Ukraine and a post-Western world: are we entering a new era in global politics?

The war in Ukraine has revealed shifting power dynamics across the world

Joe Biden
Joe Biden delivered a major speech on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in Warsaw this week
(Image credit: Omar Marques/Getty Images)

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has exposed deep-seated geopolitical tensions.

One year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) released a study analysing global public opinion on the conflict. The war, it found, has deepened the divide between the West and the rest of the world, as a “new consensus” emerges between the US and European nations that “only a Ukrainian victory will stop Putin’s war”.

In non-Western nations – such as China, India, Turkey and Russia – people express “a clear preference for the war to end now – even if it means Ukraine having to give up territory”.

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Overall, the results of the report suggest that although the war in Ukraine may have “consolidated” the West as an entity, with Western nations increasingly holding views in common about the biggest global questions, this is “taking place in an increasingly divided post-Western world”, said the think tank. Emerging powers such as India and Turkey will “resist being caught in a battle” between the polarising powers of America and China.

What did the papers say?

“For this week, the geopolitical West can pat itself on the back,” said Ishaan Tharoor in The Washington Post. As the first anniversary of the Russian invasion nears, US President Joe Biden travelled from Warsaw to Kyiv to deliver a speech “exulting in Ukraine’s defiance and the transatlantic consensus that has sustained it”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “thought autocrats like himself were tough and leaders of democracies were soft”, said Biden. “And then he met the iron will of America and nations everywhere who refuse to accept a world governed by fear and force.”

It was a speech that “championed the steely unity of the West’s democracies”, wrote Tharoor, but earlier that same day, Putin had delivered a speech that “illustrated the different reality that encases the Kremlin”.

“We used force and continue to use it to stop it,” Putin said, while also announcing that Russia would suspend participation in the last remaining bilateral nuclear arms control treaty with the US.

Recent events, such as Biden’s visit to Kyiv and Washington’s claim that China may be considering sending lethal aid to Russia, have been a “stark reminder that the world has entered a new era of geopolitics and trade”, in the wake of Covid, the rise of China and Russia’s war in Ukraine, said Politico.

US policymakers are just beginning to grapple with an emerging post-globalisation “new world order”, said the news site. But the “big question” of what this era might look like and be defined by looms over Western policymakers “as they examine the wreckage of a system that many of them helped build”.

The Ukraine conflict has only underscored the emerging challenge that Russia and China now pose to the US-led world order, said The Wall Street Journal. Russia and China “have a common interest in weakening U.S. dominance of the world order”, said the paper, “which they likely assess has been strengthened by Western unity over Ukraine”.

An “entente” between the two powers “would replicate their Cold War anti-Western partnership” but “with one significant difference, that Beijing rather than Moscow would be the dominant partner”.

What next?

“The world order that seems to be emerging out of the Ukrainian rubble looks an awful lot like that of the Cold War,” said Andreas Kluth for Bloomberg.

Under the leadership of Putin, Russia has emerged as an “agent of chaos”, posing a threat to the international system, but is ultimately “no match for the US or the West in the long term”. By contrast, China has emerged as “the only power that could challenge the US for supremacy”, although it has recently demonstrated an increasing interest in preserving the existing international order.

What is for certain is that thinking in terms of “spheres of influence” is “back in fashion”, said Kluth. This will inevitably be “to the detriment of smaller countries who find themselves pawns on other people’s game boards”. And global cooperation looks like it will become “increasingly elusive, even as climate change makes it indispensable”. Kluth concluded: “Only academics will call any of this ‘order’.”

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