One Sided Affair– Xi & Putin: The Ukraine Effect (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #323)

Sometimes you look in the mirror and the reflection staring back at you is the truth. The truth that you do not want to acknowledge. There is no hiding from yourself at moments like these. The effect can be revealing and startling. I wonder if Vladimir Putin had that feeling when he recently met with China’s President Xi Jinping in Moscow. Putin was looking into the eyes of a man who is now his master.

Mirror image – Vladimir Putin & Xi Jinping

Like Minded – A Study In Similarities
Xi has a great deal in common with Putin. He has sidelined all his rivals and gained complete power. Xi is the most powerful leader since Mao Tse-Tung in modern Chinese history. The same is said of Putin, who is the most powerful leader in Russia since Josef Stalin. Just like Xi, Putin managed to sideline his rivals. He used the powers of government to ensure he would serve an unprecedented number of terms as President of Russia. Putin and Xi are at the pinnacle of regimes which reflect their personal rule. They are both authoritarians who will not tolerate criticism, democracy or transparency. Their regimes are both mysterious and malignant. They put their personal stamp upon every aspect of policy. The common person is sacrificed upon the altar of neo-imperial visions.

Russia is now Putin’s Russia, just as China is now Xi’s China. The two leaders influence has been so vast that in the future historians will name the era in which they ruled their respective nations after each man. 21st century Russia has Putin’s fingerprints all over it. The same is true of Xi’s effect on 21st century China. Both men seemed to rise from obscurity. Between the Soviet Union’s collapse and Putin’s presidency, Russian politics was the preserve of the oft inebriated Boris Yeltsin and an array of oligarchs. Putin made his way to the top and proceeded to prune the power of anyone who made the mistake of challenging his authority. Between Deng Xiaoping and the rise of Xi, China was run by faceless bureaucrats, drab and dour men who went about the work of building China into an economic powerhouse. Theirs was the cult of impersonality.

After Xi took the helm, he proceeded to amass power to the point that no one dare challenge him. China’s Politburo is now filled with his acolytes, just as the Kremlin is filled with Putin’s cronies. Putin and Xi have passed the point of absolute power. They are now trying to use this power to remake the world order into spheres of influence. The way Russia eyes Ukraine, China eyes Taiwan. Putin and Xi cannot have their empires without those countries. Both men style themselves as empire builders. Their success or failure in that regard will inform international politics for decades to come.

The ultimate authority – Valdimir Putin fetes Xi Jinping

Paradoxes of Power – A Study In Contrasts
On the face of it, Putin and Xi are a study in similarities, but this obscures the fact that their trajectories are headed in opposite directions. Their relationship is a marriage of convenience, one that suits the other’s needs for the time being. The power imbalance between the two is vast and growing by the day. Think of the relationship in the form of a Russian Matryoshka doll. The dolls are stacked one inside another and continually decrease in size. Now imagine that the largest of these dolls is Xi. Unscrew the doll and inside is a diminished Putin. At this point, Xi owns Putin because of the latter’s massive strategic miscalculation with the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Before the cameras at their summit in Moscow, Xi and Putin were all smiles with professions of partnership. This masquerade hid the power politics at play between them. Just before the invasion in January 2022, Xi and Putin announced their “no limits” partnership. That has turned out to be wishful thinking on Putin’s part. Xi certainly has his limits when it comes to Russia. He has limited China’s assistance to Russia during the war for fear of triggering sanctions from the western world. When the “no limits” partnership was proclaimed, Putin foresaw the two nations as equal partners, assisting one another in their mutual fight against an American led international order.

Even before the war, the partnership was anything but equal. China’s economy is nine times larger than that of Russia’s. China has spent the past 40 years rapidly developing its economy. Russia has spent the past 40 years clinging to its great power status. While China has risen to superpower status, Russia has undergone a precipitate decline. Putin was able to arrest this decline by hedging Russia’s vast energy resources to become a major player in European politics. The invasion of Ukraine ended that, forcing Putin to throw himself into the arms of Xi.

Isolation & emasculation – Vladimir Putin

Isolation & Emasculation – Power Imbalances
Putin is offering China oil and gas at bargain basement prices. This is a deal China cannot refuse. In return, Xi promises little more than rhetorical support. The situation can be summed up quite simply as Putin needs Xi and Xi uses Putin. This is the situation Putin’s disastrous invasion of Ukraine has put Russia in. There is no going back to the international political order prior to the war. In a bit of poetic justice, the one who started the war is now paying the greatest penalty. The punishment is compounded by the fact that Russia has grown much weaker, to the point that China can use Russia however they please. Xi intends to do just that.

China will gladly consume Russian energy resources since they can name their price. Russia has little choice but to sell out to China. Putin has very little leverage. Make no mistake, Xi’s intentions are not benign. He will take everything that he can get from Russia while giving little away. For instance, expect Russia to pay for the infrastructure which will pump more natural gas from Siberia to China. These are the deals Putin is forced to make. He has no other choice. Xi does have other choices. When the time is right, he will ratchet up the pressure on Russia to give China more of whatever it wants. If Russia resists, China can always look elsewhere. They still have allies, Russia only has isolation and emasculation.

Complete Incompetence – Russia’s War: Losing Battles & Losing The War (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #322)

It is one thing to win battles, it is quite another to win a war. The first time I came across the idea was in tennis. The 1980 Wimbledon final between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe was one of the greatest tennis matches of all time. In the 4th set tiebreaker McEnroe saved five match points and won the tiebreaker 18-16. This has been called the War of 1816, but it is a misnomer because McEnroe won the set rather than the match. Borg prevailed in the 5th and final set. Thus, McEnroe won the battle, but Borg won the war and his 5th Wimbledon title in a row right along with it. In military affairs much the same thing can happen. While battles turn on successfully executed tactics, wars are won with sound strategy. This is as true of the Ukraine-Russia War as of any other conflict.

Falling apart- Destroyed Russian tank in Ukraine

Poor Performers – Lacking In Leadership
One way of accessing Russia’s poor performance in Ukraine is that not only have they won less battles than the Ukrainians, but the Russians are also not anywhere close to winning the war. Losing battles can be tolerated if the ends justify the means. In this case, there is no way for Russia’s leadership justify both the military’s strategic and tactical failures without calling attention to themselves. The only thing that can be justified is regime change. That is unlikely. The Russians are stuck with Vladimir Putin for the foreseeable future. The same goes with those who have led their military to disaster. The Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is no military strategist. He had no prior military experience that would have recommended him for Minister of Defense other than the fact he was a friend and loyalist of Putin.

The current leader of Russian military forces in Ukraine, Valery Gerasimov, has shown himself to be almost as incompetent as those above him. Gerasimov has plenty of military experience, but none of it has brought Russian any closer to victory. Military operations lack coordination and vision. The results are troubling at best, catastrophic at worst. Besides their 2022 Donbas Offensive, Russian forces have failed to find any success on the battlefield. Even that offensive turned out to be a pyrrhic victory as Russian forces were so decimated by the end of it that they were rendered virtually inoperable for the rest of the year. Entire units had to be reconstituted. If Russia’s greatest success in the war was still a failure, then it begs the question of exactly how they plan on winning the war. That is still unclear to anyone who has analyzed the situation.

Lacking in leadership – Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov

Stalled Out – Making It Up As They Go Mode
By any reasonable standard the Russians are losing the war. Taking that one step further, many analysts say they have already lost the war. Putin is not going to gain control of Ukraine, if anything he has created an enemy which will oppose Russian interests for generations to come. While the Ukrainians may not win the war either, they still have a chance of expelling Russians from their territory. They also have an opportunity to deal a massive blow to Russian influence in Europe well into the future. The possibility that Ukraine could win the war and hobble Russia geopolitically would have been unthinkable when the war began. The Russians are left groping for whatever gains they can make on the battlefield before trying to negotiate a peace that favors their interests.  

If the Russians cannot make gains, they at least hope to keep occupied areas under their control. This is an attempt to salvage some sort of victory in what has turned into one of the greatest geopolitical and military debacles in modern history. Bad tactics and lack of strategic flexibility have hindered the Russian war effort. This has been true since the war began 400 days ago. There is little doubt that Russia’s strategy to attack Ukraine with overwhelming force at the beginning of the war, overthrow the government in less than a week, and install a puppet regime was a miserable failure. Every part of the strategy was flawed. In the face of stout Ukrainian resistance, the Russian plan disintegrated.

While Russia’s overwhelming military might made gains in some areas (most notably in southern Ukraine), it faltered badly trying to take Kyiv and Kharkiv. The latter is a mere fifty kilometers from the Russian border, which says all you need to know about the ineffectiveness of the Russian military. As for Kyiv, the Russians never made it past the outskirts of the city. Instead, they got into a massive military traffic jam. Their forces were then cut to pieces. All this happened in the opening months of the war, since then the Russians have not had a consistent strategy or for that matter, a strategy at all. They have been in make it up as you go mode since last spring.

At a loss – Vladimir Putin

At A Loss – Searching For A Strategy
Military operations are highly complex affairs that require careful planning. This is particularly true for a large military like the Russian one where land, air, and sea forces must work in tandem to be successful. From a tactical standpoint, the Russians have shown a woeful inability to coordinate their actions among their armed forces. Incredibly, the Kremlin has proven to be just as incompetent as the military. Leadership starts at the top and this has been lacking for Russia throughout the war. Putin is an amateur when it comes to military affairs. While Putin’s expertise is in intelligence, it was his beloved security services which vastly underestimated the Ukrainian’s will to resist and their military’s high degree of competence. Russia has been reeling from that failure ever since the war began. The cumulative failure of the military, security services and the Kremlin have sent the Russians in search of a new strategy. They have yet to find one that works. It is becoming more and more likely that they never will. There is still a chance that the Russians could win some battles and cobble together a semi-successful strategy. The more probable outcome will be tactical failure and strategic disaster. In other words, more of the same.

Click here for: One Sided Affair– Xi & Putin: The Ukraine Effect (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #323)

Explosive Situation – A Conventional World War III (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #321)

When will the Third World War start? Hopefully never. Unfortunately, hope is not a viable strategy to keep the peace. The era of large wars between great powers was thought to have ended in 1945. This was reinforced by the Iron Curtain’s collapse in 1989 and the Soviet Union’s dissolution two years later. through today seems more and more like an anachronism. The world is reverting to rival spheres of influence much like the Cold War. West versus the east, democracy versus authoritarianism, the rules based international order versus great power rivalry. These competing visions of the world are moving towards a head on collision. In one place, this has already happened, the Ukraine- Russia War. That conflict has the potential to mushroom into a much larger war. Sides have already been taken by most of the major powers. 

Conflict management – Xi Jinping & Vladimir Putin

Game Changer – Explosive Situation
On one side there is the United States, European Union, NATO, Great Britain and Japan along with several smaller nations. The opposing side is represented by China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and other nations with authoritarian governments. Each side has moved away from the other. They are now on opposite ends of the political spectrum which raises the risk of conflict. The rest of the world is stuck in the middle. India, Brazil, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and many other nations are not fully aligned with one side or the other. Their alignment depends upon opportunities and self-interest. The clash between one side that believes it is on the right side of history and another which believes that might makes right will decide the future course of the world.

The potential for a military conflict between the powers which represent opposing visions of the world has grown exponentially due to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Western support for Ukraine has put Russia in an untenable position. The war has turned disastrous for them as the Ukrainian armed forces have taken advantage of western weaponry and supplies to inflict a series of stinging defeats on Russian forces. The Russians have grown increasingly desperate. This has led them further into the arms of China, which welcomes them as a junior partner. Russia has plenty of natural resources to offer at bargain basement price to China. In return, the Russians are hoping for the kind of military support that the Ukrainians have received from the west. This support has started to shift from the diplomatic and rhetorical to the possibility of China providing Russia with weapons and supplies.

Allied support – Presidents Zelensky & Biden

Escalatory Measures – A Partnership Without Limits
The Chinese and Russians have been cultivating closer relations for quite some time. It is impossible to forget Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin agreeing to a no limits partnership just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That partnership has turned out to have limits up to this point in the war. China has refrained from the type of military support Russia so badly needs. The situation took a turn toward the escalatory when the United States said they had intelligence that China was considering providing weaponry to Russia. The Americans warned the Chinese that this would have grave implications for their relationship, one that is already fraught with tensions over Taiwan. For their part, the Chinese denied the American report.

Chinese military support for Russia would expand the war into a much larger conflagration, one that would be more likely in leading to World War III. This would realize the worst fears of many that the Ukraine-Russia War might draw other powers into a conflict which would then prove vastly more destructive. The United States has already given the Ukrainians an open-ended commitment to support their war effort for as long as it takes. If China provided support to Russia that was even remotely similar, the Americans would likely increase their support for Ukraine once again. This would be a vicious cycle, where one escalation leads to another where this leads no one knows. At best, it would transform the Ukraine-Russia War into a proxy conflict between the United States and China, at worst it might lead to direct war between NATO aligned nations and a China-Russia alliance.

Heading to the battlefield – Armored vehicles in Ukraine

Uncompromising – A Lesser Catastrophe
Ironically, as the risk of the Ukraine-Russia War becoming a nuclear conflict has receded, the possibility of World War III has become much more likely. Ever since the Second World War ended, conflicts between superpowers have been limited by the potential that they could lead to a catastrophic nuclear war. When I was growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s there were numerous books, documentaries, and movies imagining World War III. Nearly all of them ended in an apocalyptic nuclear exchange. The days of large conventional wars among nuclear powers were thought to be over. A good argument can be made that if not for the threat of nuclear Armageddon, NATO and the Warsaw Pact alliances would have fought a conventional World War Three. On several occasions during the Cold War, including standoffs in Berlin, the Korean War, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, the potential for a nuclear exchange caused the United States and Soviet Union to seek compromise.

There is little room for compromise in the Ukraine-Russia War. Both sides have girded for a long conventional war. The sides are at relative parity which means the conflict could last for years. The threat of it going nuclear can never be discounted. This is especially true considering Russia’s poor performance on the battlefield, but that threat has been contained and looks manageable. The upshot is a conflict that goes on for years and eventually might lead to China supporting a floundering Russian war effort. This would then move the United States and China into a proxy confrontation.  That scenario is one step away from the two most powerful nations in the world engaging in a direct conflict.

At this point, there is still doubt that China will help arm Russia. The Russian military has been exposed as corrupt, incompetent, and poorly led. China would be pouring resources into a dubious ally with no assurance that this would do anything but drain their own military capacity. Nevertheless, Xi Jinping has shown a willingness to confront American power. If he chooses to do so by supporting the Russian war effort in Ukraine, the situation could spiral out of control. Then again, it already has.

Coming soon: Complete Incompetence – Russia’s War: Losing Battles & Losing The War (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #322)

Separation Anxiety – Eastern Europe & Post-Soviet Russia 1991 – 2000 (From Peace To War #2)

When the Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991 there was a decided lack of consternation. The Soviet idea was exhausted. Communism had been exposed as a hollow ideology that was delivering little more than misery to Soviet citizens. The constituent parts, including Russia, were ready to go their own way. Russia would still be closely aligned with Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, and Armenia. The Central Asian states would also be allies. Azerbaijan less so. Moldova was an odd outlier that would take some getting used to. The Russians assisted separatists in Transnistria, but they did not try to destroy Moldovan statehood. Anything west of the Dniester was deemed beyond their interest at the time. As for the Baltic states, they were ready to move closer to northern Europe and Scandinavia, giving the cold shoulder to anything that reeked of the Soviet Union and that included Russia. No longer would they be subservient states. Now their languages and cultures could finally flourish.

Separation Anxiety – Chechen fighter in Grozny during the First Chechen War
(Credit: Mikhail Evstafiev)

The Baltic States – Going Their Own Way
In the case of the Baltic states a westward shift in geopolitical orientation was to be expected. Not only had they achieved statehood between the First and Second Worlds Wars, but they were ethnically distinct from Slavs. Even though the Baltics large proportions of Russians that had been resettled there in the decades following World War II, they had differing ideas from Russia on politics and economics. Their cultures were also exclusive of the dominant Russian culture which had been imposed upon them for four and a half decades. The break was not clean or easy, but the Baltics managed to pull away from Russia in the post-1991 environment.

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania would eventually achieve membership in both the European Union and NATO. Russia did not like their movement towards the west, but during the 1990’s it had major economic problems that were much more pressing than trying to keep a tight leash on the Baltics. The fact that the Baltics went their own way and the Russians failed to put up without much of a fight fooled many into thinking that Russia was becoming a normal state. That their imperialist and nationalist impulses were fading. This was not true as later events would show, but internal problems kept Russia from causing many issues with their near abroad in the immediate post-Soviet period.

Going their own way – Riga in Latvia is the largest city in the Baltics (Credit: Diego Delso)

Falling Apart – Tumultuous Times
The oddest and most incredible thing about the Soviet Union’s disintegration was how quickly it disappeared without the usual spasms that occur when empires fall. Other 20th century empires that had collapsed were laid low by violence and societal upheaval. The German and Austro-Hungarian Empires both fell apart due to the strains caused by World War I. The Soviet Union’s predecessor, the Russian Empire, came to an extremely violent end. First on the Eastern Front during World War I, then during the Russian Civil War where millions lost their lives. Even the British Empire’s collapse saw violent excesses committed in Kenya and other former colonies. The Soviet Union’s breakup into a multiplicity of nation-states did not lead to the kind of chaos and calamity that might have been expected. Russia – now in the throes of a neo-imperialist war in Ukraine – was too distracted in the 1990’s to deeply involve themselves in the affairs of Kyiv, Minsk, Tbilisi or Yerevan.

Russia’s leadership was trying to keep it from falling apart in the same manner as the Soviet Union. To that end, the Kremlin felt compelled to fight a war in Chechnya against separatists. This did not result in a resounding victory, instead a humiliating defeat ensued. This showed just how weak the Russian state had become. That weakness had a great deal to do with Russia staying away from adventures beyond its own borders. Up until the turn of the 21st century, post-Soviet Russia was too weak to control its near abroad. This weakness was mistaken by the western world for a general movement towards normalcy. The imperial impulse in Russia seemed to be the preserve of a crazed nationalist fringe. There were similarities with post-1989 Eastern Europe where nation-states freed from the yoke of communism all seemed to have an uber-nationalist element. In these cases, words spoke louder than actions.

The lack of follow through had a great deal to do with the size of Eastern European nations. For instance, in Hungary there was a proportion of the population that would have loved to recover Transylvania and southern Slovakia. The problem for these nationalists was that Hungary never had a population of more than ten million people. No matter how many Hungarians felt that their nation had been wronged by the postwar Treaty of Trianon, Hungary did not have anywhere close to the resources needed to recover these territories even if a majority of the population would have supported it. Thus, the nationalists were limited to lamenting the loss of Greater Hungary. The same was certainly not true for Russia, a nation with vast natural and human resources. Any leader that could harness these resources to a nationalist ideal could take action to attempt a recreation of a neo-Russian empire. This is what many in Eastern Europe feared, nowhere more so than the Baltic states which would not stand a chance against a revanchist Russia. The same was true for smaller states such as Georgia and Armenia.

Headed in a different direction – Boris Yeltsin & Vladimir Putin

The Rise of Putin – Authoritarian Tendencies
When Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, Russia had a leader who could restore the power of the state to make it formidable, not just inside Russia, but also in its near abroad.  This was the beginning of a movement that would lead to a Russian resurgence in militarism. Russia was not able to get its own house in order during the 1990’s. Nowhere was this clearer than in Chechnya. The First Chechen War had been a debacle that exposed Russia’s military and political weakness. Putin knew if he wanted to stay in power for long, the first thing he would have to do is reestablish central control of the country. The best way of doing this was by being completely ruthless. Weak rulers that do not display a take no prisoners mentality – such as Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin – often end up on the wrong side of Russian history. Putin was determined that this would not happen to him. He set about consolidating his power.

Click here for: A Game of Risk – Eastern Europe & Russia 2000 – 2013 (From Peace To War #3)

Sidestepping War – Eastern Europe’s Long Peace 1945 – 1991 (From Peace To War #1)

There is no doubt that the Russian invasion of Ukraine and continued prosecution of the war has set some very dangerous precedents. One of the most worrisome is that the taboo of large wars in Europe has been broken. This is a direct threat to Europe’s stability because it has the potential to unleash another period of violent conflict. The last time this happened, Europe came closer to complete destruction than at any time in history. It is worth remembering that Europe had a long period of peace prior to the First World War. This era was marked by great strides in economic, industrial, and cultural development.

Peace gives birth to prosperity and prosperity provides an incentive for nations to avoid wars. This does not mean that Europe completely sidestepped wars in the century between the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and World War I in 1914. On the contrary, there were many wars in Europe, but none of these engulfed the entire continent. The closest they came was due to the revolutions in 1848. Compared to the two World Wars, the fighting was contained. The same could be said for the Wars of German Unification and the Balkan Wars. This period of relative peace came to an end in the most violent manner possible beginning in 1914 and did not end until 1945.

Long Peace – Preserved part of the Iron Curtain in Czech Republic (Credit: Marcin Szala)

Keeping The Peace – A Tenuous Process
Contemporary Europe is largely an outcome from the reaction to two World Wars. The long and successful unification project of the European Union was, as it still is today, an effort to ensure large wars in Europe never happen again. Whether or not that will be the case beyond the Ukraine-Russia War no one knows. What has become apparent is how remarkable the post-1945 period was in European history due to the absence of large wars. The Ukraine-Russia War makes Europeans long for the peaceful period many of them took for granted. The phrase “You don’t know what you got it until its gone” applies to the mindset of contemporary Europeans. Many are shocked by the return of large wars which had supposedly been relegated to history books. That is no longer the case. The Ukraine-Russia War has been a return to the kind of history Europe managed to avoid much longer than anyone could have imagined.

One day many years from now, historians will look back at the period from 1945 – 2014 in Europe as unusually peaceful. Save for the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the Yugoslav Wars form 1991 – 1998, Europe largely enjoyed peace almost seventy years of peace. This helped create unprecedented prosperity across the continent. Even for Eastern Europe, the period was remarkable in just how few armed conflicts occurred. Of course, this came at the cost of being under the Soviet thumb. As for the Yugoslav Wars, they are now viewed as a violent aberration. Many of the nations involved have thrived since those wars ended.

Croatia and Slovenia are now in the European Union, Montenegro is in much better shape than it was for many centuries. Kosovo won its independence and diplomatic recognition from much of the world. Even the biggest losers in the Yugoslav Wars have had a better-than-expected existence since those wars ended. Serbia has been largely stable with a decent economy. Politically, Bosnia and Herzegovina may still be a mess, but disputes have been resolved through diplomatic means. While tensions continue to threaten another conflict, cooler heads have prevailed. The Balkans is no longer a powder keg ready to explode.  Because the Yugoslav Wars are still within living memory for most of the region’s inhabitants, this has been a powerful incentive to ensure peaceful resolution of disputes.

Countries in the European Union (Credit: BBC)

Walled Off – Keeping War At A Distance
For the Balkans, the memories of the Yugoslav Wars are so horrific that either the successor states have decided to focus on economic progress in putting the past behind them or the memories of the conflicts were so horrific that those who experienced them dare not allow a repeat performance. The same could be said of Europe after the end of World War II, the apocalyptic nature of the fighting left the continent in shambles. Both western and eastern Europe focused on reconstruction, but in very different ways. Though there were times when war threatened to break out over Berlin, cooler heads prevailed due to fear of nuclear apocalypse and no one wanting to reexperience the same sort of destruction visited on Europe that had so recently occurred. The psychological trauma of World War II manifested itself to such an extent that it produced a peace dividend. The American military’s role in protecting Europe west of the Iron Curtain cannot be overlooked. There is no doubt that it helped keep the peace.

The closest Europe came to a complete combustion during the Cold War was in Berlin. Ironically, the Berlin Wall’s construction created the stability that had been lacking before then. For all its symbolism as divisive, the wall kept the two sides at a distance and delineated spheres of influence. There were no more showdowns at Checkpoint Charlie. West Berlin and West Germany were free to continue their economic development. East Germany was resigned to keeping its citizens locked inside a worker’s paradise and spying on them. The shadow of war hung over Europe, but the situation was manageable. Europeans now can look back to the Cold War with a fair amount of confidence that it might serve as a template to manage the relationship with Russia after the war in Ukraine comes to an end.

Revolution in progress – Germans crossing the Berlin Wall in 1989 (Credit: Sue Mead)

Miraculous Feat – The Curtain Falls
The fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Iron Curtain were strangely peaceful. World historical events that accord a complete change in ideological, political, economic, and cultural systems for an entire region hardly ever occur without massive violence. The incredible thing was just how little conflict resulted from the upheaval. The worst violence occurred Romania where somewhere between 700 -1300 were killed and 3,200 wounded in fighting during its nine-day revolution in December 1989. Considering that Mikhail Gorbachev could have decided to use Red Army troops stationed in Eastern Europe to quell uprisings, the change of system from communist totalitarianism to democratic capitalism was nothing short of miraculous. No one could possibly have predicted the lack of a violent counterrevolution. The situation would be somewhat similar in the Soviet Union two years later, but in the decades that followed extremely different.

Click here for: Separation Anxiety – Eastern Europe & Post-Soviet Russia 1991 – 2000 (From Peace To War #2)

Diminishing Returns – Bakhmut: A Fight With No Finish (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #320)

The deadliest battle in the deadliest war in human history was fought at Stalingrad. It became the decisive turning point on the Eastern Front during World War II. According to some historians it was the turning point for the entire war. Following Stalingrad, the German tide rolled back. The Wehrmacht’s advance deep into Soviet territory was over. For the Germans, Stalingrad was the seminal disaster that made their eventual defeat all but inevitable. The surge of Soviet forces that ended with the conquest of Berlin and destruction of Nazi Germany in 1945 began in earnest at Stalingrad. The battle was a world historical event that time has done nothing to diminish its importance. It would be difficulty to understate Stalingrad’s effect on the German Army’s fighting capacity and future conduct of the war.

Before Stalingrad, the Germans still had a chance of winning the war, after Stalingrad they had no chance at all. The battle changed everything on the Eastern Front. Some contemporary analysts and commentators have gone so far as to suggest the same thing might be happening with the ongoing Battle of Bakhmut in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Their comparisons of Bakhmut with Stalingrad are missing the mark. Bakhmut is much smaller in scale and shows no sign of rendering a decisive result. Rather than Stalingrad, a better comparison is between Bakhmut and many battles on the Western Front during World War I. Many of these remain anonymous to all but hardcore military history buffs.

Fight without a finish – Ukrainian artillery at Bakhmut

Battle Worn – Inconclusive At Best, Self-Defeating At Worst
The Battle of Bakhmut has been waged with increasing ferocity over the last several months. What was once a stalemate has turned into an incremental movement forward by Russian forces. They have lost tens of thousands of soldiers fighting their way into the city center. The Ukrainians have also sustained large numbers of casualties. Artillery duels, human wave assaults, and fierce defensive resistance have been the hallmarks of Bakhmut. This is the same type of fighting that occurred along the Western Front of World War I. Battles lasted for weeks or months. One battle was indistinguishable from another. They were so inconclusive that many were grouped under the term “offensive”, as if running to stand still constitutes forward movement. Bakhmut is certainly no Stalingrad where encirclement by the Soviets destroyed the German 2nd Army.

No one has any idea of Bakhmut’s ultimate legacy or even if there will be one. A Russian victory has been predicted for well over a month, but still has not been forthcoming. If or when the Russians do take Bakhmut, no one will call the victory decisive in any sense of that word. Rather than Stalingrad, Bakhmut is more akin to those battles which proved inconclusive at best, self-defeating at worse. Battles with names like First Ypres, Second Ypres, and Third Ypres. Only military historians, fanatics or tour guides can delineate the difference between each one. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to say that such battles did little to decide the war. Their overall effect was delayed. The true value of such battles only became apparent in 1918, when the accumulation of casualties and war weariness caused the German Army to collapse.

How much damage did those long and violent slogs do to the Kaiser’s Army? A massive amount. Unfortunately, the Allies were almost as exhausted from those battles as well. While we now refer to those battles as attritional, both sides hoped to affect a breakthrough or gain weaken the other side to such an extent, that the next offensive would lead to victory. Four years later this happened, but outside influences played a large part. The United States entry into the war provided an inestimable boost to allied men, material, and morale. This, along with the blockade of Germany, was the tipping point that finally put the balance of war in favor of the Allies. If not, the two sides might have kept on manning the trenches for several more years. For far too long there was no end in sight. This is where the Battle of Bakhmut now stands.

Explosions in the sky – Second Battle of Ypres

Symbolic Value – Exhausting Possibilities
Both Ukraine and Russia have a great deal to lose in the Battle of Bakhmut and little to gain. If this sounds a lot like a repeat of war on the Western Front, that is no coincidence. Neither side wants to admit defeat. Nor will they, no matter the outcome. The definition of defeat varies between the two sides. The Russians are the favorites to emerge victorious in the battle. Reports from western intelligence sources state that Russian forces now hold half the city. This has created the expectation that Bakhmut will soon fall to them. Ironically, this puts more pressure on them than it does the Ukrainians. The Russians must capture Bakhmut. They have lost an alarming number of soldiers in the battle.

No matter whether these soldiers were prisoners turned cannon fodder or raw recruits thrown into a meat grinder, the price paid in casualties has been so high that for Russia not to capture the entirety of Bakhmut would be tantamount to defeat. The battle is a losing situation for the Russians even if they “win.” Failure to capture Bakhmut is unthinkable, but a victory does little to change the overall strategic situation. The Russians are in a trap of their own making. The best outcome of the battle for them has less to do with capturing Bakhmut and more to do with how much damage they can inflict on Ukrainian forces. That Bakhmut has become a battle of attrition is in the Russian’s favor. That is if they do not exhaust their own forces in the process.

As for Ukrainian forces, Bakhmut has as much symbolic as it does strategic value. Holding out for as long as possible is a way of showing the Ukrainian people that their military forces will not give up so much as an inch without a fight. They are making it as difficult as possible for the Russians to capture the city. This provides a boost to morale on the home front. The message is clear, Russian aggression will be resisted no matter the cost. While that is inspiring, it is also risky. The Ukrainians are losing some of their best soldiers in the fighting. They are also expending massive amounts of artillery that could hamper their efforts in a coming offensive. Ukrainian forces must be careful not to get so caught up in holding Bakhmut that they lose sight of their overall strategic objective, which is to expel Russian forces from their territory.

No end in sight – Ukrainian soldier at Bakhmut

Fading Memory – Unsatisfying Factors
Bakhmut symbolizes just how far the war has come. The war’s early months and dreams of victory are a fading memory. While its future looks limitless. How, when and where it ends no one can tell. At this point almost anything is possible, but one thing is probable. There will be no great victory, nor resounding defeat. In that regard, Bakhmut will be like many of the battles on the Western Front, deadly rather than decisive and ultimately unsatisfying for either side.

Click here for: Explosive Situation – A Conventional World War III (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #321)

Exaggerated Comparisons – Bakhmut & Stalingrad (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #319)

We live in an age of hyperbole where every news item is exaggerated for effect. Sensationalism is all the rage in both traditional and social media. Sneezes are likened to hurricanes and a sense of proportion hardly exists. Headlines are source material for outrage, scandal, and tragedy. Combine all three and it is almost guaranteed that the content will go viral. This can make for some strange statements and historical comparisons that lack proper context. Whatever happens is supersized with sensationalism and blown completely beyond all proportion. Storms are catastrophic, disasters apocalyptic and the end of the world is nigh. Heart attack inducing headlines are now the norm. The tabloidization of the news has left less room for informed analysis. Sound bites have become a substitute for thoughtful commentary. The 24 hour news cycle must deal with attention deficit disordered population they have done a large part to create. Grabbing the viewer’s or reader’s attention is paramount, holding it is an entirely different story, one the media has neither the time nor the inclination to tell. Nowhere is this truer than in the Ukraine-Russia War.

Into battle – Ukrainian tank at Bakhmut

Staying Focused – The Attention Deficit War
After a year of one horrific report after another from Ukraine, it has become more difficult for the media to hold the attention of news consumers. War fatigue has shortened attention spans. This means that exaggerations are only going to become more commonplace as both legacy and new media try to find ways to capture the attention of audiences. One of the more historically egregious statements has been to compare the Battle of Bakhmut to the Battle of Stalingrad. This comparison is a stretch by any reasonable standard. Bakhmut is an ongoing struggle between a smaller army performing beyond all expectations and a larger army that continues to underachieve. Bakhmut has become a cauldron of killing, but this is in the context of a world that has not seen a major conventional conflict of the size nor the scale of the Ukraine-Russia war in the 21st century.

While the casualty figures are astronomical by the standards of post-1945 wars in Europe (which have been almost nonexistent), by the standards of battles fought on the Eastern Front during the Second World War, Bakhmut would barely rate a mention.  The problem for contemporary journalists and analysts looking to make a comparison between Bakhmut and historical antecedent is that that they literally nothing to go on since 1945. The shock of seeing such extraordinary violence has been magnified by how little experience of warfare Europe has over the past seventy-tears. Anyone looking for more recent historical antecedents will search in vain.  Thus, the use of Stalingrad as a point of comparison. That is taking historical comparisons to extremes.

Holding the line – Ukraine soldiers at Bakhmut

False Equivalents – A Sense of Scale
Bakhmut is no Stalingrad. The latter was an apocalyptic struggle where two massive armies were locked in a life-or-death battle. Stalingrad was a microcosm of World War II on the Eastern Front. The Germans and Soviets were bitter foes with ideological and racial elements to their conflict that made it particularly prone to violence. The Nazis viewed Slavs as an inferior race and targeted them for eventual extermination. This meant that surrender for Soviet soldiers was a virtual death sentence. While the Kremlin has targeted Ukrainians, it is more in the interests of subjugation rather than extermination. The genocidal aspects of Russian attacks on Ukrainians are a byproduct of the imperialist instinct to subjugate Ukraine under Russian rule. Conversely, the Nazis bloodlust for extermination of the Soviet population was a core objective of their war effort. This is an important difference, but it in no way excuses the violence Russian forces have inflicted upon Ukrainians at the Kremlin’s direction.

The fact is that Putin would be more than happy to turn Ukrainians into Russians. The Nazis would never tolerate turning Slavs into Germans (except for a small minority they identified with Aryan characteristics). No wonder Soviet soldiers were willing to fight so hard for their homeland. They were literally fighting to live. If they lost, all hope for the future was gone. Ironically, contemporary Ukrainians do share a similarity with the Soviet people. They have targets on their backs as well. These targets are based on their representation of Ukrainian nationhood which Putin wants to end. Any Ukrainian who resists Russian control is considered an enemy. Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom and sovereignty.  On many occasions this has meant they are fighting for their lives, but it is still not the same as being targeted purely for one’s ethnicity. Soviet soldiers at Stalingrad knew that if they lost the war, their situation would be hopeless. They had an either/or decision to make.

Holding out – Bakhmut in February 2023 (Credit:

Anything But Decisive – Splitting The Difference
The Ukrainians are fighting for their sovereignty and the ability to control their own future. What happens at Bakhmut will help decide their future, but the battle itself will probably not decide the war’s outcome. It is a small part of a larger whole. This is unlike Stalingrad where the Red Army’s victory in the battle was THE decisive turning point on the Eastern Front. It is too soon to tell if Bakhmut will have that kind of effect. Just because much of the media and some armchair warriors are calling Bakhmut a second Stalingrad in favor of the Ukrainians, does not mean it is or will be. Even if the Russians lose the battle and retreat from Bakhmut, it is doubtful that they would then abandon the war.

More likely they would find another Bakhmut to fight. The accumulation of attritional battles might wear them or the Ukrainians down. In this case, Bakhmut would be one of many battles that led to the war ending. This is a much more probable outcome than Bakhmut becoming a second Stalingrad. While stranger things have happened, a repeat performance of Stalingrad will almost certainly not be one of them. The differences between the two battles are vast. A better comparison of historical antecedents with Bakhmut can be found with battles on the Western Front during World War I. A time when attrition rather than decisive victory was the most common outcome.   

Coming soon: Diminishing Returns – Bakhmut: A Fight With No Finish (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #320)

Indefinite Conclusions – Ukraine, Russia & No End In Sight (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #318)

The other day someone who only intermittently follows the Ukraine-Russia War asked me, “Is this war ever going to end?” While the person is fervently pro-Ukraine, the sense of weariness in their voice was detectable. How could it not be? Just over three weeks ago the war passed a major milestone with the one year anniversary of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. There were countless articles reviewing the war’s conduct, current status, and future possibilities. None of the articles I read provided any definitive timeframe for when the war might end. They offered two possibilities, neither of which was conclusive.

No end in sight – Ukrainian soldier in a trench at Bakhmut (Credit: @Liberov)

Settling In – A Drawn Out Affair
The first was that the war would continue indefinitely. With both sides rearming for winter and spring offensives no one really knows what the future holds other than more death and destruction. The offensives informed the second conjecture about the war’s length. Many articles offered that a better assessment of the war’s future timeframe would come after Ukraine’s planned spring offensive. While that is the best hope for the war to conclude this year, it is contingent upon the Ukrainians making a breakthrough that would lead to a Russian retreat or wholesale collapse of their lines. That looks less likely than it did at the end of last year. As for the Russian offensive, it was more likely to prolong the conflict than end it. The Russians are not fighting to win the war at this point. They are fighting for a stalemate, cease fire, and negotiated peace. As such, turning the war into a long and drawn-out affair has become their chief goal.

The longer the war has gone on the less likely a potential breakthrough for either side. This affects the Ukrainians much more than the Russians. The failure to achieve a decisive result is not because Ukrainian forces are incapable of a breakthrough. On the contrary, their offensive in Kharkiv Province last autumn did just that. They smashed through the Russian lines at vulnerable points. This led to the greatest territorial gains by the Ukrainian Army thus far in the war. It was a disaster for the Russians, but it also had the unintended consequence of leading them to improve their position. By losing almost the entirety of their gains in Kharkiv Province, the Russians were able to shorten their lines. In turn, this led them to better fortify their defensive positions. This means that breaking through the Russian lines in 2023 could prove much more difficult. They have replenished most of their losses. Though many of the troops guarding their lines are conscripts with very little experience, they still present a barrier to a Ukrainian offensive.

Firing away – Ukrainian artillery near Bakhmut

Opposites Attract – A Study In Contrasts
The Russians already have a pretty good idea that the Ukrainians will focus on the southern part of the front for their spring offensive. This will make it somewhat easier for the Russians to defend areas such as Melitopol and other parts of Zaporizhzhia Province that the Ukrainian Army will likely focus on. Of course, the Ukrainians have defied expectations throughout the war, and no one should bet against them. With an influx of infantry fighting vehicles and tanks in addition to weaponry that can precisely strike Russian positions at a greater distance, the Ukrainians will have another opportunity to affect a breakthrough. The situation on the battlefield is akin to the irresistible force (Ukrainians) meeting the immovable object (Russians). The sides are matched relatively even. That means advanced weaponry could tip the balance in Ukraine’s favor. Russia counters that with an advantage in men and artillery.

The war has turned into a study in contrasts. The inefficient and poorly led Russian forces continuing to push forward against the stealth tactics of the Ukrainians who rely on their sky-high morale and innovative use of limited resources. Neither side has exhaustive resources, but both have enough to keep the other from achieving a decisive victory. This has led to the situation that has existed throughout the winter. This does not bode well for the war ending anytime soon. In some ways, the Russians have an easier task. All they have to do is defend what they hold and prolong the war for as long as possible. That is believed to be the Kremlin’s main strategy. The incompetence of Russia’s military leadership threatens to undermine this modest objective. Nevertheless, this is their best bet to achieve some sort of victory. The Kremlin believes the west will grow weary of supporting Ukraine militarily and financially. If so, Ukraine would be forced to negotiate from a weaker position. For this reason, a prolonged conflict supposedly plays into Vladimir Putin’s hands.

Infernal conflict- In Bakhmut

Ultimate Proof – Risks Without Rewards
The strategy of drawing out the conflict does hold risks for Russia, particularly for Putin retaining power. Though the Kremlin has cracked down on the slightest signs of internal unrest, weariness with the war is a real danger. It is not clear what Russians have to gain from this war. The reality is that the average Russian does not benefit from the war. In fact, it threatens many of their lives. Other than a boost to nationalist pride and the nebulous concept of a greater Russia, there is little for Russians to support. Putin’s mad vanity project to restore Russia to great power status by bringing parts of its near abroad back under control only benefits him and his most loyal adherents. Absurdly, this is what the entire nation of Russia is now fighting for.

An estimated 200,000 Russians have been killed or wounded for a dubious concept driven by one man’s despotism. Tragically, this is a recurring theme in Russian history, one that is self-defeating. The fact that Russians (and Soviets) have involved themselves in these cataclysmic imperial and ideological wars for hundreds of years shows that they cannot break this historical cycle any more than they can come to their senses and withdrawal from Ukraine. Thus, the best answer to when the war will end is not anytime soon. Russia’s past and present offers the ultimate proof. A decisive Ukrainian victory is the only thing that can change that. Until then, expect the war to continue indefinitely.

Click here for: Exaggerated Comparisons – Bakhmut & Stalingrad (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #319)

Predictable Disaster – The Battle of Vuhledar (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #317)

When this war is over there will be plenty of places that act as graveyards for Russia’s imperial fantasy in Ukraine. These will include the airport at Hostomel which was the setting for the Russian’s planned stealth attack on Kyiv by securing the airport with paratroopers. The attack was a miserable failure and a sign of worse to come for the Russian war effort. Another graveyard is the highway that stretches northward beyond the outskirts of Kyiv. This was where the world’s largest military traffic jam of the 21st century took place when Russian forces were stuck for weeks on end. This turned into the proverbial road to nowhere and then hell on earth. Russian soldiers were picked apart by Ukrainian hit and run attacks. Those that were left alive retreated across the border to Belarus.

There are other graveyards of Russian imperialism further afield. They can be found on Snake Island where the Russians were embarrassed by multiple failures, the roiling waters of the Black Sea where the Russian flagship Moskva came to a very bad end, the ruined villages, towns and cities in the Donbas where the remains of Russian soldiers disintegrate into the earth. Generations from now, some villagers will come across a skull, arms or leg bones, perhaps a shoe or sock that is the last remnant of men who were sent to fight and die for an imperial fantasy turned nightmare.

Calculating the Casualties – Russian Armored Losses at Vuhledar

Haste Makes Waste – A New Low
The most recent Russian imperial graveyard is located near the city of Vuhledar in the Donbas region where the largest tank battle of the war took place last month. The battle was nothing short of a disaster for the Russians. Initial reports stated that they suffered heavy losses of tanks and armored vehicles in an offensive operation where they were sent to attack across open ground without any artillery covering fire. To compound problems, Vuhledar is located on a height above the surrounding area. The position would have been difficult for a well-trained army steeped in combined arms warfare to capture. The Russian army is neither well trained nor well led. The Kremlin has been demanding a winter offensive to begin as soon as possible. The saying, “haste makes waste” is an appropriate way to describe what happened near Vuhledar. The Russians rushed into battle and a predictable disaster resulted, except in this case the disaster was much greater than anyone might have expected. A new low for Russian armored operations was set.

In mid-February I published a post about the debacle at Vuledar. At the time, reports stated that the Russians had lost thirty-one tanks and armored vehicles in the failed assault. There was much more carnage to come. Russian commanders were not content to lick their wounds and retreat. Instead, they stubbornly stuck to a failed plan. No matter the cost in men and material, the Russians will soldier on in the face of failure instead of cutting their losses. This is true even when the result has already proven insanely lethal. At Vuhledar the Russians continued their assaults over a three-week period which resulted in the loss of 137 tanks, armored/specialized vehicles and trucks. This is an incredible number even by the standards of Russian failures in Ukraine.

Going nowhere – Russian tank lost at Vuhledar

Dwindling Options – Rate of Attrition
While the Russians have an advantage in the number of tanks they can field as opposed to Ukrainian forces, they cannot afford to lose as many as they did at Vuhledar in such a short amount of time. The Russian military supply chain cannot come anywhere near building enough tanks and armored vehicles to make up for the losses. Simple mathematical estimates show just how much the losses at Vuhledar hurt the Russian war effort. The Russians have only one working tank factory in the entire country. This is simply astonishing for a nation whose ruling regime is militaristic in the extreme. Considering that Russia inherited most the Soviet Union’s military-industrial infrastructure, having one tank manufacturing facility shows that not only has the Soviet industrial legacy largely disintegrated in Russian hands, but the Putin regime’s supposed modernization of the Russian military was nothing of the sort. The war in Ukraine has exposed just how barren the Russian cupboard is when it comes to sophisticated military hardware.

The one tank factory, UralVagonZavod was massive during the Soviet period. The situation today could not be more different. That is due to the usual problems found in Russia’s military, namely corruption and mismanagement. These have limited the factory’s operations to the point that it can only manufacture 20 tanks a month. In addition, the factory can refurbish and restore another eight tanks per month. These are older and less sophisticated models that are unlikely to survive for long on the battlefield, but they are better than nothing. The Russians have a fetish for quantity over quality, but the former is now lacking. If UralVagonZavad can only manufacture and/or refurbish 28 tanks a month then it is going to be extremely difficult to keep up with a rate of battlefield attrition like what happened at Vuhledar.

Into oblivion – Russian tanks under attack at Vuhledar

Detrimental & Deadly – Rush To Judgment
Most worrisome from the Russian perspective is that future Ukrainian offensives are likely to have tanks and armored vehicles spearheading them. The Russians will not be able to match quality with quantity, at least not if they continue to make assaults with careful preparation and planning. Many nationalists and influential military bloggers in Russia are calling for commanders to be removed and brought up on charges of gross negligence. The truth is that the blame for the debacle at Vuhledar ultimately lies at the top. Putin has demanded an offensive. He promoted Valery Gerasimov, a loyal and trusted commander, to go on the offensive. This has proven detrimental and deadly to Russian military prospects. Armored assaults are highly complex operations that require artillery cover fire and infantry assistance. The Russians simply are not capable of executing combined arms operations with any success. The pressure from the Kremlin to take the offensive only exacerbates matters. The result was the disaster at Vuhledar. Many more failures are likely to follow.

Click here for: Indefinite Conclusions – Ukraine, Russia & No End In Sight (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #318)

To Be Continued – Russia, Ukraine & Prolonging The War (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #316)

The Ukraine-Russia War shows no signs of ending anytime soon. As a matter of fact, the war now looks more likely to continue for several more years than it does end in 2023. Both sides are nowhere near exhausting their resources. While the Russians have lost an incredible amount of men and material, they keep finding more of both for the battlefield. This has not proven decisive, but it has prolonged the war. The Ukrainians are at a major disadvantage vis a vis the Russians when it comes to manpower and weaponry. Fortunately for them, NATO and the European Union are their top two allies. They have committed to supplying the Ukrainians at least in a hypothetical sense for “as long as it takes” to expel Russian troops from Ukrainian territory.

“As long as it takes” can be interpreted in different ways. It is more a message for the Russians – specifically Vladimir Putin – than it is for Ukrainians. “As long as it takes” sounds open ended, but because Ukraine’s allies have democratic governments that policy could be open to change. Political considerations are always at the forefront in western nations that wage war. Governments are much more fluid than autocratic ones. The will of the people could lead to less support for Ukraine, but not anytime soon. For now, “as long as it takes” is good enough for Ukraine since it means support will be provided throughout the foreseeable future which includes 2023.

Standing together – Volodymyr Zelensky at the European Union

Disruptions & Concessions – Non-Aligned Nations

For Russia, keeping the war going would seem to be much easier than it is for Ukraine. That is because Vladimir Putin has as close to total political control of Russia as anyone since Josef Stalin when it was part of the Soviet Union. Putin is the despot-in-chief and his word is final. Anyone who thinks otherwise need only look at his unilateral decision to invade Ukraine. Of course, Putin was advised by a small coterie of trusted cronies, but he was then and still is today the ultimate arbiter of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Putin’s isolation from others both inside and outside Russia is as much an asset as it is a drawback for Russia continuing the war. Dissenting voices have been silenced inside Russia by the threat of imprisonment or worse. The only checks on Putin’s prosecution of the war come from outside Russia.

Several nations – such as India – that are not aligned with Russia nor Ukraine and the west, have expressed their displeasure to Putin for invading a sovereign nation’s territory. And it is not just the violation of internationally recognized borders that upset many non-aligned nations, even worse was the economic upheaval the war caused in everything from food supplies to rising prices to disrupting energy flows. Russia has been forced to offer some of these nations concessions to mitigate the economic disruption. For instance, selling India oil at prices well below market value. Putin can stomach the criticism as long as these countries do not align with Ukraine and the west. In the Kremlin’s world, being for Russia amounts to not being against it. That is the best Putin can expect.

Desperate despots – Kim Jong Un & Vladimir Putin

The China Syndrome – Friends of The Friendless
If there is one nation that Putin cannot afford to alienate it is China. While Putin counts other totalitarian countries such as Belarus, Iran, and North Korea among Russia’s staunchest allies, none of those nations is a mighty power. At best, Iran is a midsized power that like Russia is disruptive. The Iranians do not have the economic or military heft to be a major player in the war. They are reduced to supplying weapons, but not nearly as many as Russia needs. As for North Korea, it is the ultimate pariah state with an economy that is more medieval than modern. The North Koreans can supply weapons and ammunition, but little else.

The one great power Putin cannot afford to turn against him is China.  It is no secret that the Kremlin is doing everything possible to cultivate China. The country is a transformative economic and military power that can have a transformative effect on the conflict. Especially if it began to supply Russia with weapons. China is ruled by Xi Jinping who is as autocratic as Putin just less crass about it. Reportedly, Xi has expressed displeasure to Putin for invading and causing geopolitical instability. China’s rise has been predicated on stability both at home and abroad. Putin’s decision to launch a full-scale war, the largest in Europe since 1945, has wreaked havoc on world markets.

This makes China very uneasy about their relationship with Russia. The Chinese resented getting caught in the undertow of Putin’s war after being surprised by his decision to invade Ukraine. It is doubtful they were given advance notice. This does not mean China is against Russia. Instead, the Chinese lean towards Russia out of self-interest and solidarity with a fellow authoritarian nation. China is deeply involved in a tense relationship with the United States. Anything that is hinders America’s support of the international rules bases order is good with China.

Close contact – Xi Jinping & Vladimir Putin

Powerful Messages – Vision of the World
America and China are locked in a geopolitical competition that could result in a military conflict over Taiwan. That issue is close in nature to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. China sees Taiwan as an inseparable from it in much the same way Russia saw Ukraine. If Russia’s war in Ukraine fails, than this would serve to boost western confidence in dealing with China over Taiwan. On the other hand, if Russia gains a victory or at least keeps part of the territory it now occupies in Ukraine, that will send a powerful message that might makes right. This would bolster China’s confidence that they could invade Taiwan and gain control of it. Of all the actors outside of Russia and Ukraine in the war, China and the United States have the most to gain or lose depending upon the outcome. Whichever side emerges victorious will see it as strengthening their vision of the world. The Ukraine-Russia War is a fight for the future world order.

Click here for: Predictable Disaster – The Battle of Vuhledar (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #317)