Ukraine, the war and a Chinese hope for settlement

Feb 24, 2023
Vladimir Putin with Wang Yi (2018 04-05)

The anniversary of the war in Ukraine was accompanied by high level visits to both Moscow and Kviv.

One visit appears to offer at least a glimmer of hope and the other presents a picture of more destruction, suffering and death. Chinese foreign minister Wang’s meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov and president Putin was overshadowed by the media frenzy and hype that accompanied president Biden and Zelensky’s meeting. That is hardly surprising. We live in an age where celebrity and pizzazz is more important than substance or gravitas.

The Biden visit to Ukraine was presented almost as a show-biz event. ‘Lights, camera, action.’ The script was an easy one. Simply repeat the line ‘freedom’ and wait for the reviews to come out. The Moscow meeting has far more significance, or at least has the potential to be more significant. Biden and the White House knew this and so regardless of what the Chinese and Russians were about to discuss, the Americans simply issued a threat about China arming Russia.

US vice president Kamala Harris denounced Moscow for committing ‘crimes against humanity’ gloated that Russia was now seriously weakened and warned against Chinese support for Russia in the war with Ukraine. Secretary of state Antony Blinken further added fuel to the fire by expressing ‘concerns’ about a ‘possible’ arms deal between China and Russia and that such a step would pose ‘problems’ for the US-China relationship.

The Chinese were quick to point out the hypocrisy of America’s finger wagging and warnings of ‘red lines.’ Chinese foreign affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin made the obvious point, reminding the world that ‘it is the US not China, that has been pouring weapons into the battlefield … The U.S. is in no position to tell China what to do. We would never stand for finger-pointing, or even coercion and pressurizing from the US.’ Wang argued that China supports peace and that it is the US that is promoting the conflict in Ukraine.

The Chinese diplomat also stressed that bilateral relations between China and Russia are entirely the affair of China and Russia and that the United States would be better served by promoting a political solution to the crisis rather than seeking ways to benefit from the war.

The visit to Moscow by the Chinese foreign minister comes at a time when hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, when the infrastructure of much of Ukraine has been destroyed and when the economic capacity of both Russia and Ukraine has been seriously weakened. Military victory, one way or the other, seems an intensely remote possibility. This is clear when we consider that the weight of the US military, and that of NATO, along with their allies have led to stalemate. The war goes on and with it the suffering. Negotiations are inevitable, but for the US who call the shots, the solution is a long way off. China appears to be prepared to act as an honest broker and is being demonised for its efforts.

Foreign minister Wang spoke of Russia’s ‘reaffirmation’ of a willingness to resolve the issue through negotiation. This needs to be considered, not from the perspective of a media that has long ago given up any right to be considered objective. No statement from Moscow will be given any credence. No contribution from China will be considered as being worth positive comment. For the United States, its allies and the world media, there is no shade of grey. There are only good guys and bad guys, white hats and black hats.

Beijing’s Global Times commented on the peace proposals being presented by the Chinese. ‘The document will include some important propositions made by China, which stress that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and the legitimate security concerns of all countries should be taken seriously.’ This simple statement cuts to the centre of the dispute. Both countries do have security concerns. They both have the right to unhindered sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia certainly felt in the lead up to the war that their security was being threatened by NATO. The fact remains that in the period prior to the invasion and in its immediate aftermath, negotiations were underway that would have stopped the bloodbath. The fact that these negotiations were scuppered, that Zelensky was persuaded to pursue the mad scheme presented to him by NATO and the US, is now of historical record.

If peace is to come, then the US and its allies will have to accept that Russia’s security concerns are worth considering. The fact is that NATO, despite assurances, continued to push eastwards in the period after the collapse of the USSR. The fact is that Ukraine was on track to become part of the perceived encirclement. The fact remains that Russia regarded this as a direct threat.

For good or ill, it must be acknowledged that Moscow will never accept a proposal that denies its security interests, and so the conflict will go on. Ukraine’s right to self-determination is also inviolable. No serious attempts have been made to settle the conflict, to end the war, to allow the people on either side of the border to live in peace and security.

China seems prepared to shoulder the responsibility that the United States refuses to accept. People of goodwill can only hope that sense prevails. That, however, presupposes that America is prepared to act honourably and not as history suggests, in its own economic, political and global interests.


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