The Geopolitical Zeitenwende

Emil Brix is Director of the Vienna School of International Studies (the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna), having formerly served as Director-General of Foreign Cultural Policy of the Austrian Ministry of European and International Affairs and Austria’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation. You may follow him on Twitter @Amb_EmilBrix. This is a translated and revised version of a German-language essay entitled “Die geopolitische Zeitenwende”, originally published in Österreichisches Jahrbuch für Politik 2022 (Böhlau, Wien 2023), 411-425.

On February 24th, 2022, the Russian Federation’s attack on neighboring Ukraine marked a geopolitical turning point, comparable in scale only to the collapse of the communist regimes in Europe from 1989 to 1992. This grand and ambitious term “Zeitenwende,” whose meaning roughly translates to “historical shift” or “turning point,” was introduced by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz just four days after the beginning of the Russian military invasion, in a groundbreaking speech in the German Bundestag. In 2022, it shaped international relations and analyses of a fragmented world order: “The world after is no longer the same as the world before.” And it was once again the German Chancellor at the end of 2022 who attempted to explain these tectonic shifts in an article for Foreign Affairs “The Global Zeitenwende: How to Avoid a New Cold War in a Multipolar Era.” Neither the American political-military dominance of the last 30 years nor the strategy of “change through trade” by democratically inclined market economies could ensure a resilient world order.

China’s economic rise and Russia’s revisionist imperialism had long been signs of a new unstable and fragmented world order before 2022. Olaf Scholz writes in Foreign Affairs:

“In 2007, Putin delivered an aggressive speech at the Munich Security Conference, deriding the rules-based international order as a mere tool of American dominance. The following year, Russia launched a war against Georgia. In 2014, Russia occupied and annexed Crimea and sent its forces into parts of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, in direct violation of international law and Moscow’s own treaty commitments. The years that followed saw the Kremlin undercut arms control treaties and expand its military capabilities, poison and murder Russian dissidents, crack down on civil society, and carry out a brutal military intervention in support of the Assad regime in Syria. Step by step, Putin’s Russia chose a path that took it further from Europe and further from a cooperative, peaceful order.”


Back to Table of Contents