Annaleena Baerbock, Biden adminisration, China, democracy, deterrence, Eastern Europe, energy, European Union, Germany, human rights, Italy, Mario Draghi, NATO, natural gas, Nordstream 2, North Atlantic treaty Organization, Olaf Scholz, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Phase One, Poland, Russia, sanctions, sovereignty, Taiwan, tariffs, The Wall Street Journal, Trade, trade war, Ukraine
The longer the Ukraine crisis lasts, the weirder it gets. Here are just the latest examples, keeping in mind that new developments keep appearing so quickly that this post might be overtaken by events before I finish!
>What’s with the Chinese? Toward the end of last year, (see, e.g., here) I’ve been worried that President Biden’s Ukraine policy would push Russia and China to work more closely to undermine U.S. interests around the world – a possibility that’s both especially worrisome given evident limits on American power (Google, e.g., “Afghanistan”), and completely unnecessary, since no remotely vital U.S. interests are at stake in Ukraine or anywhere in Eastern Europe.
But just yesterday, The Wall Street Journal published this piece reporting on Chinese words and deeds indicating that Beijing opposed any Russian invasion of Ukraine. You’d think that China would welcome the prospect of significant numbers of American military forces tied down trying to deter an attack by Moscow on Ukraine, or on nearby members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), or getting caught up in any fighting that does break out. The result of any of these situations would be an America less able to resist Chinese designs on Taiwan forcibly.
It’s unimaginable that Chinese leaders have forgotten about these benefits of war or a continuing state of high tensions in Ukraine’s neighborhood. But according to the Journal, Beijing has decided for the time being that it’s more important to avoid further antagonizing the United States on the trade and broader economic fronts – specifically by helping Russia cushion the blows of any western sanctions. China is also supposedly uncomfortable with the idea of countries successfully intervening in the internal affairs of other countries – because of its own vulnerability on the human rights front, and because it regards foreign (including U.S.) support for Taiwan as unacceptable interference in its internal affairs, too (since it views Taiwan as a renegade province).
Not that China isn’t already acting to prop up Russia’s economy – specifically agreeing earlier this month to buy huge amounts of Russian oil and gas. But if Beijing has indeed decided to go no further, or not much further, the potential effectiveness of western sanctions on Moscow would be that much greater. It would also signal that the Biden adminisration has much greater leverage than it apparently realizes to use tariffs to punish China for various economic transgressions – e.g., failing to keep its promises under former President Trump’s Phase One trade deal to meet targets for ramping up its imports from the United States.
>Speaking of sanctions, the Biden administration view of these measures keeps getting stranger, too. The President and his aides have repeatedly insisted that the best time for imposing them is after a Russian invasion of Ukraine, because acting beforehand would “lose the deterrent effect.”
But this reasoning makes no sense because it – logically, anyway – assumes that the sanctions that would be slapped on would achieve little or nothing in the way of inflicting economic pain powerful enough either to induce a Russian pullback or convince the Kremlin that further aggression along these lines wouldn’t be worth the costs.
After all, pre-invasion sanctions would be taking their toll while the Russians were fighting in Ukraine, and until they pulled out or made some other meaningful concession. The Biden position, however, seems to be that in fact, during this post-invasion period, they’d be taking scarcely any toll at all – or at least not one significant enough to achieve any of their declared aims. If that’s the case, though, why place any stock in them at all at any time?
>One reason for these evidently low Biden sanctions expectations is surely that, at least for now, the administration isn’t willing to promise that the potentially most effective punishments will be used. Nor are key U.S. allies.
Principally, last Friday, Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh told reporters that banning Russia from the global banking system would “probably not” be part of an initial sanctions package. And Germany keeps hemming and hawing about ending the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline project even if Russia does invade.
The Germans – and the rest of Europe – are now acting like they’re taking seriously the need to reduce their reliance on Russian natural gas (which currently supplies some forty percent of their supplies of this fossil fuel. But Berlin has still not committed to cancelling its plans to buy even more gas from Russia via the recently completed Nordstream channel. (The pipeline isn’t yet in use because the Germans are in fact dragging their feet on final regulatory approval.) Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has declared that Nordstream is “on the table” for her if the Russians move militarily. But nothing even like this non-promise has been made by Prime Minister Olaf Scholz. And last Friday, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said he opposes including energy in anti-Russia sanctions.
>The final puzzle: Although Poland is a linchpin of NATO’s strategy for preventing any Putin aggression beyond Ukraine, the European Union has just moved a major step closer to cutting the country off from the massive economic aid it receives from the grouping, and indeed has already frozen $41 billion in CCP Virus recovery funds it had previously allotted to Warsaw.
The decisions stem from Poland’s alleged backsliding on commitments it made to protect human rights in order to join the EU, but blocking these resources isn’t exactly likely to strengthen Poland’s ability to aid in the effort to contain Russia, and Ukraine itself is hardly a model democracy (see, e.g., here and here) – all of which can’t help but scramble the politics of the crisis in Eastern Europe yet further. And all of which should be added to the already impressive list of paradoxes, ironies, mysteries, and curiosities that everyone should keep in mind whenever they hear about the future of Europe, the global liberal order, world peace, and human freedom itself being at stake in Ukraine.