Russia’s recent “pivot East” has become a geopolitical cliché. It’s now widely understood that one of the most significant consequences of sanctions imposed by America and (less enthusiastically) the European Union has been significantly to strengthen relations between Moscow and Beijing.
Enemies for much of the Cold War, Russia and China have been building serious commercial and diplomatic ties across their 2,700-mile border for well over a decade. Since 2002, their bilateral trade has grown 7-fold, to almost $100bn annually, as both sides recognize the economic synergies between the world’s largest energy exporter and the biggest and most populous manufacturer on the planet.
What was the most significant geo-political event of 2014? It depends on your perspective. The return of American military intervention in the Middle East – including strikes against jihadist insurgents in Iraq, with US and Iranian planes sharing the same airspace – was an important moment. Washington also intervened in Syria’s messy civil war in 2014, an on-going four-year conflict that has so far cost an estimated 250,000 lives.
Those focussed on domestic issues may rightly regard the vote against Scottish independence, the preservation of our now 308-year-old United Kingdom, as the most important event of last year – even if, as seems increasingly likely, we’ll face another independence referendum relatively soon.
Both the ousting of Ukraine’s President Yanukovich last February and Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea are up there among the major international developments of the last twelve months. Certainly, the geo-political aftershocks of both moves could be with us for years to come.
Back in mid-2013, America’s Federal Reserve signalled that its massive money-printing programme – so-called quantitative easing – would be coming to an end. Just the hint of “tapering” was enough to destabilise the US government bond market. The yield on 10-year Treasuries spiked above 3pc, from 1.7pc at the start of last year. The Fed, after all, since QE began in late 2008, had bought hundreds of billions of dollars of US sovereign IOUs.
For now, America’s Treasury market seems relatively stable, even though the taper eventually happened and QE officially ended this autumn. The US government currently pays a relatively benign 2.15pc to borrow 10-year money, despite its vast debt mountain just hitting $18,000bn – a mind-boggling 78pc up since President Obama took office in early 2009.