Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned the international spotlight back onto the value of democracy and the contrast between liberal democracies and authoritarian systems. However, it has done so by adding nuance and emotional power to what was previously a rather sterile debate. When Joe Biden was elected President of the United States, putting an end – at least for the time being – to the traumatic years for US democracy epitomised by Donald Trump’s presidency, international politics reacquired a distinctively normative, if not ideological, taste. Powers like Russia and China should be opposed, not “only” because of their aggressive or unfair behaviour – be it in the South China Sea, Taiwan, Ukraine, cyber, energy, technology or trade – but because that malign behaviour, so the argument went, is intrinsically linked to the nature of their political systems: it’s democracy versus autocracy, stupid.
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