Ukraine might be Europe’s most imminent crisis, yet it is hardly President Putin’s only gambit for the continent. Europe could yet find itself squeezed by Moscow from the east and at the mercy of its whims in the south. Not since the last gasps of Soviet adventurism have the prospects for destabilization been so great.
Europe’s eastern troubles stem from Moscow’s decade-long “pivot to Asia.” Indeed, the “new world order” that Presidents Putin and Xi announced this month was in fact already proclaimed in 2012. Mr. Putin then extolled a novel “Union of Europe” that would span “from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean,” a “new Asia,” and a “new system of world order.”
Statements made today are then but formalizations of policies long decided and actions already undertaken. It takes time to make such curious bedfellows. In pivoting to Asia, Moscow tacitly accepted its role as the junior partner in the Sino-Russian entente. Yet Russia, for its part, gains an outsized diplomatic voice by working with Communist China.
Mr. Putin has linked his plan for a Eurasian Economic Union with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. What this linkage means in practice is not fully clear. The relationship has so far ostensibly amounted to rhetorical flourish absent any concrete strategies. Yet for Mr. Putin, the prospect of physical and economic connectivity through Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Russian Far East, and to Beijing must surely tickle his imperialist fantasies.
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