Russia has no more allies. It still has Syria, Nicaragua, Belarus, Cuba, Eritrea and North Korea, which, like itself, tried to prevent the Ukrainian president from addressing the UN General Assembly via a screen, but what about China? India? Turkey? Kazakhstan and the other Central Asian states?
There was much talk that these countries, more than 40% of the world’s population, would stand shoulder to shoulder with Moscow at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit. Last week in Samarkand, it was to be a return to the Cold War, the two blocs and the non-aligned. Military setbacks or not, it was said, Vladimir Putin was still far from having lost, but he himself belied his admirers by declaring at the outset that he was ready to respond to Chinese “questions and concerns” about the War in Ukraine.
Concerns, there are in Beijing and it seems that they are shared by Ankara and New Delhi since Recep Erdogan called on the Russian president to put an end to this war “as soon as possible and by diplomatic means” while Narendra Modi affirmed that “it was not the time for war”. Like a rowdy schoolboy, little Vladimir faced a disciplinary board in Samarkand, and it is easy to understand why.
Xi Jinping, first of all, could have benefited from a quick victory for his Russian friend in Ukraine. The world would then have seen that Europe and the United States were no more than decadent powers that the rising China would take over in this new century. With this demonstration, Mr Xi could have forced Taiwan to choose between voluntary submission and a losing war. For a man with ambitions to become president for life but with growing domestic difficulties, the defeat of Ukraine was a bright prospect, but the victorious resistance of the Ukrainians is no less than a catastrophe.
It shows that with the support of the democracies, countries like Taiwan and Ukraine can resist China and Russia, and the longer this war goes on, the more international trade will slow down. It is thanks to their rise that China has been back on the world map for the past thirty years. Perhaps one day it will be able to do without them thanks to its domestic market and intra-Asian trade. Mr Xi is counting on this, but today, no, China could not yet do so, and Vladimir Putin’s failure in Ukraine has therefore begun to worry it enough to make it known to Moscow.
With the success of the Ukrainian counter-offensive, Erdogan has come to acknowledge that Vladimir Putin is losing far too much weight on the international stage for Turkey to still be able to play the Kremlin against the Atlantic Alliance and vice versa.
Russia must get out of the quagmire it has got itself into in Ukraine or lose all value for Turkey. As for Mr Modi, he has every reason not to want Russia to become even weaker in this adventure, since it is Russia that supplies India with arms and oil and enables it to keep the United States at bay and to face up to its two historical enemies: China and Pakistan.
India does not want to see Russia sink into this quagmire and soon deprive it of support that it would then have to seek elsewhere. This is so clear that France and other EU countries are already waiting on the wings. Russia is in danger of losing India by losing its confidence and, even more seriously for it, Central Asia is coming to believe that the war in Ukraine offers it an unhoped-for opportunity to escape the influence of the Kremlin.
The Azerbaijanis were the first to understand this. That is why they have resumed their strikes against Armenia, showing it that Russian protection is no longer worth much. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are now playing footsie with the European Union. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have taken up arms again, without asking Moscow’s opinion, in an attempt to settle their border disputes.
It is as if Central Asia chose freedom andit is now in the East as well as in the West of the former Empire that the abyss into which Vladimir Putin has plunged Russia is to be gauged.