Bad week for world peace
More resounding than explosions in Ukraine are words uttered over the past few days by top politicians of the rival superpowers. The statements did not quite offer anything new that the rest of the planet should know about, but they did cement the proxy status of the ongoing war between the Ukrainians and the Russians.
War is really bad, but a proxy one can be much worse. Even before they actually began, the battles in Ukraine were shaping up to be a military standoff between the world’s two most powerful alliances. Joe Biden visiting the conflict region this week and Vladimir Putin responding by reiterating his resolve just confirm, to the growing apprehension of anyone watching, that they both can’t afford to lose.
And just as NATO and the United States are getting farther and farther away from the point of no return, China and Russia are gravitating toward each other as expected. Although China is walking a diplomatic and political tightrope while doing so, its current caution will not last forever, not with the spy balloon controversy providing the key backdrop in its relations with America and hence western Europe.
Biden’s dramatic visit to Kyiv on Monday and his stinging speech in Warsaw a day later reinforced the West’s support for Ukraine after heavy weaponry had poured in to help Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It was approaching the limit of what the West could do to keep the war a Russia-Ukraine exclusive.
Militarily, Putin doesn’t want to see that kind of backing for Ukraine. Politically, though, his obvious intention of framing the war as a proxy battle against the imperious West has been somewhat boosted. In a national address coming amid Biden’s Eastern European journeys, he basically said “Let’s see who will be the last man standing as we don’t care how long it takes.”
Putin suggested it could be more years of war. The scenario will test the commitment of Western governments and political tolerance of various populations including the Americans. With “democratic” countries more vulnerable to war exhaustion of the populaces, he seems confident he has the advantage in this aspect.
Meanwhile, it’s only getting clearer this week which side China will be on if push comes to shove. With the espionage row with the United States still simmering, adding to other serious conflicts, top diplomat Wang Yi reaffirmed friendship and close cooperation with Moscow during his visit to Russia that certainly pleased Putin. The Foreign Ministry official was reported to be possibly paving the way for a Putin meeting Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Western analyses don’t rate the impact of lethal Chinese military aide to Russia or even the possibility of that happening. They cite threats of trade sanctions and China’s growing dependence on globalized economy. However, economic problems go both way and the United States’ “two-pronged” distractions on a grand scale _ one against Moscow and the other against Beijing _ only benefit China more or less.
Russia certainly wants to end it quickly, and so does the West. However, all in all, the war in Ukraine will take a lot longer than expected. Ramifications have become more glaring and widespread after this week. The stakes were always high, but they have shot up a great deal further due to the latest developments.
U.S. concerned by China-Russia ties as Putin signals Xi visit
Many wars or “crises” in the world have to do with the showdown between “democracy” and “authoritarianism”. Vietnam, Korea and etc are in fact proxy wars that lasted long, largely because of stakes that extended beyond rights and well-being of the Vietnamese or the Koreans. On the one hand, the Ukraine war is no different because it’s just another proxy. On the other hand, key players are more powerful, weapons a lot deadlier, and circumstances far more sensitive.
To be fair to the Chinese and the Russians, they do not feature in the list of colonial empires that ironically form the core of the ideological camp promoting rights and advocating democracy nowadays. It may just be a coincidence that China and Russia are not promoting rights and advocating democracy and are being dubbed the “bad” guys by the former “bad” guys who are currently “good.”
The two camps have had their share of losing. The end of old-fashioned colonialism was a blow, but so was the breakup of the former Soviet Union. The key players did not stop at their losses, though, and are still pushing forwards.
Whatever all of them really are and whatever they are trying to do, both camps sent messages to the rest of the world over the past few days and their messages are anything but cause for optimism.
By Tulsathit Taptim