While the media is preoccupied with Middle Eastern chaos, the more significant geopolitical changes occurring in the globe involve the sphere of influence Russia is trying to carve out from the Baltics to the Caucasus, including Central and Eastern Europe, and the one China is trying to carve out in the Western Pacific and Indian oceans as far away as Africa.
Europe’s sustained economic crisis and Russia’s surfeit of cash from energy revenues has created an opportunity for the Kremlin to establish pipelines and buy up infrastructure, as well as employ other forms of financial pressure, in order to gain political leverage with regimes as far-flung as Hungary, Bulgaria and Azerbaijan, not to mention quite a few others. The Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union are not re-emerging, but a more traditional, soft sphere of influence based on historical Russian geography and empire building is. The media is, by and large, absent regarding this story. The media condemns Russian President Vladimir Putin as a human rights violator who did not return an American defector. But just how often in history has Russia had a sympathetic ruler? Far more important, Putin has what, in terms of Russia’s history, is a legitimate geographical vision that he is trying to implement. Hungary’s drift to quasi-authoritarianism under Prime Minister Viktor Orban as a possible means to accommodate Putin, and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s balancing act between Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United States — in which he has lately shifted back somewhat toward Russia — constitutes a register of global geopolitics more telling than any individual development recently in the Arab world.
China, even as its rate of economic growth slows, is continuing to both enlarge and modernize its navy while expanding its commercial interests around the southern navigable rimland of Eurasia.