It would be difficult to argue the world is splitting into East-West spheres, roughly along the lines of the Cold War. But if the world was, the politics of the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics would be the most vivid example of the divide.
China’s president Xi Jinping‘s attendance would represent the biggest name from the authoritarian bloc to attend the Russian Olympics. China is not shy about their motives either, according to this report from Gary Anderson at Inside The Games.
“Mutual support is an important feature of China and Russia’s strategic cooperation,” said a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
“This shows the close friendship between the two leaders.”
Joining Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin will be the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and King Willem-Alexander, along with leaders from Switzerland, Czech Republic and Latvia.
But the not-attending column is notable, and exposes the growing gulf between the authoritarian East and the West:
US President Barack Obama
German Chancellor Angela Merkel
French President François Hollande
British Prime Minister David Cameron.
German President Joachim Gauck
Canadian PM Stephen Harper
A major issue has been the anti-gay propaganda law imposed by Russia, which bans the publication of what is considered pro-gay information in places accessible by minors. This is interpreted in the West as an assault on human rights. Meanwhile in Russia, the liberalization of attitudes around LGBT issues is considered an “assault” on traditional values. LGBT issues aren’t the only divider.
The Russians are fuming at Europe over what they see as Western interference in Ukraine issue. Outgoing German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle paid a visit to protesters in Kiev (which, given the events of the 20th Century is a pretty ballsy move by the Germans if you ask me). The US is upset with Russia over their sheltering of ex-NSA leaker (hero?) Edward Snowden. The Germans and Russians have clashed about museum treasures.
All of which adds to a growing divide between the two spheres. The authoritarians are threatened by Western values and emboldened by what they see as a decline in Western power. The US is tired of the war decade and extended military deployments. Obama, in line with US domestic attitude, is focusing on nation-building – a wise move. Although it runs the risk of sending the wrong message abroad. Unfortunately under Xi’s leadership, China may needs an enemy to help keep the nation cohesive. In any case, slowly, there is a consensus among countries like Russia and China that their interests run counter to those in the West – and overtime the West may begin to look East in the same way.