by Dr. Ioannis E. Kotoulas
Russia and China are two revisionist states that have employed various modes of subversion against their neighbors, ranging from open threats and economic warfare to full-scale invasion. The states of Eastern Europe and Taiwan in the Pacific Ocean are witnesses to this.
In essence, we already witness the gradual emergence of two major areas of instability focusing on a hegemonic core state: a post-Soviet and a post-imperial Chinese geopolitical space. Russia and China violate international order and the fundamental principle of state sovereignty and territorial integrity by occupying foreign territories, by employing hybrid forms of state aggression or by issuing a casus belli, a threat of war, itself an illegal act according to the UN Charter, against the free choices of states. Russia and China attempt to recreate empires that shall subdue in various modes of influence and control independent nation-states.
Russia is the only state in the world to occupy -directly or indirectly- parts of the national territory of four other states; Russia has invaded Ukraine, occupies Crimea and the eastern provinces of Ukraine, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, Transnistria in Moldavia and a part of the southern Kuril Islands of Japan in a still unsolved frontier dispute. Russia undermined international order already under its Soviet form by not accepting the fundamental principle of state sovereignty on a political level and plotting to overthrow the democratic regimes. China pursues an aggressive stance in the South China Sea by ignoring geography and principles of international law and is threatening to violently annex the independent state of Taiwan. China wishes to subdue Taiwan, preserve its influence in North Korea and create outposts of influence throughout Eurasia and Africa.
Russia and China have come closer over the last years, in an attempt to change the fundamental building blocks and guiding principles of the international order. Russia and China, which continue to upgrade their aligned efforts against the independent states of the Pacific, of Eastern Europe and their allies, perceive the international order not just on a level of inter-state power balance, but as a fluid network of multi-state and multi-ethnic spheres of influence that can also overlap with multiple allegiances. This is especially true in the case of China, which prefers the economic dimension to the military one in its bid to unify the Eurasian landmass from the urban centers of coastal China to the busy ports of Northern Europe and the Mediterranean. Russia and China wish to reinstate modes of multi-ethnic and multi-polity spheres of influence with themselves as the hegemonic core. By using their imperial legacies of ruling diverse populations and projecting an image of supposed benevolent hegemony connected to an imaginary historical past, these three revisionist states aspire to reinstate new modes of state influence that shall directly challenge the Western-derived system of autonomous state entities.
Russia’s invasion of Ukrainian territory and the perpetration of horrific war crimes against the Ukrainian people is but a demonstration of an imperial mindset inherent in Russian history as a major international state actor. With its invasion against Ukraine Russia attempts to create a zone of influence in parts of its former Soviet sphere of control. This new post-Soviet sphere of influence currently extends from Byelorussia and Ukraine to Georgia, war-torn land-locked Armenia in the Caucasus and the states of Central Asia. Recently Russia intervened militarily in Kazakhstan under the premise of the Russian-led CTSO.
The two revisionist states want to create dynamic post-imperial geopolitical spaces of influence. The West needs to realize the inherent dangers in accepting de facto this principle and reaffirm its commitment to the principle of state sovereignty and free choice. The West with the U.S. as its core state and military power continue to enjoy strategic and economic superiority even when compared with the diplomatic Sino-Russian networkc. What the West often lacks is internal cohesion and the power that emanates from conviction of beliefs, the very one that helped the West endure during decades of the Cold War.
If Chinese aggressiveness against Taiwan and Russian aggressiveness against Ukraine and other states of Eastern Europe remain unchecked, there shall rise a new perception of arbitrary inter-state relations and a menacing new landscape of post-imperial geopolitical spaces. Only when China and Russia become normal nation-states and not ambitious empires, a stable geopolitical order of global dimensions shall begin to gradually formulate.
*Ioannis E. Kotoulas (Ph.D. in History, Ph.D. in Geopolitics) is Adjunct Lecturer in Geopolitics at the University of Athens in Greece, Visiting Lecturer at Tbilisi State University, Georgia and security analyst for Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo).