Giorgio Spagnol
Date de publication: 


Joe Biden was nicknamed “sleepy” by Donald Trump . Anyway, after only 30 days of presidency, he was awake and bombed Syria. On 25 February Biden ordered to struck Syria in response to rocket attacks on American forces in the region, generating concern among Democratic lawmakers as he had not asked for the necessary congressional authorisation.

On 16 March Biden accused Putin of being a “killer”, and warned he would “pay a price” for alleged election meddling.

On 18 March the first high-level US-China meeting under Biden presidency kicked off in Anchorage, Alaska, with both sides trading barbs from the outset.

The state of play

1.The Syrian strike drew criticism from Members of Parliament who bristled at the White House failure to brief them in advance. The bombed site was not specifically tied to the rocket attacks on Americans but was just supposed to be used by the Iranian-backed Shia militias targeting US forces in Iraq. Reuters cited local reports that at least 17 had been killed in the bombing, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 22 deaths.

2.Russia denied the longstanding allegations of meddling as baseless and said that its Ambassador was leaving the US and would discuss “ways to rectify Russia-US ties, which are in crisis” upon his arrival in Moscow. It added that “certain ill-considered statements of high-ranking US officials have put the already excessively confrontational relations under the threat of collapse”.

On 18 March Putin responded to Biden's “killer” comment by saying "it takes one to know one", adding that he wished Biden good health (it is worth mentioning that Biden survived two brain aneurysms in the late 1980s and his condition was later complicated by subsequent deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism) . Anyway, Putin challenged Biden to test his faculties in an online debate.

Putin noted that Russia would still cooperate with the US where and when it supports Moscow’s interests, adding that “a lot of honest and decent people in the US want to have peace and friendship with Russia.” But after this tit-for-tat, US-Russia ties are nosediving. In taking a tough stance on Russia, Biden has said the days of the US “rolling over” to Putin are done.

3.The meeting between senior US and Chinese officials was marred by a biting back-and-forth between the two superpowers, with envoys of both sides trading barbed criticisms of the other’s governance and faults.

The rocky start to the two-day talks in Anchorage, Alaska, began with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken telling his Chinese counterparts that the US would bring up its “deep concerns” about China's policies in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

China, represented by Foreign Minister Wang Yi, fired back saying that the US and China each had its own style of democracy and that Beijing firmly opposed Washington's interference in its internal affairs, adding that dealing with China must be on the basis of mutual respect.

The US later issued a statement accusing China of grandstanding and delivering an opening statement that went well over the two minutes initially agreed upon

Later, at a briefing following the meeting, Chinese officials said that the US had made unreasonable attacks on China's domestic and foreign policies by adding: "This is not a way of hospitality, nor does it conform to diplomatic etiquette".

Biden and Russia

Last January Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov had accused the administration of President Joe Biden of "Russophobia” saying he expected relations with the US to go "from bad to worse."

Relations between Moscow and Washington have deteriorated in recent years over issues including Russia's seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014, its role in wars in eastern Ukraine, Syria and Libya, its alleged election meddling in the US , and a series of major cyberattacks blamed on the Russians.

Russia, although unable to act as a great global power, is the quantity that, by throwing its weight on the scale, can be decisive, through its formidable nuclear arsenal, in the match between the United States and China.

Russia exists and resisted as an empire for at least six centuries. It is a powerful state armed to the teeth, led by an unopposed charismatic leader, but well-aware that it cannot rush alone into military adventures against neighbours such as the US or NATO.

Space, culture, and imperial ambition allow Moscow to have a Russian elite with geopolitical ambition. Due to its geographical position, Russia is a central element of security in Eurasia being its territory contiguous with all major crisis zones in the world.

Biden and China

The economic, geopolitical, and security connections between the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean regions have created a strategic system with the Indian Ocean replacing the Atlantic as the globe's busiest and most strategically significant trade corridor, carrying 2/3 of global oil shipments and 1/3 of bulk cargo.

Around 80% of China's oil imports are shipped from the Middle East and/or Africa through the Indian Ocean. This is making the Indo-Pacific the world's economic and strategic centre of gravity. China's interests, capabilities, and vulnerabilities extend across the Indian Ocean and this is why China has established in 2017 a huge military naval base in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa.

China and Russia strategic ties

China and Russia are currently in a difficult relationship with the United States following the imposition of duties on China and sanctions on Russia. For the first time the two great powers are considered "revisionists, strategic competitors and rivals" in the 2017 and 2018 US Strategy Papers Series.

China and Russia sent recently strong messages through moves such as having joint aerial strategic patrols and criticizing US unilateralism together.

It is worth mentioning that in two separate events Russia and China have publicly heralded a new age of diplomacy between the two countries: with the Vostok 2018 Exercise and the Joint Sea 2019 Exercise, Russia and China signaled to the West that they are working closer together to counterbalance the US “imperialism”.

In particular, Vostok 2018, a massive Russian-Chinese military exercise, involved more than 300,000 troops, 1,000 planes and several warships, while Joint Sea 2019 involved numerous submarines, ships, airplanes, helicopters and marines from both countries.

What binds these powers together is their agreement that the status quo must be revised. Russia wants to reassemble as much of the Soviet Union as it can. China has no intention of contenting itself with a secondary role in global affairs, nor will it accept the current degree of U.S. influence in Asia and the territorial status quo there.

Leaders in both countries also agree that US power is the chief obstacle to achieving their revisionist goals. Their hostility toward Washington and its order is both offensive and defensive: not only do they hope that the decline of US power will make it easier to reorder their regions, but they also worry that Washington might try to overthrow them should discord within their countries start.

This is why they take into due account the motto “divide et impera” (divide and rule) which came out of practical needs: Rome, materially, couldn't face its enemy when united.

Is Biden pushing China and Russia closer together?

The Sino-Russian relationship is predominantly shaped by the pressure put on those two states by the United States.

The shift in U.S. policy toward China - away from engagement and towards neo-containment - has potentially increased the value of closer cooperation with Moscow for Beijing. Their relationship has particularly flourished in areas such as political and normative opposition toward the West, energy, security, nuclear power and outer space.

Meanwhile, the anti-American rhetoric of Xi Jinping has begun to resemble that of Vladimir Putin’s. Russia and China have also improved their positions within the UN system, including getting elected to the Human Rights Council.

Biden planned to reach out to the European Union so as to tame China’s influence regionally and globally. These plans have been complicated by the EU’s decision to go ahead with a new investment agreement with China just weeks before Biden took office.

Currently, Russian domestic politics provides a fertile ground for closer relations with Beijing: the Kremlin does not see China’s rising power as undermining its domestic legitimacy or threatening regime survival, while China equally appreciates Russia’s support.

It is this normative alignment that most clearly illustrates their anti-Western stance. Certainly both China and Russia view the West’s internal troubles (Brexit, Black Lives Matter protests, etc.) as further legitimizing their own regimes


If you are president of the USA, you cannot say “Putin is a killer“. You can’t say it, you don’t have to say it. Trump, the president of excesses, hadn’t said it either. The attack is also a barrage on the purchase of the Russian Sputnik vaccine? Is it also a way to impose sanctions against all EU companies involved in completing the North Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany?

US relations with China have plunged to their lowest point since Nixon visited the communist state in the 1970s. US-Russia ties are, meanwhile, at their most difficult point since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Any attempt to flex power in overt manner against two nuclear powers is extremely dangerous. It is dangerous when the men whose fingers are on the world's most powerful nuclear buttons back themselves into rhetorical corners and risk a superpower showdown.

Notwithstanding Biden's boast “America is back”, the US is weakened by two decades getting into and out of the Middle East, its paralyzing political divides and the world's worst pandemic responses. 

And China bristled at a US-Japan joint statement this week, part of an effort by the Biden administration to create a united front of allies to counter China's economic, strategic, and military power and to force Beijing to accept international rules that China rejects as an attempt to curtail its power.


After a mob stormed the US Capitol, Xi and Putin are likely wondering: "Is this the nation we need to be afraid of? Is this the nation that wants to be the example of democracy and wants to export its democracy all over the world?”

Biden will surely have a hard time convincing China and Russia that this was an isolated event and that American democracy is stronger than ever. He will have even a harder time convincing them that such a split America is cohesive and united and ready to face any possible external threat and lead the world.

Biden should identify a balancing strategy with China before the two nations move beyond what strategic circles are calling the “new cold war” and into proper direct conflict, bringing into reality the “Thucydides Trap”.

We can only hope that US-China competition will be in steadier hands. After all, what really endangers world peace and stability, as well as the future of US-China relations, is not a "strategic competition" between the two great powers, but the uncertainty resulting from a competition in which neither power follows the time-honoured rules of game, but behaves arbitrarily only in terms of its own narrowly defined self-interest.

Bottom line is: today China can rely on Russia, the world’s largest country spanning the Eurasian landmass. The two main Eastern players are in many ways complementary: Russia has natural resources, basic science and weapons; China has capital, commercial technologies and heavy manufacturing. Russia has an under-population problem, China the opposite. An ancient principle “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is gluing Beijing and Moscow together.

One lesson for US foreign policy in recent decades is that plans hatched in Washington often don't survive contact with the outside world. And there is no certainty that US allies will buy into the Biden Strategy: as already stressed they sent a signal by signing a trade deal with China just before Biden took office.