Diplomats from the United States and China are scheduled to meet today in Rome to discuss the situation in Ukraine and the handling of Russian sanctions. (I know. What could possibly go wrong, right?) What should have been a fairly routine foreign trade meeting probably became a lot more interesting this weekend when it was reported that Russia has asked China for both financial and military aid to pursue its invasion of Ukraine. Xi Jinping suddenly finds himself in a rather sticky position as a result. He’s been making quite a few promises and deals lately, but Russia’s recent conversion into a global pariah state and the target of unprecedented sanctions and financial penalties across the globe could make their recent partnership a bit too toxic to fully pursue. (Associated Press)
A U.S. official said Russia asked China for military equipment to use in its invasion of Ukraine, a request that heightened tensions about the ongoing war ahead of a Monday meeting in Rome between top aides for the U.S. and Chinese governments.
In advance of the talks, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan bluntly warned China to avoid helping Russia evade punishment from global sanctions that have hammered the Russian economy. “We will not allow that to go forward,” he said.
The prospect of China offering Russia financial help is one of several concerns for President Joe Biden. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said that in recent days, Russia had requested support from China, including military equipment, to press forward in its ongoing war with Ukraine.
This is a situation that needs to be handled delicately, but Biden’s National Security Adviser doesn’t seem to be big on subtlety these days. When it comes to the idea of China sending any form of aid to Russia, Jake Sullivan publicly declared that “we will not allow that to go forward.” Really? We “will not allow” that? It’s almost as if the White House is daring China to do it with that sort of an opening gambit. And Xi Jinping may turn out to be just the sort of leader to take such a dare.
After all, what sort of ammunition does the Biden administration have in the chamber to enforce such a decree? Uncle Joe has already ruled out “starting World War 3,” so a military response is obviously off the table. So would he look to launch another round of global “economic warfare” against Beijing? The global economy is already shuddering and threatening to implode as a result of all of the actions taken against Russia. And China is far more deeply embedded into the economies of most western nations than Russia ever was, thanks to the many mistakes we’ve collectively made when dealing with the Chinese Communist Party in the past. The majority of the world may have joined together to take action against Russia for the invasion of Ukraine, but I doubt most of them would be willing to risk the catastrophic economic consequences of doing the same to China just for sending Putin some cash and a few tanks.
China recently announced a “limitless friendship” agreement with Russia prior to the start of the Olympic games. Putin and Xi were seen acting all chummy together in the VIP viewing area. But how far is China willing to push that alliance if it means risking sanctions and economic damage themselves? All of those questions are currently hanging over the meeting in Rome today.
That doesn’t mean that China has an easy path to simply thumb its nose at us, though. They also rely massively on their control of the global supply chain. If there were any sort of concerted moves against Beijing, even if only from the United States and a portion of the European Union, they would be suffering along with the rest of us. So, as I mentioned above, this is a delicate situation that’s going to require some savvy foreign policy expertise to resolve in a way that’s satisfactory to all of the major players that are involved. Given Biden’s history when it comes to foreign policy decisions, let’s just say that I’m not brimming with confidence.
Sadly, the clock may be ticking down when it comes to any cooler heads prevailing in the Russia-Ukraine quagmire. The most recent reports from American intelligence analysts suggest that Vladimir Putin is increasingly “angry, frustrated,” and likely to escalate the hostilities in Ukraine.
More than two weeks into a war he expected to dominate in two days, Vladimir Putin is projecting anger, frustration at his military’s failures, and a willingness to cause even more violence and destruction in Ukraine, in the assessment of U.S. intelligence officials.
Officials in recent days have publicly said they’re worried the Russian president will escalate the conflict to try to break Ukraine’s resistance. Russia still holds overwhelming military advantages and can bombard the country for weeks more. And while the rest of the world reacts to horrific images of the war he started, Putin remains insulated from domestic pressure by what CIA Director William Burns called a “propaganda bubble.”
Well, that’s just great. All we need is for Mad Vlad to go even further down the rabbit hole of paranoia and start taking this disaster to yet another level. So what will it be? A chemical weapons attack based on his constant claims that we have WMD labs in Ukraine? (We’re funding some biolabs there, but there’s no indication that they’re weaponizing anything.) I used to rule out the possibility that Putin would consider lighting off a nuke. But reading these latest reports, I’m no longer 100% sure. He may indeed have lost some of his faculties during the pandemic, and that would suddenly make the world a far more dangerous place.