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.