Agnia Grigas, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of the book “Beyond Crimea – The New Russian Empire”
22:46 | September 15, 2022
What about the economic leverage that Russia has had so far? We saw it when it comes to Gazprom, when it comes to Nord Stream. How much economic leverage does Moscow still have at this stage?
Its levers are constantly decreasing because the West, and in particular the countries of the European Union, began to purposefully phase out the use of Russian fossil fuels. But winter is coming. This is the time of year when European households rely on winter heating gas to heat their homes. And, of course, European industry relies heavily on gas. So we’re entering a kind of period where Russia can flex its energy muscles more. And it is already doing so by cutting gas flows to Germany through the Nord Stream gas pipeline. Now, this use of Russia’s energy weapon is nothing new. But this is one of the first times it has been used against a Western European country like Germany.
Agnia, we have the vision of this meeting coming up here between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. It stands out as the authoritarian world against the liberal and democratic. But it’s much more nuanced, isn’t it?
Of course. On the one hand, President Putin and President Xi seem like natural allies because of the regimes they lead – authoritarian versus democratic. But the relationship between Russia and China is quite complicated. First of all, in this situation, it is Russia that needs China much more, not the other way around. From Putin’s point of view, he’s really hoping for an alliance right now, and that that alliance will help create a strategic shift in this war. But China remains truly committed to the global order and, in particular, the global interconnected economy. If we look at energy exports, China is increasingly buying Russian fossil fuels – oil and gas. At the same time, Russia will not be able to completely divert its gas and oil flows from Europe to China. The infrastructure is simply not available. And China doesn’t use gas at the same levels that Europe does. Looking further, I mean we are really seeing a failure of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and it is quite unlikely that Beijing will want to ally with the losing side at this point. But even so, I think Beijing is watching this war quite closely given their own tensions with the United States, particularly regarding the Taiwan Strait and the future of Taiwan in general. I think they are watching how far Russia can break international rules or international laws and how far it can get away with it.