This corresponds with the argument made by Kurt Campbell and Jake Sullivan, the architects of Biden’s Indo-Pacific policy, in a essay in 2019. Campbell and Sullivan contended that “coexistence means accepting competition as a condition to be managed rather than a problem to be solved” and added that both nations “will need to be prepared to live with the other as a major power.”
In the mindscape of the U.S. strategic community, China now enjoys the position that the Soviet Union had during the Cold War. The willingness of the Biden administration to manage its competition with China, as opposed to the relegation of Russia to the margins of American priorities, has severe implications for Putin’s foreign policy.
Russia’s latest A-SAT test, which thousands of pieces of dangerous debris both U.S. and Chinese space assets, occurred on the same date as the meeting between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Joe Biden. A plausible argument could be made that Russia’s A-SAT test was inspired by a need to demonstrate its status as a great power in the hierarchy of nations, as Moscow will not quietly accept its demotion to a lesser adversary to the United States. Interestingly, Russia upped the ante on the Ukrainian front following the Biden-Xi meeting. As the headlines became saturated with fears about a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russia succeeded in dominating the global geostrategic discourse. Arguably, the unprecedented measures were in the sphere of public diplomacy, including the of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s correspondence with his French and German counterparts about Ukraine.
Going even further overboard, Russia published the full text of two draft treaties addressed to and the demanding “legally binding security guarantees.” These drafts, made public weeks before any actual discussions took place, were just a list of demands, reflecting long-standing Russian concerns about NATO’s eastward expansion and prospects of former Soviet states joining the alliance. Curiously, even though the question of Ukraine’s membership in NATO has not moved forward since 2008, Russia has escalated to enforce its red lines in Europe. This suggests that the Kremlin believes that it is only by highlighting its red lines that it can restore its prestige as a great power in world politics. In the Russian calculation, it is a great power whose red lines cannot be violated, as opposed to a middle power whose concerns matter but not that much. In the context of the emerging multipolar world order, these calculations are becoming accurate.
Thus, as the 2007 Global Financial Crisis accelerated the demise of the U.S.-led international order, Russia began enforcing its red lines as a great power. The Kremlin fought a war with Georgia in 2008 to protect its allies in South Ossetia and later supported the beleaguered Assad regime in Syria, much to the chagrin of the United States. The Russian takeover of Crimea in 2014 was yet another success for Putin in enforcing its red lines in Europe. In contrast, as the events in Iraq and Afghanistan show, the U.S. is struggling to maintain its primacy especially as the unipolar moment has given way to an increasingly multipolar world order. The American inability to accept the multipolarity of the 21st century leads it to conceptualize a bipolar framework of great power rivalry between the U.S. and China, as evident in the concept of the “G-2.” On the other hand, the success of Russian and Chinese foreign policy has been possible due to the groundwork they prepared to maneuver in a multipolar world of the future.in May 2015 on integrating the Belt and Road Initiative and Eurasian Economic Union in Moscow. This was followed by China’s first with Russia in the Mediterranean. Soon after that, the two countries conducted their first-ever joint amphibious exercise landing in the Sea of Japan in August 2015.
Therefore, while geopolitical contradictions create a problem between Russia and China, the structural balance of power constraint posed by the U.S. keeps them together in their advance toward a multipolar world. Though the prospect of NATO’s venture into the Indo-Pacific poses a problem for Beijing, it also creates an additional point of convergence in China-Russia relations. As long as Russia can keep NATO’s capabilities invested in Europe, it will create a favorable strategic environment for China in the Indo-Pacific. Similarly, Russia feels confident that as the U.S. increasingly feels the need to “step up its game” in the Indo-Pacific due to a of a “strategic surprise” from China, it is the Kremlin’s time to press for security guarantees vis-à-vis NATO.
The onset of a multipolar world order means that the U.S. would need to prioritize a favorable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific over its rivalry with Russia in Eastern Europe. Even in the bipolar rivalry of the Cold War, the U.S. efforts at the Soviet containment were successful due to the absence of a peer competitor in the Indo-Pacific. This only became possible after its 1972 rapprochement with China. Therefore, a “1972 moment” with Russia remains the only hope for both the success of America’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy and the stability in Europe.