Ukraine and China

Alan zendell, February 18, 2023

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reaches its first anniversary…I find it difficult to even finish this sentence. The very idea of a vicious war raging in Europe for a full year with no end in sight is horrifying. And this is more than just a war. The Russian military vastly outnumbers and outguns the Ukrainians, and while Ukraine is fighting a defensive battle for its survival, Russia is razing cities to the ground, targeting and killing civilians by the thousands, and its only justification is Vladimir Putin’s assertion that Ukraine has no right to be an independent nation.

That’s because it wasn’t independent until the dissolution of the Soviet Union thirty years ago. The fledgling nation has struggled with corruption, organized crime, and economic instability, in large part because of Russian infiltration. But what began as Putin’s pipe dream of restoring the former Soviet empire has become an embarrassing debacle. His military, thought to be one of the most formidable in the world, has shown itself to be badly trained, unmotivated, and poorly equipped with mostly obsolete, badly maintained equipment. Beyond that, the unprovoked brutality of Russia’s tactics are visible for the entire world to see. Except for rogue regimes like North Korea, even governments that feel supportive of Russia in general have not spoken out in support of the invasion.

Russia has seen its military hardware decimated and its supplies of missiles, drones, and ammunition run out, so it is reduced to begging assistance from countries like Iran, North Korea, and China, and even re-supplied with munitions and hundreds of thousands of recruits thrown into the fight, the media talking heads are nearly unanimous in predicting that Ukraine will beat back the new assault planned for Spring – unless Russia resorts to using nuclear weapons. The war has turned into a dangerous game of chicken with Putin under attack domestically and a pariah in the eyes of most of the world, and his country’s economy badly suffering from sanctions.

While no one completely discounts the possibility that Putin might be obsessed and crazy enough to risk all-out war with NATO, most observers believe he will lose politically and ultimately be blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths, the destruction of entire cities, and the displacement of millions of people, not to mention a looming possible economic collapse at home. Russia’s allies see that as well as we do, and no one wants to be on the losing side, even if it’s their friend who’s losing.

I believe Putin is continuing the war, and will be even more brutal in its second year, because he believes the Trump wing of the Republican Party will undermine American support for Ukraine, which could well result in the dissolution of NATO that President Biden did such an amazing job of shoring up. As NATO prepares to expand by including Russia’s neighbor, Finland, the question is whether Putin is so committed to his war that he’s willing to risk total destruction. Perhaps that’s why leaders of nations like India, Iran, and China are not speaking publicly in Putin’s defense. It’s almost certainly why China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi addressed the Munich Security Conference about the need to end the “warfare” in Ukraine.

Observers who like to parse such things note that it was the first time a representative of the Chinese government used that word concerning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Wang went on to say the raging war must end, and that China will soon propose a peace settlement that respects the sovereignty of all nations. On its face, that statement sounds far more supportive of Ukraine than Russia, because Ukrainian President Zelensky says Ukraine will fight until all Russian forces withdraw from Ukrainian territory. But not so fast…is it likely that China will live up to that statement, given its own threats against Taiwan? China’s attitude toward Taiwan is very similar to Russia’s claim that Ukraine has no right to be a sovereign nation.

If China follows through and is willing to throw its weight behind respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty, it could be a crucial contribution to the future of a stable world order. If it’s true, and not just diplomatic spin, China’s intervention at the ministerial level could be the most constructive initiative of the twenty-first century. Whether or not Putin can rein in his ambitions and accept the humiliation of defeat, Russia’s allies clearly have no interest in being the collateral damage of a third world war, assuming such a conflict would leave enough standing to rebuild.

From the point of view of the United States, I’ll be watching to see if new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy retains enough integrity to separate himself from Trump and crazies like Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene. America has a long tradition of uniting and putting its differences aside when the nation’s security is at stake. If we don’t, the entire world is in great jeopardy.

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