The Bali Triangle

Elena Panina (Елена Панина)

Elena Panina, Director of the RusSTRAT Institute, on the outcome of the diplomatic standoff between Russia, the US and China at the G20 summit

We have a tradition of expecting things to change after certain key dates: presidential or parliamentary elections, summits, personal meetings of heads of state. It is advantageous to present this in the media sphere - there is a feeling of sensationalism. This is how journalists are now covering the G20 summit in Bali, commenting as if some informal consensus has been reached between the US, Russia and China on de-escalation of tensions.

The U.S. is in danger of losing global leadership over Russia's EWO in Ukraine and Beijing's hardline stance on the Taiwan issue. The level of the conflict is breaking out of control and no one is ready for an unpredictable change in the status quo. The Russian expert community is actively discussing the alleged agreement of the leading world players to slightly subdue the situation, and to do so in Bali.

In reality, the political configuration is much more complex. For the U.S., the G20 is a place to demonstrate its leadership and an opportunity to change China's intentions. The US believes that it has already shifted the balance of power in its favour: Europe is subdued, US displacement from Taiwan and Ukraine has been averted, internal victory over the Republicans has almost been achieved. Now it is the turn to resolve the issue with the PRC, and to resolve it precisely in conjunction with Russia.

That being said, the U.S. is doing everything in a package, this is the style of American diplomacy. This is why Washington is spreading the thesis that Russia has shown the limit of what is possible and China should not rely on it much, but rather go along with the US position.

Before the summit they suddenly changed their tone and spoke conciliatory towards Moscow. Everyone took this as encouragement for the next steps, the first of which, allegedly, had already been taken tacitly. Joe Biden warned the allies not to give Russia a showy obstruction. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is talking about not underestimating Russia, which controls a large part of Ukraine.

Some media here have interpreted this as an attempt to help save face for the Russian delegation. Such things are usually done in exchange for some kind of concession, which is why journalists were tense, wondering what it meant. After all, in negotiating practice compliments are usually given as moral compensation to the losing side, which has been ripped off beforehand.

Actually, there are three schools of thought that collide in Bali: American, Far Eastern and Russian. All three sides are engaged in a tough bargaining: the positions are publicly declared uncompromising, they are essentially ultimatums. But if there were no behind-the-scenes bargaining, no one would go to Bali. Using the forum platform to exchange ultimatums is silly, it can be done through Foreign Ministry spokesmen and through the official media.

The declaration of positions is only a fixation of the start. The leaders are demonstrating strength and intransigence. Each side is trying to get concessions from the other in exchange for nothing. At the same time to save face in front of voters, allies and the opposition. That is why the parties' preliminary tough statements must be responded to as a binding ritual.

China understands that if it really withdraws its support for Russia, it will weaken its geopolitical position and it will be dealt with after Russia is done with. Therefore, it is unlikely to make concessions. All the more so because Xi Jinping has deprived the fifth column of resources; China will solve the microchip problem in the next year or two, and it is impossible to oust it from the global economy without suicidal consequences for the West. Xi is in a stronger position here than Biden. The Chinese leader can afford to sit back and wait for better offers - the Far East approach is always aimed at a negotiating marathon.

The US is in a tougher position. They are kind of at a stretch. If the States had already sold China, they could put pressure on Russia with it. And vice versa. They have to crush China in order to crush Russia. But the Americans have to do it at the same time.

The problem for the US is also that they need to do everything as publicly as possible and save face. But for China and Russia to play along, they must give something in return. They do not want to give anything because it is not the business of the hegemon to trade with his vassals. To end the summit with declarations without result is a demonstration of weakness. And that possibility is very high, because the national interests of the three powers do not coincide radically.

The West is aware of the temptation to consider Russia "no longer a player". They know how to distinguish propaganda from reality. Biden, when he tells Xi "Russia is no longer a player", realises he is just wishful thinking. And the Chinese leader understands it very well. These words are not said for him, but for the press - with a transmission to the Russian public. And Stoltenberg's statement is a signal that things with Russia are far from as simple as America wants to make them out to be.

The attempted ultimatums to Vladimir Putin is a psychological pressure on the Russian elites, say, give up, the game is done. Accept our terms, get out of here, and you will have your sanctions sequestered, and so be it, we will not declare you war criminals. In your position and that's a good thing. "And what is our position? - Russians ask. - Have you defeated us yet? Where and when?"

The Russian side is bending its line. Lavrov will attend the summit, where they will try to obstruct him after all. And on November 10, the day the Russian Armed Forces withdrew from Kherson, Vladimir Putin signed a decree to revise the structure of the state arms procurement programme for the next three years, adding there everything necessary for the SSR. You have to agree, this does not seem like something a country would do if it were ready to give up.

The head of Norwegian intelligence, affiliated with British intelligence, confirms this. He records Russia's lack of willingness to retreat. The appointment of Sergei Surovikin as commander of the group of troops in the NWO zone and changes in the state arms procurement programme indicate that even if the conflict is frozen, it will be an operational pause. The desire to pass it off as a defeat for Russia and to impose capitulation on Moscow is a psychological trick of the United States, realizing that by spring Russia may be ready to launch a new offensive operation. Biden strikes while the iron is hot.

In general it must be said that the euphoria of the return of part of Kharkov oblast and Kherson creates in the West a kind of hypnosis of imaginary power. They felt the wings behind their backs, they make plans to seize Zaporizhzhya, advance on the Crimea, and only the most knowledgeable persons like the head of NATO and special services understand: it is Russia that stands under Kherson, not NATO under Moscow.

One should not pay attention to official statements in Bali. And we should not wait for ultimate compromises either. The parties are far from exhausting the resource of confrontation, and no one intends to give up. The objectives will not change.

Bali is no place for final agreements, even behind the scenes. Kharkiv, Kherson, the grain deal are an image victory for the West, not a military victory. For Russia, it is the price of an operational pause. The adversary has announced that it will not stop until spring. But not stopping and breaking through the Russian defence are two big differences. The West understands that, and that is why they are in a hurry to win in Bali.

This is exactly what we will see at the G-20 summit: manipulative and threatening tactics from the United States and intransigence from Beijing and Moscow. Therefore, all agreements will be interim, agreements will be provisional. The decisive battles are yet to come, because the parties' goals have not been achieved.

Full text of the column in Izvestia.

(Translated with; free version)


Source-1: Izvestia (Известиях). Source-1a: Telegram. Source-1b: Telegram
IMG: AFP or licensors ( AWIP:


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