According to Shevtsova, “the West, not knowing how to deal with Russia and fearing that it would be offended agreed to play along,” implicitly recognizing a Russian sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space and agreeing that there was a special relationship between the two largest nuclear power, the US and Russia.
But today, the basis for all this is collapsing. Ukraine is moving away from Russia, and Belarus is no longer willing to play the role it did. “But much more important is the fact that the US is unwilling to preserve ‘bipolarity’ with Russia as the basis of world security. America has ceased to maintain the notion that Russia remains a world power worth wasting time on.”
That is both unexpected and offensive, as “the most pro-Kremlin US president ever is burying our notion of state power,” Shevtsova says.
Russia might have been able to tolerate this given its displays of power in Syria and Venezuela if it weren’t for the rise of China which “not only if filling the sphere of influence of Russia in Central Asia but is beginning to push out America as well” and if Washington and Beijing weren’t dancing a power tango for which there is no place for Russia.
The Kremlin likes to talk about Russia’s alliance with China failing to recognize that China’s rise leaves Russia in an impossible position. Europe too fails to take the rise of China into account, arguing over whether Moscow will use the gas weapon against it without seeing that European pipelines increasingly are “in the hands of the Chinese.”
But there is something even more serious for Russia to contend with, Shevtsova suggests: China has a very different model of world leadership than the one Russia has been used to with the US. Beijing promotes itself economically and makes itself attractive to others rather than relying on force to get its way.
China wants in this way “to force the world voluntarily to accept the Chinese rules of the game.” It is becoming the dominant player in high technology, and this is a world that Russia is absolutely incapable of competing in, unlike one in which force alone is still useful as a means of asserting primacy.
That is not to say that China is not developing military power. It is rearming at a rapid rate. By 2023, its military budget will exceed 300 billion US dollars. Even now it is spending 152 billion US dollars, compared to Russia’s 46 billion. And it is not just spending more but developing new weapons systems as well.
Russia is entering “a new world,” one in which it will be nostalgic for American supremacy because “in the new world, Anglo-Saxon politeness and concessions won’t be a feature. There will be a harshness which we have not yet experienced.” And Russia will suffer losses of all kinds as China establishes its leadership in ways Russia can’t counter.
Moscow can continue to threaten the world with destruction but this will change little if “for us there is no place in the train of world progress.” Russia is used to contending with opposition, Shevtsova says; but it has no recent experience of being ignored and treated as less than a dominant power.