has been less successful with his own pivot to Asia.
In Krauthammer’s words:
The contrast with President Obama’s own vaunted pivot to Asia is embarrassing (to say nothing of the Keystone pipeline with Canada). He went to Japan last month also seeking a major trade agreement that would symbolize and cement a pivotal strategic alliance. He came home empty-handed.
Finally, Krauthammer places the trip in historical perspective:
Putin to Shanghai reprises Nixon to China. To be sure, it’s not the surprise that Henry Kissinger pulled off in secret. But it is the capstone of a gradual — now accelerated — Russia-China rapprochement that essentially undoes the Kissinger-Nixon achievement.
Their 1972 strategic coup fundamentally turned the geopolitical tables on Moscow. Putin has now turned the same tables on us. China and Russia together represent the core of a new coalition of anti-democratic autocracies challenging the Western-imposed, post-Cold War status quo. Their enhanced partnership marks the first emergence of a global coalition against American hegemony since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Indeed, at this week’s Asian cooperation conference, Xi proposed a brand-new continental security system to include Russia and Iran (lest anyone mistake its anti-imperialist essence) and exclude America. This is an open challenge to the post-Cold War, U.S.-dominated world that Obama inherited and then weakened beyond imagining.
If carried through, it would mark the end of a quarter-century of unipolarity. And herald a return to a form of bipolarity — two global coalitions: one free, one not — though, with communism dead, not as structurally rigid or ideologically dangerous as Cold War bipolarity. Not a fight to the finish, but a struggle nonetheless — for dominion and domination.
As might be expected the Obama administration is clueless:
To which Obama, who once proclaimed that “no one nation can or should try to dominate another nation,” is passive, perhaps even oblivious. His pivot to Asia remains a dead letter. Yet his withdrawal from the Middle East — where from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, from Libya to Syria, U.S. influence is at its lowest ebb in 40 years — is a fait accompli .
The retreat is compounded by Obama’s proposed massive cuts in defense spending (down to below 3 percent of GDP by 2017) even as Russia is rearming and China is creating a sophisticated military soon capable of denying America access to the waters of the Pacific Rim.
Have a nice day!