US SECRETARY of state Anthony Blinken recently travelled to Ukraine for meetings with the Ukrainian leadership. It is likely that he was taking a message that the Ukrainians do not want to hear: that they must cease the undeclared war against the two breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. Although it is not a message that Ukrainians wish to hear, the changing geopolitics of the region give them little choice.
Blinken’s trip to Ukraine is part of a wider American reappraisal of their intentions and priorities in the region. Foremost among those priorities are a softening of the confrontational stance the Americans have taken against Russia in recent years, culminating in a virtual freezing of relations between the two countries. One symptom of this was the Russian withdrawal of its ambassador to Washington, and the unsubtle suggestion that the United States ambassador to Russia should return home for ‘consultation’ with his superiors in Washington.
This was accompanied by other Russian moves against the US embassy, including a ban on the hiring of locals to work in the embassy, and restrictions on the extent to which American diplomats could move outside of Moscow.
These moves clearly are discomforting to the Americans who, after a shaky start by them, including the ill-considered and frankly appalling allegations by Biden in a TV interview that the Russian president Vladimir Putin was a ‘killer’. That remark broke several important diplomatic conventions, quite apart from coming from the head of state of the country that has been responsible for more violent deaths worldwide in the entire post World War II period than any other political leaders by a very considerable margin.
Blinken’s trip to Ukraine has several motives. One is that he wishes to discourage Ukrainians from any ill-considered attack upon the Donbass and Lugansk regions. That such an attack is seriously contemplated by Ukrainians is not in doubt. It is evidenced in part by the build-up of Ukrainian military forces on the borders of the two republics. That build up prompted a Russian response which the Ukrainians, rather hysterically, denounced as evidence of a forthcoming Russian attack on their territory. Were such an attack to occur two facts are immediately apparent.
The first is that it would be in defence of the two breakaway republic’s, the overwhelming majority of whom are Russian speaking. The second fact is that Russian retaliation would be devastating to the ill-equipped and poorly trained Ukrainians. The overwhelming probability is that their forces would be destroyed in a matter of days, and with it likely the survival of the Ukrainian regime.
That is not an outcome the Americans wish to see happen, not only because of the demise of their erstwhile ally, but because the Americans have a wider interest in a good relationship with Russia.
Something approaching a normalisation of the United States-Russia relationship is the broader aim of the US administration. It is not because they see Russia as a friend, much less any sort of ally, but rather they are playing a bigger geopolitical game. That game involves the United States diminishing its problems in Europe to better concentrate its efforts on confronting the country that they see as posing the greatest threat to remaining US hegemony: China.
One of the major geopolitical changes in recent years has been the growing strategic relationship between Russia and China. That growing closeness had a number of precipitating factors, not the least of which was unrelenting US hostility to the ambitions of both countries. That ambition had a largely peaceful component, with both countries at the forefront of a wider geopolitical realignment taking place around the world.
That realignment has seen, for example, the growth of trading arrangements separate from the western domination patterns that have prevailed for more than the past 200 years. It has led to the growth of alternative economic patterns, of which the Shanghai Corporation Organisation is an outstanding, but far from unique, example.
The United States clearly sees China as a major threat to the dominant position the United States has enjoyed in the world, and it is determined to do everything in its power to limit or frustrate the continued expansion of that Chinese power.
The current campaign being waged against China for the alleged ill-treatment of its Uyghur population is but one example. The more extreme allegations in respect of this group allege genocide, a frankly absurd proposition. An unrelenting propaganda campaign against the reincorporation of Hong Kong back into China is another manifestation of this attack. The west would clearly like people to forget that Hong Kong was part of China for thousands of years before British colonialism brought havoc with China, receiving no little help from infecting the population with heroin grown in Afghanistan.
Not the least of British abuses was denying the Hong Kong population the right to vote in the management of their own affairs.
China has rejected that history and any continuation of British say over the conduct of their own affairs. Hence the ongoing lament from the British that the Chinese government is failing to honour the terms of the 1999 agreement that saw Hong Kong return to Chinese rule, albeit with an extraordinarily long transition period which the Chinese have now rejected.
The US plan to recover lost ground with Russia is a clear example of a ploy to enable them to concentrate their fire power upon China. Manufacturing an excuse for war over the status of Taiwan is clearly part of that plan. The Russians however, are far from stupid. They see the US plan for what it clearly is: an attempt to separate China and Russia so that they can concentrate their animosity on China.
The plan will not work. Not only do China and Russia see it for what it is, the world itself is no longer willing to tolerate the unbridled use of US hegemony.
Let Biden and Putin meet by all means. Any reduction in tension between the two nations is to be welcomed. But the Americans need to know that their plans for a China-Russia break up will not happen. The sooner they realise that, the sooner will come the chances for a genuinely peaceful coexistence between the nations.
New Eastern Outlook, May 6. James O’Neill is an Australian-based former barrister at law.
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