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As the world braces for the second year of the War in Ukraine, the geopolitics of the international order hangs in the balance as major powers take sides, putting them on the path to collision. In 2023, think tanks and government leaders have questioned whether Cold War dynamics have reentered the fray and are dictating major power moves between the United States and China. With Russia’s subjugation to belligerence, China’s replacement of Russia as a global hegemon to accompany the United States is all the more clear. However, while the world saw many proxy wars during the Cold War, characterized by the US and USSR, the war in Ukraine is the first contemporary proxy war between the US and China. 

Several justifications for the current war in Ukraine proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin include historical reunification, the liberation of a nazi takeover and the deterrence of Western influence. Consequently, the war in Ukraine definitely seems like a contemporary iteration of the Cold War, where the survival of democracy is threatened and a battle of ideologies runs parallel to the bloodshed of boots on the ground in eastern Ukraine. With Russia amassing its troops on the Belarusian-Ukrainian and Russian-Ukrainian border, even the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, had indicated, “We did not believe that the war was coming,” on Feb. 22, 2022, two days before the first bombs landed in Kyiv. 

Many Western leaders and military strategists offered pessimistic prospects for the Ukrainians’ effort against Russian invaders, giving President Zelenskyy advice to flee the city. As European Powers and the United States have backed Kyiv’s resilience against the Russian assault with military aid, anti-Russian economic sanctions and pro-Ukrainian rhetoric, it appears that Russia has been alienated within the world order. Formerly feared as the Soviet Union, it seems that now Russia has been relinquished to the status of a volatile and unpredictable enemy, due to their distribution of hostile foreign policy on many of the former Soviet Republics. Yet, while Russia’s weight in the international sphere is declining, China’s ascent has filled this void.

As China has made its astronomical rise in the international hierarchy over the past few decades, it is undeniable that it will be consequential in securing peaceful relations. One of the many ways that President Xi’s government is attempting to challenge the West and extend their influence is by taking preliminary steps to broker a peace deal between Ukraine and Russia. Taken at face value, this move seems to be an agreement that could put an end to fighting, but it has met much criticism from western leaders. However, China’s friendly political relationship with Russia gives them unprecedented leverage and power over whether Russia continues their military campaign against the Ukrainians. 

Due to the undertones of a contemporary proxy war and Putin and Xi’s collective anti-American sentiments, the world can look to the Cold War as a precedent in predicting the end of the war in Ukraine. Due to China’s vested economic importance to Russia, the future of this conflict is dependent on President Xi Jinping and if he were to punish Moscow with a unilateral halt of the purchase of Russian energy. Despite there being little real progress towards a peace deal, China has a unique bargaining position and the world will have to pay close attention to their actions in this conflict.