In the China-Russia strategic cooperative partnership, the concept of maritime strategic partnership has not yet been formed. This is not a defect for China-Russia cooperation in the past, but it seems to be a deficiency for the current and future China-Russia relations.
Theoretically, the strategic partnership between China and Russia can cover all fields; in reality, though, this does not mean that the cooperation between China and Russia in all fields has reached the height of strategic partnership. It is in this sense that putting forward the concept of maritime strategic partnership is still of substantial significance to China-Russia relations.
The international and regional cooperation between China and Russia has traditionally been in the Eurasian continent. China and Russia are both vast countries, stretching across the Eurasian continent. They are neighbors and geographically connected. They naturally form a huge Eurasian plate, and their mutual interests are mainly concentrated in the Eurasian continent. Therefore, it is natural that the international and regional strategic cooperation between China and Russia starts from and is based on the Eurasian continent. The major bilateral cooperation projects, such as the SCO, the connection between OBOR and the EEU, the Greater Eurasia Partnership, are all linked by the Eurasian continent and unfold in it.
Although China and Russia have traditionally been seen as continental states, they are bordered by oceans, have long coastlines, consider themselves maritime states, and both are committed to becoming great oceanic powers. From the 1990s, the Chinese government formulated a series of policy documents on maritime development, including China’s Oceans in the 21st Century. Transforming China into a maritime power is also an established strategic goal of China. At the international level, China put forward the initiative of building the Maritime Silk Road in 2013 as well as the proposal of building a maritime community of shared future in 2019. As early as 2001, Russia formulated “The Maritime Theory of the Russian Federation to 2020”, which included the development of the world’s marine resources, the protection of Russia’s maritime interests and the consolidation of its position among the world’s greatest maritime powers.
China and Russia have conducted cooperation related with oceans, including the Arctic cooperation, building of the Maritime Silk Road, joint military exercises in the Pacific, Indian, the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans, the joint aircraft cruising in the Sea of Japan, etc. At the same time, there has been public opinion in the academic circles to promote the strategic maritime cooperation between China and Russia. However, there is no concept of the strategic maritime partnership between the two states.
Under the framework of China-Russia strategic cooperative partnership, China and Russia should form the concept of maritime strategic partnership, which is needed both for practical cooperation and long-term development of bilateral relations. Marine strategic partnership is not the same meaning as marine strategic cooperation. Strategic cooperation points to specific cooperative behavior, while strategic partnership refers to the status of mutual recognition as strategic partners. The concept of maritime strategic partnership will form an overall cooperation framework, integrating continental and oceanic cooperation together and opening up more space for the strategic cooperation between the two countries.
China and Russia have the conditions and possibility to form a strategic maritime partnership. China and Russia have overlapping interests in the maritime area, maybe there could be contradictions in some issues, but no serious conflicting interests. Politically, the two states maintain high-level relations, which serves as the necessary political foundation. Both China and Russia regard maritime development as an important strategic direction. Geographically, China faces the Pacific Ocean and is adjacent to the Indian Ocean, while Russia mainly lies along the Arctic Ocean and has a close view of the Atlantic Ocean. The sea lines of China and Russia are connected to form a complete oceanic continuum. Maritime cooperation is a natural extension of continental cooperation for China and Russia. The two countries have a complementary structure in many aspects of the maritime field. They can make use of each other’s conditions to expand their respective maritime development space and produce greater benefits. Obviously, there will be more and more maritime intersection between the two countries, and more and more areas for cooperation. This will create potential for sustainable development of maritime strategic partnership.
The 21st century belongs to the ocean century. The oceans are becoming the political, economic and security gravity of the world, especially the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, as well as the Arctic Ocean region. The Pacific and Indian Ocean regions are home to four of the six largest economies in the world today: the United States, China, Japan, and India. The Arctic region is becoming a new hotspot of international politics, security and energy exploitation. The ocean regions determine the future distribution of international power and the future development of the world to a considerable extent. In international maritime affairs, neither China nor Russia will be absent, but the two countries can enhance their respective positions to have greater influence through cooperation, which is a more effective way to realize their national interests than working alone.
The basic connotation of the China-Russia strategic maritime partnership concept is that the two countries act as strategic partners to carry out overall, comprehensive and long-term cooperation with each other in maritime areas. Its main regions are the Pacific, Indian, and Arctic oceans, but it can also extend into the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. As part of the strategic partnership between China and Russia, the maritime strategic partnership is consistent with its nature. It is not confrontational and does not target any third country. Its basic goal aims to facilitate development of the two countries.
The major functions of marine strategic partner of China and Russia are to extend their ocean space for development, enhance their development ability, boost their international status and expand influence in marine affairs, better safeguard their interests and marine safety as well as jointly maintain security and stability of oceans, promote the effective governance of the international marine affairs. It will also build a sound foundation for the maritime relations between the two countries, respect for each other’s maritime interests and security, providing a constructive channel and mechanism for the two countries to solve possible problems and contradictions in marine affairs.
The content of marine strategic partnership includes resources development, environmental protection, joint research and investigation, scientific and technological innovation, energy cooperation, infrastructural construction, new channel construction, combat against piracy and terrorism, ensuring the safety of international maritime traffic, marine military strategic and security cooperation, maintaining an international maritime regime that is compatible with a just and fair international order, and so on. However, the marine strategic partnership of China and Russia is open for cooperation in any area, along with the development of the bilateral cooperation, its range of cooperation will grow larger and wider. In order to promote the maritime strategic partnership, China and Russia could set up special agenda and mechanisms.
At present, the main cooperation tracks of China-Russia maritime strategic partners are cooperation in the Arctic and the building of the Silk Road on the ice, the maintenance and construction of international maritime regime, maritime strategic security and military cooperation, and promoting cooperation in the Indian Ocean region.
The Arctic is the region where maritime economic cooperation between China and Russia is most concentrated and where there is the greatest potential and possibility for economic cooperation between them. It is also the region where China and Russia are engaging in building the Silk Road on ice. It almost covers the whole range of the current marine economic cooperation between China and Russia, including climate change, energy development, environmental protection, science and technology innovation, the infrastructure investment and construction, etc… With the global warming, time available for navigation in the Arctic will be extended, this will increase the China-Russia cooperation in business use of the Northern channel. It may even change the basic structure of international shipping routes, from which both China and Russia are expected to benefit.
Russia is an Arctic country, while China is a near-Arctic country. Russia has some concerns about China’s deep involvement in the Arctic. However, China does not pose a threat to Russia’s interests on the two issues it most fears: military security and territorial disputes. So, China’s deeper entry into the Arctic does not actually conflict with Russia’s fundamental interests.
The maritime regime is an important part of the international order, and its status is becoming more and more important. Just as the current international order is chaotic, the current international maritime regime is in disarray. Maintaining and building the international maritime regime is indispensable to building of the international order in the future. In this regard, China and Russia share similar basic political principles which are derived from their consistent or close political positions on the building of the international order. The fundamental point is that both countries respect state sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as settle maritime disputes by peaceful means, on the basis of the UN Charter and international law.
Strategic security and military cooperation occupy a special important position in the China-Russia maritime strategic partnership, which has clearly been demonstrated in the past through military cooperation between the two countries. Both China and Russia are facing serious security threats from sea, some of which are from the same source. Judging from the current trend, the threat will be long-term and increasingly acute. Maritime military cooperation between China and Russia can enhance their respective military defense capabilities and more effectively safeguard their security. A strategic maritime partnership between China and Russia does not guarantee that the two countries will be “comrades-in-arms” in the event of a military conflict, but at least it will help the two countries remain “friends” and provide political understanding and, perhaps, support.
The Indian Ocean region is an important direction of China-Russia maritime strategic partnership not only because of the importance of the Indian Ocean region itself, but also because of the situation after the implementation of the Indo-Pacific strategy by the U.S. The Indo-Pacific strategy unites four important countries in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, namely the United States, Japan, India, and Australia. Based on the Quad mechanism, the four countries try to build a comprehensive cooperation framework across the two oceans, including politics, security, economy, science and technology, environment, public health, infrastructure construction, connectivity, etc. The emergence of such a framework can have a deconstructive impact on the existing multilateral mechanisms in the Asia-Pacific. It also enables the United States, Japan, India and Australia to have a dominant mechanism in the affairs of the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.
There is no doubt that the main target of the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy is China, and the United States does not conceal this. Geographically, the Indo-Pacific strategy also presents a semi-encirclement to China from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean. Under such circumstances, it is an important question whether China and Russia can cooperate and jointly deal with the situation. Due to the exclusive nature of the Indo-Pacific strategy, both China and Russia officially oppose it. However, since the Indo-Pacific strategy is aimed at China first and foremost, the feelings and reactions of China and Russia could be different.
Russia has an instinctive sense of alienation towards the Indo-Pacific strategy and is generally suspicious and opposed to it. This is because Russia has realized that the Indo-Pacific strategy is also a strategic challenge for Russia, it has a negative strategic impact on Russia’s position in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean and Eurasia, as it could marginalize Russia in affairs in these regions.
Nevertheless, Russian public opinion has not reacted strongly to the Indo-Pacific strategy, which is understandable, because Russia is not its focus. The Indo-Pacific strategy is mainly a dispute between China and the United States. Although Russia is not a bystander, it is not at the forefront of the conflict. From this perspective, some Russian academics regard the Belt and Road Initiative as the counterpart of the Indo-Pacific strategy, while others take the community of shared human destiny as its counterpart. Its meaning is self-evident, that is, the contradiction between China and the United States is the main line of the Indo-Pacific strategy, and Russia takes a back place. Objectively speaking, this kind of thinking of Russian academia is natural.
However, this does not prevent China and Russia from dealing with the Indo-Pacific strategy in a coordinated way. From the grand strategy perspective, the cooperation between China and Russia in the Indian Ocean is helpful to ease the overall strategic pressure on Russia, so it is also in line with Russia’s grand strategy interests. Moreover, even if Russia completely avoids the edge of the Indo-Pacific strategy, it will not reduce the pressure of the United States on Russia, but will only make the strategic position of the United States more active, and the position of Russia more passive. Therefore, it is a reasonable strategic choice for China and Russia to jointly cope with the Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States.
The response of China and Russia is not a tit-for-tat confrontation with the Indo-Pacific strategy but an enhanced cooperation in the Indian Ocean region. In other words, the basic way for China and Russia to jointly respond is not to confront the Indo-Pacific strategy but to increase their own development in the Indian Ocean region in a coordinated way. While there are justified reasons for China and Russia to oppose the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, since it itself puts both China and Russia on the opposite side, but there is no need for China and Russia not to accept the Indo-Pacific concept. It should be noted that with the development of globalization, the increasing convenience of transportation and communication, and the expanding scope of regional cooperation, it is natural for the Indian and Pacific regions to be closer and closer economically, politically and in terms of security. It is likely that the Indo-Pacific concept will be used more and more often in the future. China and Russia should not resist the Indo-Pacific concept just because it is used by the U.S. They should not let it become the “patent” of the U.S. and give up the development under the Indo-Pacific concept. China and Russia can also have their own Indo-Pacific vision and should also cooperate under this concept, and there are even more reasons for them to do so in terms of geography and economy as well as politics and security.
The cooperation between China and Russia in the Indian Ocean region has its certain favorable conditions. Both China and Russia have cooperative relations with local countries and maintain presence in the region in different degrees and varied forms. India and Pakistan are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. China and Russia have jointly formed several trilateral dialogue mechanisms with local countries, such as “China-Russia-India” and “China-Russia-Iran”. Both China and Russia have high-level cooperation platform with ASEAN, close relations with Pakistan, and both have transport corridor projects to the Indian Ocean. Although Russia’s presence in the Indian Ocean region is not as extensive and comprehensive as that of China’s, it holds close military relations with the local countries, including India, Pakistan, Iran, also some southeast Asian countries and African countries. It should also be noted that China and Russia each have the most important framework to connect with the Indian Ocean region, that is, China’s OBOR and Russia’s Greater Eurasian Partnership. With all these formats, China and Russia can develop extensive cooperation in the Indian Ocean region and form closer ties with the countries in the region, which is the best way for the two countries to jointly response to the Indo-Pacific strategy.
From our partner RIAC
What is driving Russia’s security concerns?
The current discussions between Russia and NATO pivot on Russia’s requirement for the Alliance to provide legally binding security guarantees: specifically, that the alliance will not expand east, which will require revoking the 2008 NATO Bucharest summit decision that Ukraine and Georgia “will become members of NATO” .
It is useful to shed some light on the underlying points which drive Russia’s deep concerns. Moscow holds that the USSR was deceived on the issue of NATO expansion. At the same time, it is recognised that it was the fault of the Soviet leadership not to acquire legally binding guarantees at that time and the fault of the Russian leadership in the 1990s not to prevent NATO expansion per se. The current acrimony is caused by numerous examples of Western leaders making promises, blurred or straightforward, not to expand NATO further.
But Russia’s proposals were not limited only to political statements. For example, in 2009 Moscow already put forward the draft of a legally binding European Security Treaty.
As to the issue of membership, it is unlikely that Moscow buys certain behind-the-scenes hints that the potential NATO membership of Ukraine is really only a rhetorical position. Often this approach is called “constructive ambiguity”. Moscow strongly believes, with good reason, that in the past all unofficial promises about the expansion of NATO were broken. Why would it believe them now?
Another fundamental point, from Russia’s point of view, is that beside the right to choose alliances, there is a crucial role for the concept of indivisible security, particularly the elements of equal security and the obligation that no country not to strengthen its own security at the expanse of the other. These principles are enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act (1975), in the Paris Charter (1990), in the NATO-Russia Founding Act (1997) and in the Charter of European Security (1999). Therefore, it should be the obligation of both sides to work out the parameters of indivisible security holistically and not to pretend that this is an invention of Moscow.
Arguably, indivisibility of security may include, for example, an obligation not to indicate the other side in military strategic concepts, doctrines, postures and planning as an enemy, rival or adversary. Among other things, it may also include an obligation to halt the development of military planning and military exercises, which designate Europe as a potentialtheatre of war between NATO and Russia. It is Pentagon, which in its official press statements indicate for example Georgia, Ukraine and Romania as “frontline states”.
A common Western argument against Russia’s current draft is that it is difficult to see how such a legally binding guarantee can be achieved when Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty stipulates that its parties, upon unanimous decision, can invite any other European state to join.
But to refer to Article 10 regarding the expansion of NATO after 1991 is not correct. In 1949 Article 10 of course did not envisage the open-door policy for the states that were in the Soviet bloc. After 1991 a qualitatively new situation arose. It was not Article 10 but a political decision of the United States in 1994-1995 to open a totally new chapter in the expansion. That decision was of a paramount importance.
Also, it is said that the United States is similarly unlikely to enter into a bilateral arrangement with Russia regarding NATO expansion, since this would violate Article 8 of the Treaty, whereby parties undertake not to enter into any international engagements in conflict with the Treaty.
Again, the point is not straightforward. The US de facto is the dominant member of NATO, which in most circumstances calls the shots there. According to history, when its national interests demanded, it took decisions that can be interpreted as conflicting or even undermining Article 8. For example, the security interests of the UK were clearly disregarded in 1956-1957 in the course of the Suez crisis due to the actions of the US. Or doesn’t the AUKUS run counter to the security interests of France? Or, for example, didn’t the way in which the US left Afghanistan undermine the security of some other members of NATO?
Short of the legally binding guarantee by NATO, what other options for a settlement might be satisfactory for Russia?
Russia deeply values the status of neutrality that several countries in Europe maintain. Indeed, it would be difficult to dismiss the fact that the international standing of Finland, Austria or Switzerland would have been much lower if not for their policy of neutrality. Moreover, one may say that the security of these countries is even higher than the security of some member states of NATO. So why not consider an option of neutrality, for example, for Ukraine, Moldova or Georgia, buttressed by certain international treaties like it was in the case of Austria?
Another back-up option would be to consider any further theoretical expansion of NATO on the conditions that were applied to the territory of the former German Democratic Republic—i.e. that NATO integrated troops or NATO infrastructure is not deployed on this territory.
Alternatively, a further option could be to place a moratorium on a new membership, for example for 15-20 years, which would not undermine Article 10 per se. For example, Turkey now for 16 years is a candidate-country of the European Union but nobody in the EU pretends that it can become a member in the foreseeable future.
Mutual security concerns could be met if a significant complex of agreements is approved. Firstly, agreements could be made on military-to-military communication, on military drills and exercises, and on patrols of strategic bombers.
Secondly, there could be a NATO-Russia comprehensive agreement on the basis of well-known IncSea and dangerous military activities agreements.
Thirdly, there is scope for an agreement on an obligation not to deploy in NATO members, bordering Russia, any strike systems, either nuclear or conventional.
And fourthly, in the league of its own, there could be an agreement on a Russia-NATO legally binding moratorium on the INF land-based systems, both nuclear and conventional.
Finally, on Ukraine, it is often said that Ukraine is much weaker than Russia and has no ability to launch and sustain a large-scale offensive against Russia. This misses the point.
Russia is concerned about two things. First, that there is no guarantee that sooner or later a third country would not decide to sell to or deploy in Ukraine strike systems that will endanger Russia’s security. Second, that Ukraine may attack not Russia but Donbas, like Poroshenko did in 2015, to try to solve the problem with military means and at the same time to try to involve NATO in military confrontation with Russia. This could be called a Saakashvili style of doing things.
It is unlikely that Russia will ever agree to restrain the movement of troops on its own territory, which would be quite humiliating. This would be a matter for a new CFE treaty if such a treaty is ever revived. Another question is what is considered “in proximity to the Ukrainian border”? At present, the deployment of most additional Russian troops, described by Western sources as “in proximity”, is minimum 200-300 km from the border. Does it mean that Russian troops will be prohibited from approaching its own borders in proximity, for example, of 400-500 km?
Meanwhile, on the other side there are more than 100 thousand Ukrainian troops concentrated on the contact line with Donbas, and much closer to it than the distance between the Russian troops and the Russian border. It is interesting to note that maps, which Western media these days is so fond of printing and which show locations where Russian military forces are stationed or deployed on the territory of Russia, do not have any indication of Ukrainian troops disposition. What happens if Ukrainian troops receive orders to attack Donbas akin to orders that Saakashvili gave his troops in 2008 to attack Tskhinval? It is clear that Moscow will never let Kiev take Donbas by force destroying the whole edifice of the political process based on the Minsk-2 agreements, which, importantly, in 2015 became a part of the UN Security Council Resolution. The additional Russian troops deployments are intended to deter Kiev from attacking Donbas and they are not a harbinger of “invasion of Ukraine”.
At present there are conflicting signals coming from all sides, which can be interpreted in many ways. Warmongers shout that diplomacy is a waste of time and that only muscle-flexing and even application of hard power will teach the other a lesson. Still, most top policymakers in Moscow, Washington and major European capitals seem to prefer further consultations and dialogue, both public and confidential. In the sphere of arms control in Europe and CBMs, on which there is an ample pool of expert recommendations, the US and NATO have let it be known that they are ready to talk seriously with Moscow.
The situations in the Baltic region and in the Black Sea region require urgent and lasting de-escalation. A compromise on the issue of further expansion of NATO should be reached in a way that satisfies both sides in spite of each having to make necessary concessions. A final imperative is that the US-Russia tracks on the future of strategic stability and cyber security should proceed unhindered. The P5 statement of January 2022 on preventing nuclear war and avoiding arms races needs to be followed by a P5 summit – the Russian proposal that was unanimously supported in 2020.
In summary, Western and Russian diplomats, both civil and military, need time to continue their work, which is of existential importance.
From our partner RIAC
In 2022, military rivalry between powers will be increasingly intense
“Each state pursues its own interest’s, however defined, in ways it judges best. Force is a means of achieving the external ends of states because there exists no consistent, reliable process of reconciling the conflicts of interest that inevitably arise among similar units in a condition of anarchy.” – Kenneth Waltz,
The worldwide security environment is experiencing substantial volatility and uncertainty as a result of huge developments and a pandemic, both of which have not been experienced in a century. In light of this, major countries including as Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and India have hastened their military reform while focusing on crucial sectors. 2022 might be a year when the military game between big nations heats up.
The military competition between major powers is first and foremost a battle for strategic domination, and the role of nuclear weapons in altering the strategic position is self-evident. In 2022, the nuclear arms race will remain the center of military rivalry between Russia, the United States, and other major countries, while hypersonic weapons will become the focus of military technology competition among major nations.
The current nuclear weapons competition between major nations will be more focused on technological improvements in weapon quality. In 2022, the United States would invest USD 27.8 billion in nuclear weapons development. It intends to buy Columbia-class strategic nuclear-powered submarines and improve nuclear command, control, and communication systems, as well as early warning systems.
One Borei-A nuclear-powered submarine, two Tu-160M strategic bombers, and 21 sets of new ballistic missile systems will be ordered by Russia. And its strategic nuclear arsenal is anticipated to be modernized at a pace of more than 90%. This year, the United Kingdom and France will both beef up their nuclear arsenals. They aspire to improve their nuclear forces by constructing new strategic nuclear-powered submarines, increasing the quantity of nuclear warheads, and testing new ballistic missiles.
Russia will commission the Zircon sea-based hypersonic cruise missiles this year and continue to develop new hypersonic missiles as a leader in hypersonic weapon technology. To catch up with Russia, the US will invest USD 3.8 billion this year in the development of hypersonic weapons. Hypersonic weapons are also being researched and developed in France, the United Kingdom, and Japan.
Surviving contemporary warfare is the cornerstone of the military competition between major countries, and keeping the cutting edge of conventional weapons and equipment is a necessary condition for victory. In 2022, major nations including as Russia and the United States will speed up the upgrade of primary war equipment.
The United States will concentrate on improving the Navy and Air Force’s weaponry and equipment. As planned, the US Navy will accelerate the upgrade and commissioning of weapons and equipment such as Ford-class aircraft carriers, Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines, and F-15EX fighter jets, as well as develop a high-end sea and air equipment system that includes new aircraft carrier platforms and fifth-generation fighter jets.
Russian military equipment improvements are in full swing, with the army receiving additional T-14 tanks, the navy receiving 16 major vessels, and the aerospace force and navy receiving over 200 new or better aircraft. The commissioning of a new generation of Boxer armored vehicles in the United Kingdom will be accelerated. India will continue to push for the deployment of its first homegrown aircraft carrier in combat. Japan will also continue to buy F-35B fighter jets and improve the Izumo, a quasi-aircraft carrier.
The US military’s aim this year in the domain of electromagnetic spectrum is to push the Air Force’s Project Kaiju electronic warfare program and the Navy’s next generation jammer low band (NGJ-LB) program, as well as better enhance the electronic warfare process via exercises. Pole-21, Krasukha, and other new electronic warfare systems will be sent to Russia in order to increase the automation of electronic warfare systems. The electronic warfare systems of the Type 45 destroyers, as well as the Type 26 and Type 31 frigates, will be upgraded by the United Kingdom. To build combat power, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces will continue to develop the newly formed 301st Electronic Warfare Company.
Around the world, a new cycle of scientific, technical, and military upheaval is gaining traction, and conflict is swiftly shifting towards a more intelligent form. Russia, the United States, and other major countries have boosted their investment in scientific research in order to win future battles, with a concentration on intelligent technology, unmanned equipment, and human-machine coordinated tactics.
This year, the US military intends to spend USD 874 million on research and development to boost the use of intelligent technologies in domains such as information, command and control, logistics, network defense, and others. More than 150 artificial intelligence (AI) projects are presently being developed in Russia.
This year, it will concentrate on adapting intelligent software for various weapon platforms in order to improve combat effectiveness. France, the United Kingdom, India, and other countries have also stepped up their AI research and attempted to use it broadly in areas such as intelligence reconnaissance, auxiliary decision-making, and network security.
In the scope of human coordinated operations, the United States was the first to investigate and has a distinct edge. The US intends to conduct the first combat test of company-level unmanned armored forces, investigate ways for fifth-generation fighter jets to coordinate with unmanned reconnaissance aircraft and drone swarms, and promote manned and unmanned warships working together on reconnaissance, anti-submarine, and mine-sweeping missions.
Russia will work to integrate unmanned equipment into manned combat systems as quickly as feasible, while also promoting the methodical development of drones and unmanned vehicles. Furthermore, France and the United Kingdom are actively investigating human-machine coordinated techniques in military operations, such as large urban areas.
Spotlight on the Russia-Ukraine situation
The United States of America and Russia have recently been at loggerheads over the issue of Ukraine.
Weeks ago the leaders of the two superpowers behind the Ukrainian situation convened a meeting on the crisis. Although they both drew a clear line between them during the meeting, they made no political commitment, thus showing that the political chess game surrounding Ukraine has only just begun.
In what was seen as a “frank and pragmatic” conversation by both sides, President Putin made it clear to President Biden that he was not satisfied with the implementation of the February 11, 2015 Minsk-2 Agreement (which, besides establishing ceasefire conditions, also reaffirmed arrangements for the future autonomy of pro-Russian separatists), as NATO continues to expand eastward. President Biden, in turn, noted that if Russia dared to invade Ukraine, the United States of America and its allies would impose strong “economic sanctions and other measures” to counterattack, although no US troop deployments to Ukraine were considered.
Although they both played their cards right and agreed that they would continue to negotiate in the future, the talks did not calm down the situation on the Ukrainian border and, after the two sides issued mutual civilian and military warnings, the future development on the Ukrainian border is still very uncertain.
Since November 2020 Russia has had thousands of soldiers stationed on Ukraine’s border. The size of the combat forces deployed has made the neighbouring State rather nervous.
The current crisis in Ukraine has deepened since the beginning of November 2021. Russia, however, has denied any speculation that it is about to invade Ukraine, stressing that the deployment of troops on the Russian-Ukrainian border is purely for defensive purposes and that no one should point the finger at such a deployment of forces on the territory of Russia itself.
It is obvious that such a statement cannot convince Ukraine: after the 2014 crisis, any problems on the border between the two sides attract attention and Ukraine still has sporadic conflicts with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.
Firstly, the fundamental reason why the US-Russian dispute over Ukraine is hard to resolve is that there is no reasonable position or room in the US-led European security architecture that matches Russian strength and status.
Over the past thirty-two years, the United States of America has forcibly excluded any reasonable proposal to establish broad and inclusive security in Europe and has built a post-Cold War European security framework that has crushed and expelled Russia, much as NATO did when it contained the Soviet Union in Europe in 1949-1990.
Moreover, Russia’s long cherished desire to integrate into the “European family” and even into the “Western community” through cooperation with the United States of America – which, in the days of the impotent Yeltsin, looked upon it not as an equal partner but as a semi-colony – has been overshadowed by the resolute actions of NATO, which has expanded eastward to further elevate its status as the sole superpower, at least in Europe, after its recent failure in Afghanistan.
Maintaining a lasting peace after the great wars (including the Cold War) in the 20th century was based on treating the defeated side with tolerance and equality at the negotiating table. Facts have shown that this has not been taken on board by the policy of the United States of America and its Western fawners and sycophants. Treating Russia as the loser in the Cold War is tantamount to frustrating it severely and ruthlessly, thus depriving it of the most important constituent feature of the post-short century European security order.
Unless Russia reacts with stronger means, it will always be in a position of defence and never of equality. Russia will not accept any legitimacy for the persistence of a European security order that deprives it of vital security interests, wanting to make it a kind of protectorate surrounded by US-made nuclear bombs. The long-lasting Ukrainian crisis is the last barrier and the most crucial link in the confrontation between Russia, the United States of America and the West. It is a warning to those European countries that over the past decades have been deprived of a foreign policy of their own, not just obeying the White House’s orders.
Secondly, the Ukrainian issue is an important structural problem that affects the direction of European security construction and no one can afford to lose in this crisis.
While Europe can achieve unity, integrity and lasting peace, the key challenge is whether it can truly incorporate Russia. This depends crucially on whether NATO’s eastward expansion will stop and whether Ukraine will be able to resolve these two key factors on its own and permanently. NATO, which has continued to expand in history and reality, is the most lethal threat to security for Russia. NATO continues to weaken Russia and deprive it of its European statehood, and mocks its status as a great power. Preventing NATO from continuing its eastward expansion is probably the most important security interest not only of Russia, but also of European countries with no foreign policies of their own, but with peoples and public that do not certainly want to be dragged into a conventional war on the continent, on behalf of a country that has an ocean between Europe and itself as a safety belt.
The current feasible solution to ensure lasting security in Europe is for Ukraine not to join NATO, but to maintain a permanent status of neutrality, like Austria, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, etc. This is a prerequisite for Ukraine to preserve its territorial integrity and sovereignty to the fullest extent possible, and it is also the only reasonable solution for settling the deep conflict between Russia and the United States of America.
To this end, Russia signed the aforementioned Minsk-2 Agreement of 2015. Looking at the evolution of NATO over the past decades, however, we can see that it has absolutely no chance of changing a well-established “open door” membership policy.
The United States of America and NATO will not accept the option of a neutral Ukraine, and the current level of political decision-making in the country is other-directed. For these reasons, Ukraine now appears morally dismembered, and bears a striking resemblance to the divided Berlin and the two pre-1989 Germanies. It can be said that the division of Ukraine is a sign of the new split in Europe after Cold War I, and the construction of the so-called European security – or rather US hegemony – ends with the reality of a Cold War II between NATO and Russia. It must be said that this is a tragedy, as the devastating consequences of a war will be paid by the peoples of Europe, and certainly not by those from New England to California.
Thirdly, the misleading and deceptive nature of US-Russian diplomacy and the short-sightedness of the EU, with no foreign policy of its own regarding the construction of its own security, are the main reasons for the current lack of mutual trust between the United States of America – which relies on the servility of the aforementioned EU – and Russia, terrified by the nuclear encirclement on its borders.
The United States took advantage of the deep problems of the Soviet Union and of Russia’s zeal and policies for the self-inflicted change in the 1990s – indeed, a turning point – at the expense of “verbal commitment” diplomacy.
In 1990, on behalf of President George H. W. Bush’s Administration, US Secretary of State Baker made a verbal promise to the then Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, that “upon reunification, after Germany remaining within NATO, the organisation would not expand eastward”. President Clinton’s Administration rejected that promise on the grounds that it was its predecessor’s decision and that verbal promises were not valid, but in the meantime George H. W. Bush had incorporated the Baltic States into NATO.
In the mid-1990s, President Clinton indirectly made a verbal commitment to Russia’s then leader, the faint-hearted Yeltsin, to respect the red line whereby NATO should not cross the eastern borders of the Baltic States. Nevertheless, as already stated above, President George H. W. Bush’s Administration had already broken that promise by crossing their Western borders. It stands to reason that, in the eyes of Russia, the “verbal commitment diplomacy” is rightly synonymous with fraud and hypocrisy that the United States of America is accustomed to implementing with Russia. This is exactly the reason why Russia is currently insisting that the United States and NATO must sign a treaty with it on Ukraine’s neutrality and a ban on the deployment of offensive (i.e. nuclear) weapons in Ukraine.
Equally important is the fact that after Cold War I, the United States of America, with its mentality of rushing to grab the fruits of victory, lured 14 small and medium-sized countries into the process of expansion, causing crises in Europe’s peripheral regions and artfully creating Russophobia in the Central, Balkan and Eastern European countries.
This complete disregard for the “concert of great powers” – a centuries-old principle fundamental to ensuring lasting security in Europe – and the practice of “being penny wise and pound foolish” have artificially led to a prolonged confrontation between Russia and the European countries, in the same way as between the United States of America and Russia. The age-old trend of emphasising the global primacy of the United States of America by creating crises and inventing enemies reaffirms the tragic reality of its own emergence as a danger to world peace.
All in all, the Ukraine crisis is a key issue for the direction of European security. The United States will not stop its eastward expansion. Russia, forced into a corner, has no other way but to react with all its might and strength. This heralds Cold War II in Europe, and lasting turmoil and the possible partition of Ukraine will be its immutable destiny.
The worst-case scenario will be a conventional war on the continent between NATO troops and Russian forces, causing millions and millions dead, as well as destroying cities. The war will be conventional because the United States would never use nuclear weapons – but not out of the goodness of its heart, but out of fear of a Russian response that would remove the US territory from the NBC security level.
To the point that that we will miss the good old days of Covid-19.
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