What a day in Ukraine on Monday, Feb. 20, with the Biden visit to Kyiv - a really brave move by Biden and perhaps the most consequential POTUS visit in post Soviet space since Bush’s visit to Georgia in 2005.

The message from the Biden administration is absolutely clear - we stand firmly behind Ukraine, to the end, and it’s inevitable victory over Russia. If Biden can visit Kyiv then there are few limits to US support for Ukraine - fighter jets are a real possibility.

But all this came on the back of the MSC and murmurings of some Chinese peace deal in the offing. And I think linked therein the Blinken briefing that China might be at the point of providing arms to Russia to assist it in its war in Ukraine.

I think all this is linked. I will explain shortly.

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But why is China suddenly interested in brokering a peace in Ukraine when it has literally sat idly by over the past year and done nothing to help push peace forward?

Well initially I think the Chinese were caught completely off guard by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I don’t think Putin told Xi. And there was some irritation there that a so called ally would not give it any heads up on something so significant that it caused a global cost of living crisis with some considerable impact on China.

I think initially Xi cold shouldered Putin, but not condemning the action, and abstaining in votes against Russia in the UNSC. There was hope in China at least initially that the war would be over quickly with limited impacts on the global economy. Then as the war became prolonged I think Beijing saw advantage in getting cheaper energy and commodity supplies from a sanctioned Russia. And there was also some upside from a weakened Russia because of its war in Ukraine, understanding finally its junior and subservient role in the Russia - China strategic partnership.

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But I think in recent weeks, as Russia’s autumn mass mobilization and then winter offensive seems to have run into the ground in the mud of Bakhmut, the realization has finally dawned in Beijing that Russia is losing this war and actually could suffer a catastrophic defeat with implications back home for political stability.

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The fear now in Beijing is that the war could lead to regime change in Moscow - and the West might now be actively aiming for that - and there is a chance of a pro-Western administration emerging in Moscow. This is the nightmare for China as it would leave it surrounded by the West and separated from much of its commodity supply chains.

Hence China’s new found focus on the need for a peace in Ukraine, before Russia suffers inevitable defeat.

And I think Yi warned Blinken that China might be forced to arm Russia, to get the US to bring Ukraine to the table.

Blinken outed Yi, and then Biden turned up in Kyiv, I think because the Biden team have figured that you only negotiate with Putin from a position of strength. The message hence to Putin is screw you, you need peace then it has to be on Ukraine’s terms.

Interestingly here that leaks of Yi’s peace plan have suggested: a) respect for Ukraine’s territorial integrity - so presumably Russia has to withdraw from Ukrainian territory. Out of Donbas, Kherson and Zaporizhzhiya at least and debate then about the status of Russian troops in Crimea - still covered by that long term BSF agreement/lease from 2009. b) Agreement on limits to NATO enlargement; c) Agreement that nuclear conflict is unimaginable.

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Point c) is kind of taken for granted - surely everyone would agree, albeit this might be a sop to Ukraine that Russia should be forced to respect safety and Ukrainian control over NPPs.

On NATO enlargement limits, Ukraine watchers like me would argue this was never about/caused by NATO enlargement. It was more about Putin’s problem with accepting Ukraine’s right to exist, and his own imperialist mindset. But if it was not really about NATO enlargement to Ukraine, then I think Ukraine could accept some compromise there which assured its defence thru other means. Interesting then to hear the British and Polish prime ministers this week speak about the West delivering security guarantees to Ukraine equivalent to those between the US and Israel.

In the end Ukraine cares more about ensuring its defence and if that can be achieved outside NATO but with cast iron security guarantees from the West and provisions of arms supplies so it can be confident that it can defend itself - as is Israel - then that might just be enough.

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But if Ukraine is guaranteed its security - either by NATO partners and/or with arms supplies - and Russia has to agree to withdraw all its forces from Ukraine (apart perhaps from the BSF in Crimea), then surely Russia has lost Ukraine forever. Can Putin accept that? Is Putin’s position at home so weak now that he might be forced to concede such a solution, pushed to do so by China? Perhaps.

But what has changed in recent days of particular significance is that finally China has been brought to the peace table. Can it broker a deal that both Russia and Ukraine could accept?

It might be able to but it would first have to show Ukraine that it is really an honest broker - it’s actions thus far have shown it is too aligned more broadly with Russia to really understand or appreciate Ukraine’s perspective. If it is to get a peace deal that it says it now wants it needs to get up to speed on Ukraine pretty fast.

I guess also if Chinese threats to arm Russia if the U.S. fails to push Ukraine to the peace table are to mean anything the US has to think that China is serious. But therein it knows if it goes all in in providing military support for Russia it really will be a new Cold War with the West with Europe forced firmly into the U.S. camp against China and Russia. China will lose whatever remaining leverage it might have with Europe against the US. And the world would then appear a very dangerous place with two entrenched armed camps marching to the drumbeat of war. Does China really want that? I don’t think so. So, China is not negotiating here from a position of strength either.

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Reprinted from @tashecon. See the original here.

 

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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