The tragic loss of life, the stream of refugees, the destruction of villages and cities in Ukraine is the latest tragedy of the young 21st century. It is also an exceptionally well documented tragedy, with Western journalists and photographers reporting every day from the front lines.
The 24/7 news cycle requires a steady stream of breaking news. But real breaking news do not happen 24/7; human stories from the front lines fill the inevitable gaps in coverage. And the stories distract us from examining what is happening out sight of cameras, out of range for recording devices and microphones.
Russia’s military operations in Ukraine distract us from the less dramatic events that are unfolding in the background. EU countries race to find alternative providers for the Russian gas they no longer want to buy. American providers have won a victory, gaining potential customers they thought they had lost to Russia. But theirs is a pyrrhic victory because they do not produce enough to meet both domestic and foreign demand for their products. In the short term the Gulf states cannot produce much more either.
Europe might be trading with Iran, exchanging less desirable but necessary fuel for many products that Iran desperately needs to modernize its infrastructure, But American politics block any move to normalizing relations with Iran.
This deadlock makes economic sanctions against Russia ineffective, if not altogether useless. And they weaken to an unprecedented level the demand of the EU and the United States that Russia pay its foreign debts in dollars.
Enter China. It has no interest in European conflicts, except for the fact that they impoverish all combatants. It need not provide weapons for Russia, as NATO is doing for the Ukrainians. It can sit back, call for negotiations in general, denounce sanctions as a form of economic warfare, and wait until Russia’s creditors begin to accept payments in rubles. China’s junior partner, bogged down in a costly European campaign is opening doors to a new international order. Behind closed doors China’s leaders must be smiling.