The Putin pivot: A new era in global politics

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support for as little as $5 per month!

Please support our coverage of democratic movements and become a monthly supporter of

A $400-billion agreement between China and Russia last week changed the global geopolitical landscape.

In a far-reaching memorandum of understanding between the two powers, China bought itself some energy security for the next 30 years, and Russia unlocked its Siberian natural gas reserves.

While on the surface it was about a new $77-billion "Power of Siberia" pipeline to be built by the two countries and a long-term gas contract, the deal signals a new closeness between two major powers that have been distanced from each other for decades.

China has been after an energy deal with Russia for years. Gazprom, the Russian energy company, had established itself as a leading broker of natural gas for much of Europe. Russia, under Putin, was cautious about building ties to China. Now it wants to diversify its exports.

Two unrelated initiatives by the U.S., one in Asia and the other in Europe, explain why China and Russia have begun a closer working relationship that will include transfer of Russian military technology to China and more Russian oil sales to China.

Under former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the U.S. announced a "pivot" towards Asia. This was widely understood as a re-centring of U.S. foreign policy to meet mainly economic challenges from China.

The U.S. initiated discussions on a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sort of super free trade zone that excluded China. Indeed, the TPP was designed to bring countries neighbouring China into closer economic relations with the U.S., on U.S. terms.

The TPP initiative has made little progress since Japan has been reluctant to allow the U.S. to dominate negotiations. To date, the U.S. Asian pivot has amounted to invoking military co-operation agreements with countries pressured by China on boundary and territorial issues.

In its European security policy, since president Bill Clinton, the U.S. has been aggressively pursing NATO expansion into the former Warsaw Pact countries once dominated militarily (by what amounted to armies of occupation) by the former Soviet Union. Most recently the U.S. has sought to exploit the democracy movement in Ukraine, and turn the country away from Russia.

With China wary of the U.S. and Russia facing aggressive U.S. intervention in its backyard, the stage was set for Russian and China to turn towards each other. Where the U.S. pivot has amounted to little, the Putin pivot opens a new era in global politics.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 it has been commonplace to consider the U.S. as the sole superpower. Militarily this was undoubtedly the case, but politically the global map shows other great powers taking on more importance. American hegemony, yes, but in a multi-polar world.

The European Union is the single biggest economic market. China grew its economy rapidly, and it will out-produce the U.S. by the end of the year, according to the World Bank. Russia emerged from a botched transition away from a command economy, and is now a market power with an energy- and resource-based strategy for building links to Germany and other European countries beyond its immediate neighbours. India boasts a diversified economy with thriving high-tech and entertainment industries and a vast domestic market.

Brazil joined with Russia, India and China to offer the world a counterweight to U.S. influence. The BRIC countries agreed in 2012 to launch a New Development Bank and undertake new financing arrangements with a variety of countries.

Since the 2007-08 collapse of U.S.-asset-backed securities, and the implosion of Wall Street, world finance has diversified away from the dollar. According to the IMF, the share of the U.S. dollar in central bank reserves is now only 61.8 per cent. Alternatives to dollar hegemony have been raised by China (the largest holder of U.S. dollar reserves) at Davos and the UN.

Among the significant aspects of the Putin pivot yet to be revealed is how the gas purchases will promote the role of the Chinese monetary unit, the yuan, as an international reserve currency.

The world's only superpower has officially remained calm about the rapprochement between China and Russia, that for many years its diplomacy worked to avoid. American establishment commentary exhibits barely repressed hysteria at the idea that Putin -- deemed a massive failure -- could have gained a distinct advantage for his country through astute energy diplomacy.

Canadian diplomacy -- described last week by former UN ambassador Paul Heinbecker, now at Waterloo University, as evolving from neoconservative militarism to neocommercialism -- takes another major hit from the Putin pivot.

The energy superpower strategy advanced by the Harper Conservatives is in deep trouble. Domestic opposition to bitumen development and transport, and the failure to secure U.S. approval for the Keystone XL pipeline have created stranded assets in the Alberta sands.

Now China has opened its market to Russian gas, making the B.C. liquid natural gas play even less attractive as a paying proposition than it already was, and creating uncertainty about China as a ready market for Canadian exports of bitumen, weakening further the case for building pipelines through the Rockies.

Meanwhile, the Harper government gives no indication it is aware of geopolitical shifts that affect Canadian interests.

Duncan Cameron is the president of and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: Mark Turner/flickr

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.