by Tahir Mahmoud (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 3, Shawwal, 1444)
As the war in Ukraine grinds on in the style of First World War trench warfare, the country is virtually decimated. Its infrastructure lies in ruins and Ukrainian losses in manpower are colossal. It is forced to press gang young men into service after a few weeks of rudimentary training, making them perfect cannon-fodder.
Despite this grim reality, western propaganda continues to hype-up the presumed Ukrainian counteroffensive. It is, however, becoming increasingly clear to policy-makers in the upper echelons of government that the propaganda war does not correspond to reality on the ground.
The BBC’s take on classified US documents leaked online states that “according to the Washington Post newspaper, one document from early February expresses misgivings about Ukraine’s chances of success in its forthcoming counteroffensive, saying that problems with generating and sustaining sufficient forces could result in ‘modest territorial gains’. Ukraine’s difficulties in maintaining its vital air defences are also analysed, with warnings from late February that Kyiv might run out of critical missiles.”
If and when the military scene heats up in Ukraine, both Russia and Ukraine may find their domestic political front far more critical than any activities on the military front. The Ukrainian regime led by a comedian-turned-politician, Vladimir Zelensky has created an unrealistic expectation among citizens that it will be able to retrieve all or most of the territory captured by Russia. Sober analysis shows that Ukrainians are unlikely to achieve dramatic results.
On the Russian side, the Kremlin has framed the issue stating that if Ukraine fails to achieve significant gains, the Russian government will be able to sell it to its population as a victory. Especially, after dozens of documents leaked online confirmed that western special forces are directly participating in Ukraine. This has been highlighted by Moscow on numerous occasions only to be dismissed in the west as Russian propaganda.
It is now clear that governments in both Ukraine and Russia have cornered themselves into a political dead end. They have promised to their respective populations much more than they can deliver. This can turn into a political wildcard for both sides domestically.
In Russia’s case the notion of rallying around the flag has so far insulated the government from widespread popular discontent. This is also the case in Ukraine but because it is becoming increasingly apparent to people that its leadership is too dependent on external powers for survival, a prolonged war can trigger popular discontent. While it is unlikely to topple the Zelensky-led regime in Kiev, it will make it very difficult to fight a prolonged war against Russia, a much larger power with vast resources.
On the Russian side, divisions are emerging within the armed forces fighting in Ukraine. It is becoming quite common on the Russian speaking internet to read and hear Russian troops in Ukraine making stern social demands of the leadership in Moscow. This is a phenomenon that Russia has had multiple terrible historical experiences with in the 1900s.
It appears that neither side is going to accept a compromise, despite efforts by China to offer to mediate. This means that a protracted Syria-type war will continue inside the western geopolitical sphere for sometime. The emergence of another global power bloc may be needed to persuade both sides to arrive at a political settlement.
This third bloc may be China aligned with Turkiye and Iran. It could also be Saudi-Iranian-Turkish regional cooperation that may lead to a situation to create the environment for a settlement.
What has become clear is that the US, backed by its NATO allies, is using Ukraine as a sacrificial lamb to fight its proxy war against Russia. The US and other western regimes have also sent mercenaries to help the Ukrainians to continue fighting. Ukrainian losses are quite heavy and do not appear to be sustainable in the long-run.
While Russia is also suffering losses, given its huge population and its ability to cushion most people from the devastating impact of war, Moscow is in a better position to sustain the conflict. Further, Russia and China are working together in many fields including economic and military, that will enable Russia to withstand the negative fallout from the war.
In recent weeks, some extraordinary developments have taken place between Russia and China. From March 20 to 22, Chinese President Xi Jinping was warmly received by his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow. The Chinese foreign ministry press release of Xi’s arrival in Moscow on March 20, said: “President Xi noted that both being major countries in the world and permanent members of the UN Security Council, China and Russia play important roles in international affairs. In a world of volatility and transformation, China will continue to work with Russia to safeguard the international system with the UN at its core, the international order underpinned by international law, and the basic norms of international relations based on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. China will work with Russia to uphold true multilateralism, promote a multi-polar world and greater democracy in international relations, and help make global governance more just and equitable. He is confident that the visit will produce fruitful results, and inject fresh impetus into the sound and steady growth of China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for the new era.”
Such optimism was not misplaced. The Russian media reported that President Putin made an extraordinary gesture by escorting President Xi to the limousine as he left the Kremlin following the state dinner on March 21 evening. And during the goodbye handshake, the Chinese president reportedly responded, “Together, we should push forward these changes that have not happened for 100 years. Take care.”
Despite their calm demeanor, the Chinese have been appalled by the insulting behaviour displayed by President Joe Biden in his State of the Union address on February 7. He went off-script and hysterically shouted, “Name me a world leader who’d change places with Xi Jinping.”
Following the display of such bad manners, the Chinese are not in a mood to forgive. Beijing has rebuffed several attempts by the White House seeking telephone conversation for Biden with President Xi. It has also driven them much closer to Moscow, and Putin especially.
There have been other developments of far-reaching consequences between Russia and China. On an official visit to Russia from April 16 to 19, Chinese Defence Minister General Li Shangfu was received by Putin for a “working meeting” in the Kremlin, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. This clearly signifies the great importance Russia attaches to its relations with China.
Putin said at the meeting with Li that military cooperation plays an important role in Russia-China relations. Russia had indicated much earlier its willingness to share technology with China for an early missile warning system. Putin had disclosed as early as October 2019 that Russia was helping China to create such a warning system that would greatly enhance China’s defensive capacity.
Both countries face US-NATO belligerence on their doorsteps—Ukraine in the case of Russia and Taiwan and the South China Sea for China. They see deeper cooperation as important to confront—and defeat—such American adventurism.
Flushed with cash, the Chinese are keen to invest in Russia. This is a win-win situation for both. And on April 23, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said that Moscow will increase pipeline gas supplies to China by 50 percent this year.
As the Americans huff and puff like the big bad wolf, they cannot bring down the house the Russians and Chinese are building together.