IIt may be just a coincidence that Russia was building up military pressure on Ukraine last week at the same time that China was loudly waving sabers around Taiwan. Spring, to tear Tennyson apart, is when a young man’s fantasy turns to war, and that twisted maxim can even be applied to aging thugs like Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.
Russia and China are moving towards an ever closer alliance. While there is no evidence of direct collusion over Ukraine and Taiwan, Presidents Putin and Xi are undoubtedly fully aware of each other’s actions, which have an identical, mutually reinforcing effect: curbing Joe’s unproven American administration. Biden.
What is unfolding now could be portrayed as the ultimate fulfillment of George Orwell’s nightmare vision, in his dystopian novel, 1984, from a world divided geographically, politically and militarily into three rival superstates: Oceania (North America plus Great Britain), Eurasia (Russia and Europe) and Estetasia (China).
The publication of Orwell’s book in 1949 coincided with the formation of the United States-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the rise of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union as a nuclear-armed power. It also saw the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China by Mao Zedong. However, these were the first days.
Orwell’s prediction of a never-ending three-way global confrontation proved premature. China needed time to develop. The Soviet Union finally imploded. The United States, declaring a unipolar moment, claimed victory. Yet today, by some measures, Orwell’s tripartite world is finally emerging. 2021 is the new 1984.
If China and Russia are currently uniting against the United States and its satraps, that is normal in a world where no superpower can dominate the other two. In 1972, Richard Nixon sought help from China against the Soviets. Perhaps the United States and Russia will one day combine against Beijing. As Meat Loaf sings it, two out of three are not bad.
Proponents of a multipolar world will say that this is too simplistic and that the strategic balance is more subtle and complex. Tell the people of the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine and occupied Crimea, who are facing a deeply unsubtle Russian military build-up along the “line of contact.”
The consensus among analysts is that Putin is not about to invade. So what is he up to? Apologists suggest it was sparked by a Ukrainian decree last month declaring Russia’s 2014 recapture of Crimea an official government goal, and by further talks about Ukraine’s accession to NATO.
A more banal explanation is that Moscow is pressuring Kiev to break the deadlock in the so-called Minsk peace process, after the collapse of the last ceasefire in Donbas. Putin enjoyed a large, but fleeting, audience surge after the annexation of Crimea. Last month, he used a lavish televised rally marking his seventh anniversary to regain lost popularity.
It seems to have failed. Russians are concerned about the coronavirus pandemic (and the incompetent official response), falling incomes, and worsening socio-economic prospects. More than ever, Putin’s Soviet Empire restoration project seems irrelevant, especially the younger ones.
Putin is criticized at home by supporters of the highly persecuted opposition activist, Alexei Navalny, and on allegations of corruption. Only 32% of Russians trust their president, according to a recent Levada Center Survey. Viewed this way, Ukraine’s buildup seems like a calculated distraction for national political ends.
However, Putin may also be deliberately testing the determination of the United States and Europe. You will not have forgotten how George W Bush pledged unwavering support to the democratic government of Georgia in 2005, then ducked when war with Russia broke out in 2008.
As analyst Ted Galen Carpenter noted last week, the Biden White House has also affirmed “America’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in Donbas and Crimea.” This seems, at best, a hostage to fortune and, at worst, a cruel hoax.
“The parallels between Washington’s excessive stimulus to Ukraine and Bush’s blunder on Georgia are disturbing and alarming,” Carpenter wrote. The United States and NATO would not go to war with Russia over eastern Ukraine any more than they would to save South Ossetia, he suggested. And if they did, well that’s WWIII right there.
This is where the truly global danger lies: in the nebulous gap between words and deeds in the increasingly intense trilateral struggle between superpowers. Will Putin, goaded by Biden’s “murderous” insult and numerous intractable disputes, call for the deception of the US president? On the other side of the world, will Xi do it?
China’s surly leader seems like a man prone to brooding. He has suffered many slights at the hands of the West, including allegations of genocide in Xinjiang, brutality in Hong Kong, and aggression in the seas around China. What drives him now while his forces besiege Taiwan?
One answer is that Xi can also hope to divert attention from internal issues. You may face invisible challenges within the Communist Party of China. More likely, he would like to commemorate the July centenary of the founding of the CCP by finally conquering what was the last stronghold of Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists.
The reunification of Taiwan would seal Xi’s legacy. The increasingly close personal, strategic and military ties to Putin’s Russia mean that he will not face any pushback from that sector, and some applause. The Taiwanese promise to fight, but they cannot prevail alone. Only Americans really stand in his way.
Is Xi simply controlling the proles of Washington? Or will he challenge them and make a move on Taiwan soon? The Orwellian nightmare for Biden and the West would be a simultaneous Russian invasion of Ukraine and a Chinese attack on Taiwan.
The choice of Oceania: a war on two fronts or a general humiliation. Welcome to the world of Winston.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism