The energy crisis provoked by the war in Ukraine may prove so economically destructive to both Russia and the European Union that it could eventually diminish both as great powers on the world stage. The implication of this shift—still dimly understood—is that we appear to be moving swiftly to a bipolar world dominated by two superpowers: China and the United States.
If we consider the post-Cold War moment of unipolar U.S. dominance as lasting from 1991 to the financial crisis of 2008, then we can treat the period from 2008 to February of this year, when Russia invaded Ukraine, as a period of quasi-multipolarity. China was rising fast, but the EU’s economic size—and growth prior to 2008—gave it a legitimate claim as one of the world’s great powers. Russia’s economic resurgence since about 2003 and continued military strength put it on the map as well. Leaders from New Delhi to Berlin to Moscow hailed multipolarity as the new structure of global affairs.