Biden waves his saber at Putin…but it’s Xi he really wants to scare | Simon Tisdall
IIf, as seems increasingly likely, Russia decides not to launch an all-out invasion of Ukraine, the American and British politicians who have spent weeks scaring the public into talking freely about impending Armageddon will have an explanation. to give.
The military build-up led by Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is very real. But suspicion is growing that the real threat as opposed to the hypothetical threat of a full-scale conventional attack is misread, misinterpreted, overstated, or deliberately exaggerated.
It would not be the first time.
This view is shared in part by Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who last week demanded that US President Joe Biden stop suggesting the invasion was “imminent”. Wild American talk about the war was hurting his country and fueling panic, he said.
Fulminating against “self-fulfilling prophecies”, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, also tries to calm the speeches. He and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who refused to join the Armchair Warriors, may soon meet Putin for talks in Moscow.
Warning lights flashed red in late January when British intelligence officials anonymously advised that the invasion could be “two to three weeks away”. This echoed alarmist American predictions of conflict “at any time”.
A furious war against the truth is already underway. Russia says US mercenaries are active in Ukraine. Dubious allegations of a plot to oust Zelenskiy have been floated by Liz Truss’ Foreign Office. Washington says a fake video, which has yet to be seen by anyone, shows a staged attack on Russian forces.
While Britain’s Boris Johnson, eager to show loyalty and distract attention from the party, warned of a “lightning” blow, Biden spoke in messianic terms of a “world-changing” conflict, Starting from February. They may still be right.
But February came, and still no war. As Biden orders the 82nd Airborne Division in Eastern Europe this weekend, Putin is chilling with his ‘dear friend’ President Xi Jinping at the Winter Olympics in Beijing – not an obvious place to launch a blitzkrieg.
Deploring “Western hysteria”, the Kremlin denies any intention to invade. Putin said last week he hoped the ‘dialogue’ would succeed – while refusing to back down. Putin is not a man of confidence. His reasoning is twisted, his cunning notorious, his instincts brutal. But it seems to have been interrupted by the feverish response from the United States.
He now appears focused on securing maximum diplomatic advantage, which means concessions on European security, NATO and new US medium-range missile deployments, while maintaining military pressure. Putin also gave Kiev’s “Western puppets” a bad shock. This may have been his game plan from the start.
If this phony war ends with a whimper, not a bang, Johnson and other mini-Churchills will declare victory, claiming they faced aggression. European leaders will say that diplomacy has been justified.
Even so, relieved people across Europe, subjected daily to heated predictions of chaos, will be entitled to ask: what was it really about? Was the intelligence wrong – again?
The answer, in a nutshell, is China.
It is true that Biden strongly supports NATO, which supports American interests in Europe. It is also true that as a veteran of the Cold War, his instinct is to defend democracy and freedom in the countries threatened by Moscow.
Yet the overriding and urgent orientation of its foreign policy to date has focused on the Indo-Pacific region, and more specifically on America’s biggest challenger, China – not on Europe.
So when the United States faced a potentially unprecedented attack on a sovereign nation, the chilling implications for self-government in Taiwan and Beijing’s other target territories quickly became central to White House calculations.
Taiwan is not a war the United States would necessarily win. This is not a war Biden wants to fight. But he knows that any sign of weakness to Putin over Ukraine can be read in Beijing as indicating fatal weakness in Taiwan.
When citing “world-changing” threats, Biden is primarily talking about this accelerated, borderless 21st-century competition with China. In a globalized world, few, if any, conflicts arise in isolation.
In this sense, Ukraine is a first skirmish in what historians may one day consider another Hundred Years War. Restless Kazakhstan, where Putin recently deployed troops with Beijing’s blessing, is another frontline. Others include potential or actual conflict zones ranging from the Baltic republics and Belarus to Libya, Syria, Myanmar, the Indian border, Xinjiang and the South China Sea.
China and Russia are moving closer to an ever-closer alliance. Their leaders share the same post-communist, authoritarian and nationalist ideology. Both see the United States as the champion of an international, democratic, rules-based system they want to tear down. Both believe that America is in terminal decline.
Even before this weekend’s rendezvous, Putin and Xi had formed a common front to resist Western sanctions on Russia over Ukraine and on China over its repression in Hong Kong and the Uyghur genocide. Now they are doubling.
The two countries play an “important stabilizing role” in world affairs, making international relations “more equitable and inclusive”, Putin told Xinhua News Agency.
As military cooperation and trade develop rapidly, new agreements on gas supply from China, Russia’s largest energy customer, are also in the works. A NATO-style mutual defense treaty may not be far away.
The birth of this Sino-Russian axis, designed in opposition to US-led Western democracies, is the most significant global strategic development since the collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago. It will define the age to come.
Fear of what China might do helps explain Biden’s frantic, sometimes hyperbolic, response to the Kyiv siege. It’s important to show Putin that bullying doesn’t work. But this crisis, fundamentally, does not only concern Ukraine or even Europe. Basically, it’s all about the whole scary, contested, messy new world waiting for you.