China, Russia, and geopolitical games in pandemic-stricken MENA region
As the coronavirus pandemic takes a tragic toll, devastating people’s lives and ravaging economies, geopolitical games continue to be played by authoritarian regimes around the world. Two prominent players include a pair of the United Nations Security Council permanent members, namely the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, both of whom have been exploiting the situation to improve their status internationally.
For China, the overall goal of its “health (or mask) diplomacy” is to divert attention from the fact that not only did the pandemic start on its own territory, but also that Beijing did initially conceal the outbreak in Wuhan, allowing the epidemic to get out of hand and spread not only throughout China but the entire world. Thanks to the mismanagement of the situation by the US and multiple European countries, as well as the general tardiness of the EU’s reaction, Beijing has, however, been moderately successful in salvaging its international reputation. It has also increasingly managed to position itself as a responsible and reliable global power, ostensibly more willing to cooperate with international institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO) than the US, which has recently cut its funding to the organization.
Russia – for which the pandemic has been another occasion to sow discord and undermine the EU and the US – purposely or not has been helping Beijing to achieve its goals by spreading disinformation about the origins of the coronavirus. Some analysts have also expressed concerns that Russia may have used medical aid to Western countries for intelligence purposes, particularly in the case of the doctors and equipment sent to Italy and the paid-for shipments to the US. Other observers pointed out to the serious doubts regarding the usefulness of these supplies. Moscow has also tried to exploit its well-publicized campaign of delivering medical aid and expertise to countries in the West to score political points, pushing for the lifting of the sanctions against it. Most recently, the Kremlin changed its strategy and announced that Russia will not ask the EU for the withdrawal of the sanctions, but should Brussels do so, “Russia will be ready to reciprocate”.
The Paper was written by Dr. Katarzyna Sidło for EuroMeSCo Spot-on.