Russian-Ukraine lessons on China

Russian-Ukraine lessons on China

Ukraine is now being urged to make 2024 a year of consolidation of abilities before launching a new offensive in 2025. But the reality is that Ukraine will NOT force Russia out of its territory, and its time to draw some lessons in regard to Western policies toward China.

Put simply, the West – particularly with NATO expansion – boosted Russian fears of aggressive containment at the same time as Russia had a president who harbored ideas of restoring Russian greatness. The West cannot control the thinking of Xi Jinping, but it can refrain for boosting Chinese fears of aggressive containment.

Almost 6 months ago I wrote:

“It is almost impossible to imagine Russia agreeing to return Crimea to Ukraine – irrespective of how the war proceeds and irrespective of who is in power in Moscow – because of his historical and strategic significance (particularly naval base in Sebastopol) and the wishes of the local population.  It maybe in Ukraine’s interests to let Russia keep parts of Donetsk and Luhansk in order to avoid having a hostile Russian-orientated population within its borders. Anna Aruntunyan has written that “according to a poll conducted in April 2014 by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, over 70% of respondents in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine – where support for Russia was far less consolidated than it was in Crimea – considered the government in Kiev illegitimate.” There is little reason to believe that these numbers have since become more favorable for Ukraine. As for the other annexed regions of Zaporozhye and Kherson, they are not vital to Russia’s interests, but they may be vital determinants of whether or not Putin stays in power. If Russia can retain these, Putin will be able to spin this as a victory for the security of Russia. If these regions are returned – in whatever way – to Ukraine, Putin is unlikely remain in power because these are the only tangible things that his very costly ‘special military operation’ has achieved.”

See my on-line book about the Future of the Russian Economy:

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius stated on 19 January that Germany must consider that Putin may try to attack a NATO member in five to eight years, given threats from the Kremlin “almost every day.”

The reality is that Putin is not a great threat to NATO because his domestic policies are a threat to Russia. At this stage the Russian economy looks to be in a good position thanks to Western ineptness in its sanctions policies (even NATO member Turkey ignores them while American friend Saudi Arabia helps keep oil prices high to the benefit of Russian export earnings) and military spending, but looking out “five to eight years” a picture emerges of distorted economic growth caused by that military spending and productivity destroying economic nationalism in the form of “economic and technological sovereignty”, and political oppression. But, it will still have enough military power to defend the majority of its gains in Ukraine!

None of this is a satisfactory outcome for anyone and there will be many regrets, but it is a harsh reality brought about by both Western and Russian bad policy making. Stopping a war is much harder then starting one when attitudes harden on all sides.

But there is more!

I lived in Russia for many years until October 2022 (ten months after the February invasion of Ukraine) and for two years taught a Masters Degree course on Russian foreign policy in Asia at the Higher School of Economics (one of Russia’s most prestigious universities) and have spoken with numerous Russians and visiting Chinese officials. It was universally believed that US policies were pushing Russia and China closer together. There was little Russian interest in Iran and a preference to keep North Korea at arms-length, but we now see how the ideas of NATO expansion have ultimately had an unexpected cascading effect.

I also gave several university lectures in China (Shanghai, Beijing, Shandong) comparing Crimea to the South China Sea, which was enthusiastically welcomed by the students – although I was then officially told to do no more because the issue was sensitive!

See photo:

Western countries should not put China in a position where its fears – justified or not – lead it to actions similar to Russian in Ukraine. For example, AUKUS may be a silly impractical idea – only an Australian idiot could believe nuclear submarines will be built in Australia — that will eventually collapse all by itself, but this does not mean that it will not be perceived as one additional threat and contribute to a tough Chinese response.

Me and Colin Rubenstein – an Australian “traitor”?

Me and Colin Rubenstein – an Australian “traitor”?

I first came across Colin Rubenstein of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) in March 2001 – twenty three years ago – when I was involved in a debate with him about the proposed USA National Missile Defence (NMD) system at an event organized by the Australian Institute of International Affairs (Sydney branch).

Unfortunately, the paper that I prepared is no longer on the Institute’s internet site. However, it is still on my own site:

After the event someone – a former senior government official – remarked to me that Rubenstein was a “racist”. The remark puzzled me because although Rubenstein had made some disparaging remarks about various countries in the Middle-East I did not see how our debate would have led to that conclusion. I surmised that it must be his general reputation!

However, it seemed strange to me that Rubenstein would have such strong views on US National Missile Defence (NMD) and push them in Australian media – particularly as he clearly knew little about Russia. His 16 January 2001, article in the Australian Financial Review (AFR), “Exploding Missile Myths”  is here:

It was clear that Israel would benefit from missile defence systems, with the ever-aggressive US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, saying that the US was prepared to assist friends and allies threatened by missile attacks to deploy such defences.

But, I argued in the debate that Australia would not benefit the NMD because of the great danger of an anti-missile arms race involving the US, Russia and eventually China

Rubenstein had tried to counter this in his AFR article writing that “Russia is reportedly prepared to co-operate with the US in developing boost-phase and tactical systems which would not directly affect Russia’s nuclear deterrent”. I first went to Russia in 1991 and by the time of our 2001 debate had spent quite a bit of time there and met many Russians in various walks of life — and I had read a few history books!

What Rubenstein was saying was wishful thinking about Russia almost on a par with those people arguing that NATO expansion could not be seen by Russians as aggressively aimed at them. Come January 2024 and we now have a situation where general Russian security fears – some might even call it paranoia — which I covered extensively in my paper for the 2001 Institute debate, have led to the invasion of Ukraine.

Overall, it seemed to me that Rubenstein was more interested in providing security benefits to Israel than Australia.

On 15 January 2024 “The Australian” newspaper reported that Rubenstein “has blasted Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s decision to not visit the southern Israeli towns where the October 7 massacres occurred as disappointing and called for her to reconsider”.

Rubenstein is clearly interested in an emotional PR stunt which could be used to Israel’s advantage as he does NOT suggest that Wong go the northern part of Gaza to see the damage done by Israeli bombing!

Rubenstein also said: “Australia’s failure so far to join many of our most important allies – including the US, UK, Canada and Germany – in publicly criticising South Africa’s nonsensical and cynical case in the International Court of Justice alleging Israel is committing genocide in its defensive war against the Hamas terrorists, despite copious evidence Israel is going to great lengths to minimise civilian casualties under very difficult circumstances.”

There are many countries in the world besides US, UK, Canada and (guilt-ridden) Germany and it is hard to see how it is in Australia’s interests to support Israel’s actions in Gaza. We should remember that it was blindly following the US and UK that got us into the disastrous invasion of Iraq which was pushed by an ignorant cabal which included Donald Rumsfeld!

In fact, in April 2003 Rubenstein said the invasion of Iraq war was “just, necessary and very much in Australia’s national interest”. What he really meant was that he thought it was in Israel’s “national interest”. And, even here Rubenstein’s desire to please the US and bolster the defence of Israel has backfired. The debacle in Iraq strengthened the hand of Iran and consequently of organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Many people around the world, particularly in the so-called Global South, see Israel’s actions in Gaza as equivalent to – or even worse than – Russia’s actions on Ukraine. Moreover, while recognizing that Hamas carried out a very brutal terrorist attach on 7 October, many Russians that I spoke to (before I finally left Russia 10 months after the February 2022 invasion) have regarded Russian speaking people in eastern Ukraine has being terrorized for years by Ukrainian nationalists and see Putin’s actions as justified.

Is it in Australia’s interests for it to be seen as hypocritical?

I still do not know if Rubenstein is a “racist” (although I have my suspicions) but I am certain that if he was given a choice between the interests of Israel and Australia — he would choose Israel in a flash!