Breakfast with Bwana
By Anil Madan
The war that Vladimir Putin started has been raging for almost a full year. In a few days, the world will mark the grim anniversary of his assault on Ukraine, its people, its cities, its infrastructure, its existence.
One would have thought that after the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the three great nuclear powers would have learned that in the 21st Century, war is not the path to success in producing sustainable gains. Yet, those US-led wars have not seemingly diminished the thirst for conquest and domination. Russia flexed its muscle in Syria, Georgia, and Crimea. China has all but obliterated Hong Kong and its culture. Now, as the war in Ukraine rages, China threatens Taiwan.
President Biden made an unannounced visit to Kyiv to give Zelensky a wartime hug. The US will support Ukraine “for as long as it takes,” he declared. Western leaders at the Munich Security Conference echoed Biden and pledged to support Ukraine “as long as necessary.”
Biden followed his Kyiv appearance with a visit to Poland, a nation once in the Soviet bloc but now firmly embracing the West. As he spoke about Putin’s miscalculation about the strength and resilience of the Ukrainian people and of Democracy itself, he uttered nary a word about finding a way to end this needless killing and destruction.
President Macron of France sputtered mixed messages. On the one hand, he declared that the “neocolonialist and imperialist” aggression must fail. He declared Putin’s war “catastrophic” and “unjustified.” At the same time, looking to an eventual engagement with Russia, he spoke of the need for “dialogue and re-engagement”. None of us can overcome geography, and given that Russia is on European soil, “we will have to negotiate.”
On the other hand, Macron mused: “How to help the Ukrainians to make on the ground something which will force Russia to come back to the table on the conditions of Ukraine?”
Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, offered no words on how to end the war while joining in declarations of support for Ukraine.
The path to peace
There you have it. The leaders on the Western side see continued war and success by Ukraine as the path to peace. They may well be right. Putin has shown no signs of backing down, nor any inclination to do so. In a ranging two-hour long speech, Putin declared that Russia will succeed and accused the West of trying to destroy his country. Without offering any factual support for his baseless claim, he accused Ukraine of trying to acquire nuclear weapons, and once again, playing the nuclear card, he stated that Russia was suspending its participation in the START treaty and might start testing nuclear weapons.
Western leaders continue to send other confusing signals. Macron added an on-the-third-hand comment to his remarks when he stated: “This is not the time for dialogue.” And he noted that the West must face the fact that although the weeks ahead could be decisive, the war might last longer. Accordingly, Europe and the United States have the critical challenge “to be credible over the long term.”
Existential war for survival
President Biden has contradictions of his own. President Zelensky is asking for aid in the form of F-22 fighter jets, but Biden is said to be reluctant to authorize the transfer of jets for fear of escalating the conflict. One can well imagine that for Zelensky and the Ukrainian people, it is foolish to talk of “escalation” when one is engaged in an existential war for survival. One can hark back to Germany’s resistance to transfer tanks to Ukraine over similar concerns.
Putin also frames the conflict as an existential threat to Russia. Speaking of the US -led NATO alliance, he declared: “They intend to transform a local conflict into a phase of global confrontation. This is exactly how we understand it all and we will react accordingly, because in this case we are talking about the existence of our country.”
Aside from threatening to dismantle the architecture of nuclear arms control unless the West backs off from its support of Ukraine, Putin once again toys with veiled threats of using nuclear power. At the same time, Putin’s spokespersons seek to form a Sino-Russian alliance against the West.
The Biden administration has expressed concern over China’s ongoing non-military support for Russia’s war effort and has charged that Beijing is considering supplying weapons to Russia.
China’s top foreign policy diplomat Wang Yi was in Moscow on Tuesday. He dismissed these concerns and cautioned against any nuclear escalation. At the same time, he reaffirmed a new, wide-ranging alliance with Russia.
What is China’s position here? China’s foreign minister Qin Gang said that China is “deeply worried” that the Ukraine conflict could spiral out of control. In typical Chinese diplo-speak, he called on “certain countries to stop fuelling the fire,” and that they must “stop hyping up ‘today Ukraine, tomorrow Taiwan’.” This was, of course, a not so veiled reference to the United States.
In response to the Chinese balloon incident, when a Chinese surveillance balloon traversed US territory on an alleged spying mission — China said it was a weather balloon that went astray — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled a visit to China where he would have had direct talks with Wang Yi. The two met at the Munich Security Conference.Read More… Become a Subscriber
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 24 February 2023
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