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Russia-China and the warning against Ukraine of falling into the “trap of Western democracy”

photo: © UNICEF/Aleksey Filippov

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Perhaps the current Ukrainian crisis with Russia has redrawn the international order, and made the most prominent analysis here focus on whether the United States of America is launching a (counterattack on the Shanghai Treaty Group, of which Russia and China retain its membership), so that American support for Ukraine in the face of Russia, would enable  The United States of America and its allies in the “NATO” alliance, from the reorganization and spread from the (shores of the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus to the South China Sea).

  Russian President “Putin” focused on regional aspects and international groupings to strengthen his regional and international partnerships and relations, such as Russian membership in groupings: (BRICS, Shanghai Organization, Organization of Islamic Cooperation… etc), and in Russia’s immediate vicinity, he diplomatically practiced in (Belarus, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan), causing troubles in (Ukraine and the Baltic states) or using the direct force in (Georgia).

  There is the beginning of re-mapping, there are shifts in local government and adjustments, albeit slow, in world power with such extreme liquidity, the most important thing that can be done is to be very careful in assessing things at the moment. We are actually living in a state of “global division”, meaning that the world has been divided into two camps, in what looks like a (new cold war), meaning that there are two camps: (the camp of resistance and the camp of resistance), i.e. Russia, China and their friends in the face of the United States of America and its allies.

  • There’re several special points emerged, regarding:

 The most prominent opportunities that China can gain from any possible confrontation that may occur in the Ukraine crisis (in the event of Russia’s intrusion into Ukraine). Here, the observers talked essentially about (three opportunities), which are:

 A- Reducing US pressures on China (with emphasis on tensions between Russia and the West)

 B – A Chinese test of the West’s reaction (to study the possibility of achieving the same thing in the Taiwan file)

 C – The establishment of a “new world order”

  • In addition to the questions, revolving around:

To what extent can China support Russia in the Ukraine crisis, and will China venture economically?

  I think that the Ukrainian crisis bears with it the features of a new world order, and a sharp global division that the world is witnessing at the present time, between the United States of America and its allies, China and Russia.  Especially after the United States of America divided the world into two camps, which are:  (democratic and totalitarian non-democratic countries), which was apparent in the “Democratic Leaders Conference” in December 2021. Hence, we can understand the nature of the general scene, as follows:

 There is a Chinese-Russian agreement on the need to confront Washington and its allies and seek to undermine their areas of influence. Therefore, the Russian and Chinese parties are playing an alternative role to the two Western military alliances led by the United States of America, namely: (North Atlantic Treaty Organization “NATO”) and the “Aukus” alliance, which was established after the signing of the (new Aukus Defense and Security Agreement) between the United States of America, Britain and Australia in 2021, as it undermines “stability and just peace” in the world.

  Hence, the Chinese-Russian benefits lie in “unifying the front of demands”, by issuing a joint statement in which it was emphasized that (Moscow and Beijing oppose any expansion of NATO’s membership in the future). Noting the Chinese fear – which is the new thing – of suspicious American moves in the “Indo-Pacific” region in the American sense or (Asia-Pacific region) in the Chinese sense, to establish a (new military office) and the opening of a new branch of “NATO” in the region close to Chinese influence, with emphasis that the Asian region is completely far from the areas of influence of “NATO”, which are those countries that overlook the Atlantic Ocean. But, suspicious American moves were noticed at the end of the era of former US President “Trump” to include both (Australia and Japan) in “NATO” membership, with some secret visits that China revealed to US Defense Secretary “Mark Esper” to Australia, and his meeting with the Australian Minister of Defense to agree on Australia’s membership in “NATO” in the future, which irritates China in the first place.  It will confront it strongly, if it is discussed publicly and internationally, given the distance of Australia and Japan from the spheres of influence of “NATO”. Therefore, the Russian-Chinese demands share the non-allowance of Ukraine to “NATO’s membership”, and the non-expansion of “NATO” in the future.  This is to prevent the United States of America from taking advantage of that by demanding the inclusion of other countries to undermine Chinese influence and on its borders, as the United States of America and its allies did in Russia’s areas of influence in Eastern Europe.  Therefore, Russia’s first and main demand for China in order to reduce the tension between them and the West over Ukraine was to establish “security guarantees” that would allow the non-expansion of NATO’s membership, and Ukraine’s non-inclusion of “NATO” and its annexation to the Western camp opposed to the rule of Russian President “Putin”.

  The most important opportunities for China come from the Ukrainian crisis, which is to find security demands, to protect Russia’s security by not expanding NATO’s membership, and not feeling threatened by “NATO”, so the Chinese and Russian parties agree to stop (the policy of expanding the alliance and withdrawing NATO forces from Eastern Europe), which the Europeans and Americans consider unacceptable.

 We note the joint Russian-Chinese opportunity in their support for the principle of “one and indivisible security”, which is the principle on which the Russians and the Russian Kremlin rely with China to demand the withdrawal of “NATO” from Russia’s vicinity, and their constant affirmation, that “the security of others cannot be realized on the calculation of them”, despite the right of each country, and therefore Ukraine as well, to choose its alliances.

  On the other hand, China is also seeking to ease pressures on it from its Taiwanese side, especially with the Western and American support for Ukraine in the face of Russia, a support that allowed Ukraine, as it emphasized in its official statements, to thwart the “intimidation strategy” that Moscow has been practicing against it for a few months.  Consequently, Russia and China jointly reject the principle of Western and American interference in their immediate neighboring areas of influence.

  Russia and China fear losing the first real confrontation with “NATO” and the West, led mainly by Washington, given that if Ukraine joins “NATO”, perhaps “NATO” will, under its obligations towards member states, try to constantly exist in Eastern Europe and impede the exchange and partnership between Russia and China, and perhaps the reclaiming the crimes from Russia, will weaken the Russian and Chinese joint alliance globally. Therefore, accusations of Russia and China increased to “NATO” countries, led by the United States of America, of increasing Ukraine with weapons, and at the same time accusing the United States of tensions and color revolutions to impede Russian development and curb, undermine and curtail Sino-Russian cooperation in favor of increasing American and Western influence in Russia’s areas of influence in Eastern Europe and the “Indo-Pacific” region, which is close to the areas of direct influence of China, especially after the United States signed the “Aukus Defense Agreement” with Australia and Britain.

 China is trying to gain a foothold and influence in this crisis and play a role in favor of its Russian ally by demanding guarantees that “NATO” will not expand to the east, and to (end NATO’s military activity in Eastern Europe), which means withdrawing combat units from countries, such as: (Poland, the three Baltic states of “Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania”), as well as the demand not to deploy missiles in countries, such as: (Poland and Romania).

  From here, we understand that we are facing a new world order that has begun to take shape with Beijing’s explicit support for the Russian position, with the Chinese Presidents “Xi Jinping” and the Russian “Putin” keen to show the alliance of their positions globally in the face of Western and American pressures imposed on them, which prompted them to sign a huge gas agreement worth $400 billion at the height of the crisis over Ukraine.

  With China’s attempt to confirm its rejection of the Cold War mentality, and to demand that all parties completely abandon the Cold War mentality, in parallel with “establishing a European security mechanism” that is balanced, effective and sustainable through negotiations and not war or intervention in favor of supporting one of the parties, with the Chinese claim that it should take  Russia’s legitimate security concerns are seriously taken.

 Here, China is being pressured through its “Ukrainian paper” under the name “Threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan”, as an indirect attempt to draw the world’s attention to Taiwan in its confrontation with China.

  Here, Beijing and Moscow agree on the importance of coordinating their joint actions regarding the Ukrainian crisis, but the American response, as usual, will be by declaring that the Russians and the Chinese represent a threat to the world order and international and regional stability. This is the current US strategy for confrontation.

   In my personal opinion, Russia and China are smarter than making their units within the influence of their opponents, and (they will not allow Washington to achieve its aims, plans and goals by playing with the Ukrainian and Taiwanese cards together at the same time to mobilize the world against China and Russia).

  Also, Beijing does not want to unnecessarily complicate its relations with Moscow by yielding to the American game of Chinese interference in the Ukrainian crisis with its Russian ally.  Russia is an important partner of China in strategic areas, such as: (energy, cooperation in the field of arms, gas, the common border in Siberia, the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, joint projects….etc). At the political and international level, there are common positions between them on regional and global challenges, such as: (the issues of Iran, Syria and North Korea crises, and they are united by opposition to the excesses of the United States of America and its desire to dominate all over the world). Additionally, China doesn’t want to lose the positive momentum gained from the “Beijing Winter Olympics”.

  To my mind, the importance of Ukraine to Russia has never been lost on Chinese observers.  For example, “Wang Haiyun”, a former senior advisor with a think-tank of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), considered that:

 “Ukraine is of fundamental interest to Russia, and China should strengthen consultations with Russia on this issue”

  As I noted by virtue of my academic major in Chinese political affairs, on the other hand, China has an urgent interest in maintaining stability in Ukraine in the long term. China has incentives to prevent the chaos that would undermine economic and strategic relations with the capital, “Kiev”. China is Ukraine’s second largest trading partner after Russia.  China also owns large stakes in Ukraine’s agricultural sector, and it is reported that it signed a deal to invest and cultivate up to five percent of Ukraine’s arable land.

  In addition, China deepened its relations with Ukraine in December 2014, through the “strategic partnership”, which Chinese President “Xi Jinping” signed with ousted Ukrainian President “Viktor Yanukovych”.  This agreement has been valid for five years and the Chinese endeavor to renew it, and it includes a plan of about 30 billion dollars to boost Chinese investments in some Ukrainian regions, including improving infrastructure, cooperation in the fields of (aviation and space, energy and agriculture).

   Here, despite the departure of Ukrainian former President “Yanukovych”, the Chinese Foreign Ministry previously confirmed that the strategic partnership and its provisions are still valid with Ukraine.

  Accordingly, China has a broader interest and conviction in defending the rule of “non-interference in the internal affairs of countries”.  Although China has adopted a more flexible interpretation of this rule in recent years, Beijing is reluctant to condone any external military intervention in Ukraine (without obtaining the approval of the UN Security Council). The reason is that Beijing fears that any breach of this rule, could have its possible implications for the possibility of outside interference in the territories that China claims should belong to China, including (Tibet and Taiwan).

 Therefore, China does not want to move to prevent Russian military intervention, but it may play positive roles in resolving the current crisis in Ukraine for the benefit of its Russian ally.

  Although the evidence so far does not show any movement in this Chinese direction to ease the crisis between Ukraine and Russia.  However, China’s positions were limited to expressing its concern about the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, but it did not blame Russia or urge it to refrain from such a step for fear of deteriorating relations with Moscow, which is essential to the Chinese regime.

  Instead, some Chinese sources focused on (conspiracy theory, expressing Chinese fear of the presence of foreign Western hands), aiming to sabotage Ukraine and involve Russia in igniting the conflict. In a previous editorial in the “People’s Daily”, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, China asked the United States of America and its Western allies to abandon the “Cold War mentality approach” to the Ukrainian crisis, while at the same time warning Ukraine not to fall into the “trap of Western democracy”.

  Here, we will find that there is no doubt that these Chinese positions have becomes (similar to the previous Chinese positions regarding the Arab Spring revolutions and all the colored revolutions in Eastern Europe as well).

  In the Syrian case, (Russia was able to eliminate the opposition backed by America), the Russian approach included political flexibility and smart diplomacy, but in essence it included support for the “Bashar Al-Assad” regime through the bombing of civilian areas.

  We can also find out here that Assad’s forces were facing Sunni Arab forces seeking to overthrow him, but the Russian intervention gained Assad’s forces the upper hand through systematic bombing campaigns against their places of concentration. Russia used a number of military tactics to support “Bashar al-Assad” with the help of the Iranians, and to provide political cover for Assad. Russia adopted (a political strategy against the internal armed opposition in Syrian territory on the accusation of supporting it from abroad), which resulted in the displacement of many residents and internal opposition forces and their families to neighboring countries, and Russia’s strategy of forced displacement cost neighboring countries and the international community more than $100 billion in aid.

  We can note here, Russia dealt with the opposition with political flexibility by dealing with the defeated opposition and its sponsors, as (Russia violated several agreements signed with Turkey in four areas and allowed “Assad” to control them, with the exception of (the Idlib agreement), which forced Ankara to enter thousands of soldiers  to protect it from Russia. Russia’s diplomacy was a tactician, coordinating its diplomacy with military support for Syria, by seeking to weaken the morale of the armed opposition by (portraying Moscow as the capital of the solution to the Syrian issue) and control of the Iranian militias, but everyone is worried about the influx of refugees.

  In short, Russia’s counterinsurgency approach was the opposite of that of the United States of America in Afghanistan, meaning that it had a small effect rather than a large one, by adopting various and deliberate tactics in front of the Syrian armed opposition opposing the survival of the “Bashar al-Assad” government, instead of worrying about losses in the ranks of civilians, tolerance of Assad’s weaknesses or acceptance of a distorted state, then Russia’s attempt to win over the internal and international opposition after that, through Russian dealings, according to the duality of “we are facing them”, and the end result of all this, the recognition of the existence of “Bashar al-Assad” on the top of the power force by the Russian assistance, which is known as “Russian-style success” through various different tactics.

  Accordingly, we can predict that any Ukrainian rebellion will be the Russian response to it fierce and clever, militarily and politically. However, there is a positive factor, albeit accompanied by risks, which is that when Russia faced strong military forces, such as: (America, Israel and Turkey), it tries to defend its security with regard to the matter. In the Syrian case, Moscow was holding the stick from the middle, and deliberately giving priority to the interests of others with great political flexibility, and this was clear in the Turkish case, and its agreement after that on its understanding of the Turkish position that each party should respect the interests of the other.

  We find that the Russian President “Putin” took advantage of the world’s preoccupation with the war of statements and mutual condemnations between him and Washington regarding the Ukrainian crisis, and on Monday, February 21, 2022, he invaded the cities of “Lugansk” and “Donetsk” in the “Donbass region” in Ukraine, which are officially recognized by Russia as “independent states” away from Ukraine. The Russian President, “Putin” justification for the reasons for that recognition, of the seriousness of the situation in the “Donbass region” of Ukraine, considering that the Ukrainian capital “Kiev” has fallen under full US control, and that Ukraine’s accession to the (North Atlantic Treaty Organization “NATO”) constitutes a threat to  Russian security nationalist President “Putin”, who has also made several accusations against the Ukrainian side of manufacturing its own nuclear weapons for use against Moscow with the help of “NATO and the West”, and under the American planning to threaten Russia’s security through its regional neighbors in Ukraine, and “Putin” considered that “Ukraine is completely now under American control”.

  The first international reaction came through the meeting of “European Union foreign ministers”, on Monday, February 21, 2022, with the approval, during their meeting in Brussels, of (the decision to establish an advisory mission for military training in Ukraine). And he considered that the launch of such cooperation in the military field between Ukraine and the West would be an “important political signal to increase the presence of the European Union in Ukraine, which will provoke President “Putin” strongly”, despite the European affirmation that this mission will not be a “troop mission combative”.

 Here, a number of analysts argue for the scene, that it has become imperative for US officials to work to (prevent Moscow from re-applying and publishing its strategy for dealing with the Syrian opposition in Ukraine).

  American options are very limited, as “Putin” insists on restricting spheres of influence in Ukraine, and American diplomats proceed from the assumption that they are discussing a diplomatic crisis between countries, but “Putin” here sees Ukraine as “belonging to his country” and “Putin” sees interference in Ukraine as “an interference in Russia’s affairs  interior”.

  The problem here is that Ukraine is a country of the Soviet Union, and Putin sees himself as the Soviet man, and the world may see that “Putin” has suffered from megalomania, but this does not mean that “Putin” is irrational, rather he does not want to be shared by the West.  In interfering in the Ukrainian crisis as a country belonging to his “old Soviet legacy”, at a time when the Russians see “Putin” as the loyal party who will restore Russia’s glory as a superpower and a great power in the international arena.

  We can recognize as well that President “Putin” is highly awareness that whoever opens fire on others must be prepared for the consequences, because this is definitely not in Russia’s interest, especially when we talk about the economic game whose origins the Americans know well, which is namely the “economic sanctions”.

  Some Western analysts tend to say that some Western powers have good pressure cards against the Russian economic elites from businessmen close to President “Putin”, and who put their money in London banks, as they will face real costs and personal losses, with the threat of the “Biden administration” of the stick economic sanctions on their money abroad, if they support President “Putin” in confronting Ukraine.

  We can say here, that even if the United States of America is serious about defending Ukraine, it (will not go to war because Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and if the Biden administration is not serious about the option of sanctions against Russia, it must find a way out of the crisis, the compromise is the acceptance of Moscow’s conditions, and “Putin” is smart enough to declare that he has defeated “NATO” by negotiation). Therefore, the Americans must ensure the presence of a crisis team and communications with the “NATO” allies, and keep the forces in a state of alert for events that may be dire, because “Putin” may lead Europe – according to the American vision – to war and destruction if he insists on going to war.

  Here, it may be necessary for the West to prepare to overcome the current crisis with minimal losses, while planning to use the great Western ability to restrict Russia from launching a military adventure that will cost Europe and the whole world a lot for other years to come.

  There is an escalation in the language of the Russian challenge to the United States of America and the West, as Russia stood behind the unrest in eastern Ukraine under the pretext of preserving its citizens, and helping to separate (Donetsk and Luhansk provinces located in the Donbas region) from the Ukrainian central government, and the Russian threat to recognize their independence, despite the Western and American rejection and objection to this separation.

 Russia did not hide its policy towards Europe, as it considered the necessity of (restricting the expansion of “NATO” towards the east, in order to preserve its areas of influence and ensure its security) as a major strategic objective.

 Russia is fighting in Europe to ensure that this goal is achieved, taking advantage of its heritage and history on the continent, which depends on the presence of a population, cultural and linguistic extension in the nearby neighboring countries, ie the countries of the former Soviet Union.  Russia considers that the protection of its citizens abroad is one of the tools that the Russian state uses to achieve its goals in the European continent, in order to justify its interventions and resort to hard force if necessary, in order to protect its citizens, in light of a broad and broad Russian security definition of the concept (Russian citizenship abroad).

  Russia put forward the “idea of ​​Russian intervention to protect its citizens abroad”, which came during the era of former President “Yeltsin” in 1992, to refer to those Russian citizens who live outside the borders of the Russian state. This proposal is fully consistent with the Russian security doctrine and the mechanism for achieving it, and that to ensure the continuity of Russia’s communication with nearby neighboring countries, through Russian citizens. All Russian strategic security documents in recent years have focused on emphasizing the (concept of Russia’s protection of Russian citizens abroad), which is basically a Russian pretext for intervention in geographical neighboring countries to address any disturbances or disturbances, as in the Ukrainian case, etc. The Russian government has set up many government programs to strengthen Russia’s relations with its citizens in the near abroad.

  Perhaps the final analysis, which the Egyptian researcher may have reached to understand the nature of the development of the ongoing conflict between Russia, the West and the United States of America over Ukraine, is NATO’s military fears of the “military and defense rapprochement between Russia and China”, especially with the recent shedding of light on a number of (joint military exercises), which reached China’s territory in the “Ningxia region” in August 2021, in which forces from the Chinese and Russian armies participated, which may be considered a feature of the accelerating rapprochement between the two powers, which raised the concern of the camp of the United States of America and its allies in the Atlantic Alliance, we fear that the frameworks of cooperation between them will evolve to take the form of the defense alliance and the structure of joint command, with its long-term goals and strategies on the field of international politics.

Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit

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Zelenskyy Could and Does Make Mistakes Too

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The war in Ukraine has transformed President Volodymyr Zelenskyy from a rather weak leader to a world-renowned one who has become a household name. Now a celebrity president, Zelenskyy has been delivering war aid and inspiring speeches on social media, while condemning Russia.

Although Zelenskyy has successfully created a positive image and has countless fans, he is not a god and might make mistakes.

Mariupol has been a hotspot of the war in Ukraine, a city trapped in Russian military territory and embattled on all sides. At the same time, an isolated Ukrainian garrison, which includes part of the Azov fighters that Russia calls “Nazis” and wants to eliminate.

The challenge is that the geopolitically savvy Russian President Vladimir Putin knows very well how to manipulate Mariupol’s garrison to create geopolitical opportunities. Therefore, he ordered not to attack the Azov steel plant in Mariupol but to use them as a bargaining chip. Shortly thereafter, then came the decisive moment. After more than 80 days of unexpectedly heroic fighting, the Ukrainian garrison finally ran out of ammunition and food. At the last minute, even their wives begged the Pope to intervene, hoping to save their lives.

If Putin agrees in good faith to stop the attacks on the Ukrainian garrison, further peace talks are possible. The world will take note of this, and Turkey is willing to provide ships and security to pick up the Ukrainian garrison of the steel plant, ensuring that they would not return to the front until the war is over.

At noon on May 16, the last chance came. The Azov regiment commander Denis Prokopenko, who is often engaged in media coverage, said that the Ukrainian garrison in the Azovstal factory had completed their task and successfully distracted the Russian army for 82 days and attracted a large number of Russian forces. His statement appeared to announce the end of the siege of the steel plant. On the same day, Russian media also mentioned that Russia and Ukraine had reached an agreement to evacuate seriously wounded soldiers from Azovstal to the Russian-occupied city of Novoazovsk. Reuters reported that about a dozen buses carrying the Ukrainian garrison had left the factory.

The world believes that negotiations between Ukraine and Russia to withdraw the garrison from the Azov steel plant appear to have achieved some kind of result.

On May 17, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces first issued a statement saying that the Mariupol garrison “has completed its combat mission”. The commander of the Ukrainian army unit defending the Azovstal steel plant received an order from the highest military command “to save the lives of personnel”, the statement stated. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that 53 seriously wounded soldiers have been taken to medical facilities in Novoazovsk. Another 211 defenders have been sent to Olenivka through humanitarian channels and will be returned to government-controlled territory through a prisoner-of-war exchange process, and measures are currently being taken to rescue the other defenders who are still at the Azovstal steel plant.

Somewhat subtly, Azov regiment commander Denis Prokopenko said in a video statement that his soldiers succeeded in distracting the overwhelming enemy force, which allows the rest of the Ukrainian forces to restructure. He however also pointed out that, “the main thing is to realize whether all the risks have been calculated, whether Plan B has been worked out, whether you have fully dedicated yourself to this plan, which should combine fulfilling the task and ultimately preserve lives and health of personnel”.

Prokopenko also emphasized that, “war is art, not science”. “This is the highest level of command and control of troops, especially when your decision is approved by the top military leadership”.

Later on May 17, Zelenskyy said that “Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive”. He also mentioned “thanks to the actions of the Ukrainian military – the Armed Forces of Ukraine, intelligence, the negotiating team, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations, we hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys,” Zelenskyy said further, recalling that among them were seriously wounded soldiers, to whom medical assistance is now being provided. He also stressed this point, “I want to emphasize: Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive. This is our principle. I think that every adequate person will understand these words”.

Up until this point, I believe most people still think that the Ukraine-Russia talks are going well and executed.

Inexplicably, the Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister states that Russia would not implement the agreed agreements. Then, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko revealed “negotiations between Russia and Ukraine are not going on anymore,” accusing Ukraine of not agreeing to Russia’s conditions. Since then, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian President’s Office, confirmed that the talks have been suspended. The risks that what Prokopenko, the commander of the Ukrainian Azov regiment, feared most have fully emerged.

Negotiations between Ukraine and the Russia are currently on hold. Mikhail Podolyak, adviser to the Chief of Staff of the Ukrainian President, mentioned on Ukrainian TV. “Russia does not understand that the war is no longer waged according to the rules, schedule or plans of Russia in any sense, while the professional resistance of Ukraine only ramps up”. He firmly stressed that none of Russia’s goals can be achieved, and Ukraine will not trade territory for peace with Russia. “It is ideologically unacceptable for us to give something to the Russian Federation and pretend that it was some kind of easy war,” Podolyak said further. “We cannot afford any Minsk agreements. Therefore, we must de-occupy all our territories”. He said that a new Minsk agreement could be signed by another president, but not President, as it would only worsen the conflict in the next one or two years.

His remarks seemed to imply that President Zelenskyy rejected Russia’s negotiating terms and insisted on fighting to the end. The challenge is that the successive surrender of the Azovstal’s regiment has become unmanageable.

The Ukrainian garrison that was originally besieged by the Russians at the Azovstal steel plant has surrendered. Instead of being exchanged back to Ukraine, they were evacuated to areas controlled by Russian forces and pro-Russian armed forces. A Russian negotiator even called for the Ukrainians to be sentenced to death because “they do not deserve to live”. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, Ukrainian soldiers and the regiment surrounded by the Azov steel plant in Mariupol are still coming out to surrender. On May 18, 694 people surrendered, 29 of whom were wounded. Since May 16, the total number of surrendered Ukrainian garrison has reached 959, including 80 wounded.

As it stands, information on the entire negotiation over Azov steel plant is not transparent and deliberately fabricated or modified.

For example, who rejected Turkey’s participation? Was it Russia or Ukraine? Turkey has provided security, so is there no security in the negotiations now? Did the Ukrainian garrison want to surrender and Zelenskyy had to agree to surrender, or did the negotiations go wrong? Did the Ukrainian negotiators advocate for a deal with Russia, or did Russia later tear up the deal and frame the Ukrainian military presence? Did Russia tear up the deal because Zelenskyy refused to continue the negotiations?

None of these questions have clear answers. The only certainty is that Russia and Ukraine did negotiate, but no agreement is reached. However, the Azov steel plant militants had begun to surrender in large numbers.

Amidst such confusion, Zelenskyy is now having a hard time explaining that he had nothing to do with it. The Modern War Institute took note of the confusion in this diplomatic negotiation and can only assert that a diplomatic agreement has been reached.

So far, Zelenskyy has provided no further explanation for the negotiations, and this is unfair to the Mariupol garrison. Zelenskyy should instead make use of existing resources to achieve better conditions. From the negotiation process, he did not do so. Whatever his decision might be, there will certainly be negative impacts on Ukrainian society and even the morale of the garrison. Part of the reason apparently has to do with his overly optimistic view of the war in Ukraine.

All the chaos came at a price, the Russians continue to bomb the Azov steel plant simply because the Azovstal regiment is still fighting there.

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A Weapon of War: Rapes in the Ukraine-Russia Conflict

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Warfare has always involved violent activity. It is the state-sanctioned, societally accepted form of murder determining which nation-state or non-state actor has power over an enemy. Like any area of society, however, warfare is governed by a series of laws and regulations (commonly known as the Law of Land Warfare) being codified in international law in 1899, 1907, and 1929 and by individual nation-states afterward. While these rules are often followed by at least one entity in a military conflict, there usually is a violation of the Law of Land Warfare in any military action.

While every violation is incredibly serious and important, one that often stands out in military conflicts is sexual assault or rape.

While it is one of (if not the) most abhorrent criminal actions known to man, rape has and always will be a commonality in warfare and violent conflicts. It is practically as old as warfare itself. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “… [wartime] rape was long considered an unfortunate but inevitable accompaniment of war—the result of the prolonged sexual deprivation of troops and insufficient military discipline” with the Second World War being a prime example of wartime rape on both sides of the conflict. Until the prevalence of international law in the late 20th century, wartime rape was “mischaracterized and dismissed by military and political leaders—in other words, those in a position to stop it—as a private crime, a sexual act, the ignoble conduct of one occasional soldier, or, worse still, it has been accepted precisely because it is so commonplace”, according to academics writing in Johns Hopkins University’s SAIS Review of International Affairs.

Partly due to an increase in unconventional conflicts involving non-state actors, “the international community began to recognize rape as a weapon and strategy of war, and efforts were made to prosecute such acts under existing international law” including Article 27 of the Geneva Convention and multiple declarations by the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights, the Fourth World Conference on Women, the International Criminal Court, and the UN Security Council. These declarations and codifications further allowed for the protection of men, women, and children in combat zones from rape in addition to making crimes of sexual assault eligible to be considered as crimes against humanity or war crimes.

While international law is clear and the penalties for such actions heavy, nation-states and non-state actors can choose to disregard such laws. This is best exemplified in the current era with the Ukraine-Russia Conflict.

While most persons first heard of the rape of Ukrainians by Russian troops in mid to late April of 2022, roughly two months into the invasion, reports and developments on wartime rape by Russian troops was circulating heavily. The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), looking at information received and vetted between the 22nd of February and 26th of March, reported there were “heightened risks of conflict related sexual violence (CRSV)” in addition to “a high number of women and girls [who are feeling Ukraine] face high risk of human trafficking and sexual exploitation”. While these reports were based on secondary sources or “made by alleged witnesses”, it is worth noting that Ukrainian law enforcement and the Prosecutor General of Ukraine all began investigating multiple reports of sexual assault of Ukrainians by Russian troops and that, generally, victims of rape may not report for a variety of reasons.

Other international entities, including Human Rights Watch, the New York Times, and BBC News, all reported further allegations of rape by Russian soldiers in Ukraine, yet these were relatively overshadowed by the news of active combat.

One of the first major outlets to report on this was The Guardian on 4 April 2022 which documented reports from victims and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on rape in Ukraine. Interviewing Kateryna Cherepakha, the president of sexual assault charity La Strada Ukraine, “We have had several calls to our emergency hotline from women and girls seeking assistance, but in most cases it’s been impossible to help them physically. We haven’t been able to reach them because of the fighting … Rape is an underreported crime and stigmatised issue even in peaceful times. I am worried that what we learn about is just going to be the tip of the iceberg”.

Throughout April and into May, rapes in Ukraine were reported on more heavily as victims, Ukrainian officials, and every day Ukrainians were speaking up. This drew the attention of many international entities including the International Criminal Court which launched “a war crimes investigation”, citing the rapes as being a key piece of evidence, and the European Parliament which condemned the use of rape as a weapon. The UN’s special representative on sexual violence in war also received “reports, not yet verified” concerning the sexual assault of men and boys throughout Ukraine stating “It’s hard for women and girls to report [rape] because of stigma amongst other reasons, but it’s often even harder for men and boys to report … we have to create that safe space for all victims to report cases of sexual violence”. The UN as a whole has demanded the allegations “be independently investigated to ensure justice and accountability”.

Throughout this military endeavor, Russia has denied allowing the rape of civilians (or any such war crimes) to occur, these denials being bolstered by various American and Western podcasters and questionable news sites. While Russia and other Putin apologists can try to deny such war crimes or illegal violations of the law of land warfare is taking place, others experienced in the field of sexual assault and human rights have contested this. Hugh Williamson with Human Rights Watch (HRW), speaking to CBC Radio, said HRW was “being very cautious … It’s taken us some time to piece it together, to make sure we are absolutely sure it is true and verifiable. We’re not saying this is very widespread, but we worry that it could be”.

While it is still quite difficult to ascertain what exactly is occurring in Ukraine, given the fact that a full on war is being exercised, it is likely to believe that some manner of war crimes, including sexual assault, is occurring. The fact that Russia has historically engaged in misinformation campaigns, knowingly spread false information in regards to the Ukraine crisis, and in the past engaged in war crimes throughout Eastern Europe in the post-Cold War era all indicate strongly that Russia can and will do whatever possible to try and conceal any negative news or obscure any real actions occurring.

Looking at this from a legal perspective, the case for Russian culpability in regards to war crimes and particularly sexual assaults in Ukraine is already being made. With the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in war accurately asserting “Today’s documentation is tomorrow’s prosecution”, proving such crimes will be difficult. Speaking to Dara Kay Cohen, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, NPR reported, “It is very rare to ever have smoking gun evidence that rape was ordered from the top down … There is some degree of accountability, but it is rare. But I think that that does not imply, however, that we shouldn’t be doing our best to collect all of the documentation that we possibly can in order to potentially hold perpetrators accountable”.

Proving or disproving sexual assault in wartime is a difficult task, even more so given the fact that the armed conflict is still occurring. It is without question that there is animosity between the Western world and Russia, which makes there a certain degree of speculation about how prevalent these assaults are. However, at this point, one must look at the facts on the ground.

It is very well documented that multiple Ukrainians are reporting assaults from a wide variety of locations and their stories all follow a similar tone common in military conflicts. The forensic information already collected by independent Ukrainian doctors, prosecutors, and the UN who examine the bodies of those deceased indicates multiple assaults by Russian troops. Intercepted telephone calls from the family of Russian soldiers to the soldiers currently taking part in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also indicate a condoning of such illegal and brutal activities.

At this point, it is undeniable that these reports are impossible to ignore with the forensic, eyewitness, technical, and historical evidence all painting a sinister picture of rape in Ukraine.

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Eastern Europe

The Media Fog of War: Propaganda in the Ukraine-Russia Conflict

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The current conflict between Russia and Ukraine has once again opened up the old wounds of east vs. west, continuing the long-established tradition of distrust and sometimes even open hatred from these two centers of power. This can be seen across the spectrum of media outlets in the west along with their counterparts in the east, as both sides push forth propaganda and favorable coverage so as to always show their side in a favorable light. With western media outlets, their coverage of the war has been very positive for the Ukrainians while showing the exact opposite when considering Russians. Western media quickly picks up Ukrainian propaganda pieces and repeats them for their audiences at home, who then take to social media to gloat over Russian losses and embarrassments. 

Stories like the “Ghost of Kyiv,” the Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island, and others which have later proven to be inaccurate or not based in truth spread like wildfire across media outlets (Thompson, New York Times, Washington Post, etc). Certainly, a story about a Ukrainian fighter pilot shooting down several Russian jets is noteworthy and a country facing assaults from a greater power needs to boost morale every chance it gets. However, the willingness to circulate the Ghost of Kyiv tale across western media outlets displayed a clear bias for the Ukrainian side of the war in the west and, even though many have poked holes in the myth of this mysterious fighter pilot, people still disregard its “fake newsiness.” Thompson pointed out that some users on social media shared a willingness to believe in the propaganda, even knowing that it was made up: “if the Russians believe it, it brings fear. If the Ukrainians believe it, it gives them hope,” remarked one user on Twitter. This set a dangerous precedent as truth became a casualty in the war in favor of people wanting to simply find stories that would support their favored narrative and consequently ignore more accurate reporting.   

Propaganda can be a useful tool for any country fighting to protect itself, but it can also lead to the spreading of falsehoods abroad and even lead some westerners to become inspired to take up arms in a conflict they probably should not get embedded within. Over 20,000 foreign fighters have signed up to fight for Ukraine in an International Brigade after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a call for help. Many of these people have little to no combat experience but were persuaded to fight for Ukraine so that they could be on “the right side of history” or combat injustice in a conflict that has been lauded as a brave underdog battle between the aggressor state Russia – longtime enemy of the west – and the small “noble” nation of Ukraine (Llana, Christian Science Monitor). Propaganda tales amplified by the media are largely responsible for bringing these foreign soldiers into a complex situation that they are not prepared for, ultimately risking an exacerbation of the war rather than a resolution of the conflict.

Stories like these have fortified in the minds of western audiences a strong dislike for Russia, its citizens, and its military. On social media channels, people were quick to put up symbols associated with Ukraine, most commonly, the Ukrainian flag, to show their support for its struggle as many, especially those in America, seemed to instinctively root for any underdog in a war. Support for Ukraine, though, naturally leads to discrimination toward Russians. Disregard for the suffering of Russian soldiers, a willingness to ignore the reasons for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the ostracizing of Russian citizens from the rest of the world – whether physically via travel or economically via sanctions – will have negative repercussions for the international community for years to come. Many celebrate every victory that Ukraine scores against Russia, heedless of the human cost of the war in general. This may very well deepen the divide between east and west before the war ends and force many average Russian citizens into a retributive hatred for those in Europe and North America who treated their country so harshly when they themselves were powerless to stop or prevent the Ukraine-Russia war.  

Russian businesses have also been subject to discrimination in the west. Companies like Starbucks, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, General Electric and McDonald’s all announced that they were temporarily suspending their operations in Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine (Williams, Fox10 Phoenix). Sanctions laid down on Russia in an effort to stagnate its economy also extend to banks, legislators, and even oligarchs but will leave a much more powerful and profound effect on the general populace. This punishment will trickle down to Russian citizenry who have played no part in the conflict at all but will suffer the most from these economic sanctions, simply because they live in the aggressor country.  

This negativity against Russia and its people already existed prior to the Ukrainian-Russian war, but was reignited by the conflict. Many people in the west find it easy to fall into the camp of attacking the long-standing “enemy” due to the history left behind by the Cold War, by the psychologically-imprinted suspicion of those across the sea who threatened us with nuclear weapons for so long. In places like the U.S., there almost seems to exist a willingness to not hear the other side’s point of view, a refusal to acknowledge the sufferings of very human foes who are not so different from their adversaries. The question of why many Americans would even feel the need to take a position in a conflict that has little bearing on their everyday lives could have more than one answer. The need to cheer on an underdog in a pitched struggle, the old hatred left over by the Cold War, or possibly a need to satisfy the age-old good guy vs. bad guy complex which has been hardwired into many people’s minds through television, movies, literature, and other parts of our pop culture. For many, there exists a need to satisfy one’s own moral superiority, a need to establish good from evil. The recent conflict between Ukraine and Russia has given many the outlet they seek for this vindication.  

The question of whether this treatment of Russia is justified or not lies primarily with an individual’s perception of the country as a belligerent at the international level or a nation trying to clearly define where its sphere of influence begins and ends. Russia invading Ukraine and starting a war rife with human tragedy on both sides was not done simply because Russia as a state is a villain or it gets its kicks by starting wars randomly. A deeper examination of the “whys” surrounding Russia’s invasion is desperately needed, where the proffered reasons are given legitimate analytical consideration. So far, this type of analysis has not been done. Ultimately, why it matters is because reaching into that understanding may help prevent a country like Russia in the future from feeling the need to invade at all.  

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