Russia was never truly European. Yes, it has its Westernizers, but they have rarely been dominant, and certainly not under Putin. The dissolution of the USSR ended the Sino-Soviet split. Western observers who still imagine that Russia might somehow be peeled away from its mighty neighbor must ignore years of deepening economic, military and political ties between the two giants, including their establishment of a joint condominium over the Central Asian Republics.
The “good-neighborly and mutually beneficial” relationship that Russia and China proclaimed in 1992 was upgraded to a “constructive partnership” in 1994, and to a “strategic partnership of coordination” in 1996. In 2001, their last border disputes resolved, the two states signed a Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation. In 2013, deliberately echoing the language of the American-British alliance, Vladimir Putin proclaimed a “special relationship.”
And why not? In a world whose institutional architecture still largely reflects the individualist outlook of the Anglosphere democracies, what could be more natural than for the two leading illiberal powers to pull together? Their shared foreign policy imperatives — revanchism, anti-Americanism and the desire to break the post-1945 global settlement — reflect their domestic values.
History changed direction a decade or so ago:
There is nothing especially new about those values, of course. Russia and China have always tended to be illiberal. But, for most of the post-war period, the global current was running the other way.
Countries wanted to become more like America — that is, richer, freer, more democratic and more capitalist. Until now. The trend towards the rule of law and an open society went into reverse around the middle of the last decade, and things have deteriorated rapidly since the lockdowns, as the perception of a common threat has altered people’s brain chemistry, making them warier, less tolerant of eccentricity, more demanding of big government.
The various agencies that measure democracy — Freedom House, the Economist Intelligence Unit and others — all tell the same story. The gradual democratization which we came to expect over seven decades has gone into reverse. …
All over the world, from Burma to Nigeria, from El Salvador to Tunisia, we see former democracies embracing authoritarian rule. Indeed, almost the only country to have moved the other way is Taiwan — hence China’s rising bellicosity towards it.
If you don’t think de-democratization could happen in the United States, then you haven’t been paying attention. Look at how ready people are to challenge election results which they happen to dislike, to prioritize immediate convenience over constitutional propriety. …
Americans and their allies are becoming far less interested in preserving their values at home, let alone projecting them globally. Those values — personal autonomy, property rights, independent courts, free enquiry and the rest — are being displaced by something more forceful, more virile and altogether uglier.
The media either haven’t noticed or won’t go there, but it’s a real trend.
US leadership for the last decade or two has been abysmal, as the US wrestles with its demons of postmodernism and identity politics. The Afghanistan debacle has but made it official.