The Russia-Ukraine conflict could shake up the global balance of power in 3 big ways, Economist Intelligence Unit says

The Russia-Ukraine conflict could shake up the global balance of power in 3 big ways, Economist Intelligence Unit says
Henning Dräger and his family traveled at the back of a United Nations convoy for several days as they fled the Russian invasion in Ukraine.Courtesy of Henning Dräger
  • The Russia-Ukraine conflict could reshape the global balance of power, the Economist Intelligence Unit said Wednesday.
  • The team sees new geopolitical alliances emerging and a new divide between the East and West.

A new world order is forming, and economists are starting to consider what it will look like.

It's been a month since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, and almost every corner of geopolitics has been affected. The West has united around Ukraine, dramatically escalating sanctions against Russia and cutting the country out of the global financial system, and NATO is the most visibly united it's been in decades. Yet China remains neutral, leaving the door open for a partnership with Russia that could offer the sanctioned country key economic support.

Though the conflict is only weeks old, it already marks a "defining moment in the reshaping of the geopolitical order," the Economist Intelligence Unit said in a report published Wednesday. The invasion has already had massive implications outside Eastern Europe, from skyrocketing inflation to a historic refugee crisis. But as the conflict continues, it stands to shake up the world order with new alliances and divisions.

Here are three ways the Russia-Ukraine conflict is poised to change the global balance of power, according to EIU.

The end of the post-Cold War era

The first decades after the Cold War were defined by NATO strength and US unilateralism. Yet the last two decades have seen China ride an unprecedented economic boom and Russia revive its own geopolitical power. That helped grow an "intra-Western rivalry" and erode the US's role as the leading global power, EIU's team said. Russia's invasion is the peak of that shift and hints that the post-Cold War period of US dominance is over.


"Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a flagrant challenge to the US's role as global policeman, and suggests that the world has become much more unstable and dangerous," the economists said.

If the post-Cold War era was defined by US unilateralism, EIU sees the next decades as featuring two "hostile, competing camps." Russia's attack will accelerate a shift away from globalism and toward regionalism, the team said, with China and Russia rivaling the West. Some countries will try to straddle the divide, but that "balancing act" will get more difficult as time passes and the gap between the sparring groups widens, EIU said.

A new dividing line in Europe

Smaller divides will emerge too, specifically between the EU and Russia. President Vladimir Putin already tested the international order when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, but its push into Ukraine could establish a new de facto border in Europe.

"Russia's repudiation of the Western-led 'rules based order' signals a turning away from Europe and the creation of a new division of the continent, three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall," EIU said.

The "buffer zone" created by the invasion, should Russia succeed, is set to include part of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, the team added. That would push Russia's influence right up against the EU members of Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.


NATO and the EU have warned that incursions into member states would result in swift military retaliation. The groups have so far avoided sending forces into Ukraine amid fears of escalating the conflict into a third World War. Yet as the invasion presses on and Russia shows no signs of withdrawing, the likelihood of a new dividing line grows.

A reshuffling of partnerships with China

Among the biggest unknowns in the conflict is where China will land. The economic powerhouse has refrained from backing or denouncing Russia's invasion, but its economic ties to Russia inherently erode the power of the West's sanctions.

Russia has been building up its partnership with China since 2012, and the past decade has seen Russia grow increasingly reliant on trade with China. Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping already declared at the latest Winter Olympics that their alliance would "know no limits" and rival NATO, and it's likely those ties will only solidify further in the years ahead, EIU said.

"What began as a marriage of convenience has grown over the past decade into a strategic partnership," EIU said. "For China, an alliance with Russia offers security along its northern border, natural resources and a shared authoritarian approach and attitude to the West."

That trend, however, could force the West to rethink its connections to China, the team added. The US will now have to focus on containing Russia while also relying less on China for trade. This puts Eastern allies like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan in a bind, as their need for US protection is likely to grow, EIU said. A coalition against China in the Asia-Pacific region could emerge as geopolitical divides deepen, the team added.