With the US insisting on the imminence of an invasion of Ukraine, the global press focuses on Macron's trip to Moscow and the meeting between Scholz and Biden, while the European media insist on the danger of energy shortages and the impossibility of doing without Gazprom, the Russian gas company. However, the most important thing that is happening in the so-called "conflict over Ukraine" is taking place on the other side of the continent: the officialization of a joint imperialist discourse between Russia and China in Beijing and the entry of Japan into the fray, pushed by the USA.
Apparently we are still in the conflict situation of a few weeks ago...
Ukrainian soldiers with Grad rocket launchers. The permanent maneuvers are part of the "phantom war" we are living through.
During this week the headlines have focused on arms shipments and troop reinforcements by the US and NATO countries to Ukraine, the Baltic countries and Romania..
Without a direct war between major powers actually becoming more likely anytime soon, tensions have been rising and paving the way for a tough negotiation of the borders between blocs. In other words, the issues at stake apparently are still the following: the extension and scope of NATO and Russian "strategic depth" in the face of an eventual deployment of new short and medium-range nuclear missiles.
In this framework, Macron is playing the bulk of his strategy for Europe in Moscow and Scholz will try to save Nord Stream 2 without further straining his relationship with the U.S. in Washington. Meanwhile, already thinking about a possible Russian retaliation, Borrell will conclude alternative gas supplies with Blinken and Kadri Simon will try to close a complementary gas supply agreement in Baku, a partner whose political-military relationship with Turkey makes the French particularly uncomfortable.
But at this point, that's only half the story in a game that is becoming increasingly dangerous.
...but two things change everything
Putin and Xi meet on the occasion of the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The current conflict was never limited to Ukraine, but until now it was taking place in the framework created by the departure from Kabul: the US attempt to secure borders and balances in order to concentrate on its conflict with China in the Pacific. Two things have radically changed its scope this week.
First, the outcome of Putin and Xi's meeting on the occasion of the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. This was no mere contingent support from China for its Russian ally. For the first time both countries made a comprehensive formal statement setting out and agreeing on their diplomatic and military objectives.
They lashed out against AUKUS and QUAD, against NATO expansion in the former Russian imperialist zone of influence, against US-sponsored Taiwanese independence, against US withdrawal from the INF treaty and the development of new chemical and conventional weapons, against the Military Space Race and even against the dumping of polluted water from Fukushima into the sea by Japan. They sent a clear nod to India and showed a certain humility before ASEAN. That is to say, they made explicit a broad common front with clearer common ground than NATO itself... although they remained silent on South America, Africa and the Middle East.
The change in substance implied by this statement was immediately recognized by the US, which openly urged Japan to prepare and announce sanctions against Russia in the event of its invasion of Ukraine. Meeting Washington's demand is far from easy for Tokyo, whose new Prime Minister, Kishida, announced in October the opening of a negotiation process with Moscow to bring closure to the long-standing border conflict with Russia in the Kurils.
Irrespective of the Japanese difficulties and trade-offs, what is relevant is that these two moves together change the map of the global imperialist conflict.
The return of the Eurasian bloc and the arrangement of the global imperialist conflict in "parallels".
From the equilibrium of the 1990s, which arranged the world into "three meridians", we return to a map of conflict similar to that of 1950, arranged in parallels when the two great blocs of the Cold War were being formed.
We are used to thinking of the map of imperialist conflict in the way it was established in the 1990s for the USA: three great meridians, one of undisputed US hegemony, another of competitive co-management with Europe and regional powers (Turkey, South Africa, Iran, Russia itself), and Asia-Pacific. Each one with its multilateral institutions, its control mechanisms and a differentiated presence of US capital by region.
But the emerging map is more similar to that of 1950, when Cold War blocs were formed. It is arranged according to parallels: a northern parallel in which Europe acts as a western retaining wall for a Russian-Chinese alliance that presses to the east and towards the Pacific; a central strip that includes most of Africa, Central America and Asia in which the semicolonial countries are pieces to be captured by each of the blocs and a southern strip of delegated powers with Australia and South Africa at the forefront.
The US and the launching of AUKUS have done much to establish this new scenario... which has been shaping Russian imperialist prospects for some years now and which is considered by NATO as the main "emerging danger". No wonder. Both proto-blocs see a profit margin in a new "cold war".
For the US this is a necessary framework for disciplining and aligning France and Germany, but also countries peripheral to the center of the conflict such as Argentina whose capitals are increasingly dependent on China. And of course, in the Indo-Pacific.
Russia, for its part, sees it as the only way to assert itself as a "Eurasian" power and consolidate its power - and profit extraction - in Central Asia and the Caucasus, while consolidating its position in the Mediterranean and continuing to dispute countries and entire regions with France in Africa.
China has been more reluctant from the outset. Its commercial outlet and therefore its imperialist vocation is centered on the Indo-Pacific. But in the face of growing and increasingly aggressive US pressure, the Eurasian perspective allows it to gain "strategic depth", to recover military plans for the industrialization of its western regions and to plan safer alternatives for the "New Silk Road" on its way to Europe and Africa.
It is precisely this coincidence among the powers - except, of course, the European ones - that is most worrisome and dangerous. It is not just a question of a way of "looking at the map". The fact that what until now were localized imperialist skirmishes and conflicts are now generating immediate and explicit echoes in other areas of conflict is a giant step towards the formation of old-style imperialist blocs. And it brings us closer, forcefully, to a global war scenario.