Vladimir Putin does not have it easy. He knows what he wants, but he doesn’t have the means to get it. He speaks for himself the march of the invasion of him. His victories are pyrrhic, with very high costs in lives and military material, and few and limited advances. He failed his ambitious plan to decapitate the Ukraine in a heartbeat. He has needed 100 days to occupy only a fifth of the country. His forces are exhausted. He is also losing politically: NATO is expanding and strengthening; The unity of the allies is not broken, despite Hungary’s veto of some EU sanctions, and Turkey’s veto of Finland and Sweden joining NATO; and Ukrainian national feeling is growing like never before in history, even among Russophones.
With his war he does not only intend to recover the hegemony of the Kremlin over a country that was part of the Soviet Union, the previous imperial avatar of Russia. He also wants to extend a kind of veto power over the entire sphere of influence conceded by Roosevelt and Churchill to Stalin at the Yalta summit a few months before World War II ended. And in the unlikely event of achieving it, thus changing the international correlation of forces, so that the United States disengages from European affairs, and a divided and weakened European Union is overwhelmed by the victorious Russia.
Its purpose is revolutionary, since it tries to change the international order, but it does not have the instruments or the power to achieve it. Only China has it all, will, power and means, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged in his speech on the White House’s policy towards Beijing. Combating climate change and pandemics, maintaining international value chains or stabilizing the global economy, issues that require consultation with China, is not the same as guaranteeing the supply of energy to Europe or cereals to African and Asian countries, still controlled by Russia, which uses them in its war against Ukraine.
Blinken spoke of China but thought of Russia. He does not want a regime change for China. He does not want a conflict with China or a cold war either. He is not even interested in hindering his rise as a superpower. He is not afraid of a strong China, but what China does with its strength. Hence, he considers her a greater danger than Russia. A way of saying that it is Beijing he fears and not Moscow.
Faced with the war in Ukraine, China maintains a calculated ambivalence. Tactically, he is interested in the destruction that Putin is perpetrating, and hence his implicit support for the invasion. Strategically, she thinks of how to take advantage of the invasion and a defeated Russia, perhaps even offering herself as a peacemaker. Putin is the icebreaker, but it is Xi Jinping who has the ability to build a new authoritarian international order.
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