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A Win for Ukraine Against Russia Means Trouble for China and North Korea

Ukraine NATO Russia
Tankers with Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team, conducts platoon live-fire gunnery qualification Feb. 4, 2019, at the Orchard Combat Training Center. The Idaho Army National Guard Soldiers are preparing for the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team’s upcoming rotation at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., later this year.

A Victory for Ukraine would be Excellent for Asia – and Not Just Taiwan: There has been much talk about the lessons of the Ukraine War for Taiwan. But ramifications of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war reach even wider for East Asia.

A Ukrainian victory, although operationally irrelevant there, would be grand and strategically relevant for many regional issues.

Taiwan

The parallels of the Ukraine war to Taiwan’s predicament are obvious. Russia and China are large, militarily powerful states run by expansionist autocrats pursuing territorial aggression against a small, neighboring state whose sovereignty and self-determination they do not accept.

As such, a Ukrainian win would reduce any perception by Chinese President Xi Jinping that Putin has created a ‘model’ whereby a large power can violate the United Nations charter, attack and absorb a small country, and get away with it.

Putin’s expectation seemed to be that he could win the war in a few days, perhaps a week. His blitzkrieg would win, because Ukraine was barely a country; it would quickly fold under pressure. Its people wanted to rejoin the Russia World. It appears that Russian elites, isolated in this information bubble, believed this propaganda. Russia’s media is closed and ideological

It is easy to foresee Chinese elites believing the same about Taiwan. They, too, are isolated in a closed information space. They, too, refuse to accept that Taiwan increasingly has its own identity and may assume the war would be quick. Putin’s stumble are likely giving them pause.

South China Sea and Ukraine

A Ukrainian victory would also reinforce the norm that borders cannot be changed by force. That is valuable for Southeast Asian states striving with Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea. China’s militarization of islands in that sea is well-known. Xi apparently promised US President Barack Obama that he would not absorb and develop those islets but is now doing so anyway.

China’s claims in the South China Sea are capacious, extending 1600 kilometers south from Hainan island to Indonesia’s Riau Islands. Multiple states are impacted, complemented by a threat to the sea lanes through the space. Much petroleum transits the South China Sea from the Persian Gulf toward northeast Asia. The Chinese navy’s domination of the South China Sea could allow it to blockade that traffic as leverage.

Nuclear Coercion

A Ukrainian victory would also signal that nuclear coercion has limits.

Even though Russia’s nuclear weapons have limited NATO participation in the Ukraine War, they have not stopped it.

This is an important lesson in Korea particularly, where there is real anxiety that North Korea will learn from Russia that it can use nuclear threats to erode US alliance commitments and hamper outside assistance. This is turn is driving South Korean to consider nuclear weapons. Were North Korea to successfully use its nuclear weapons to force concessions from South Korea, or were it to use them to inhibit US assistance to South Korea in a crisis, then Japan might well build nuclear weapons also.

The appeal of nuclear weapons is not simply their value for defense and deterrence. They also offer the possibility of blackmail and coercion. Ukraine sought a no-fly zone from NATO in March, but NATO refused, primarily out of fear of escalation with a nuclear power. Were Russia non-nuclear, it is likely that NATO would be much more directly involved in the war. NATO has shown appropriate caution, but it is crucial that Russian nukes not completely end assistance to Ukraine out of exaggerated fears of escalation. To do so would encourage nasty rogue states like North Korea (or Iran in the future) to try the same.

War Crimes in Ukraine

Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine have been appalling – torture, rape, and the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas.

If we want to insist that China, North Korea, and Myanmar follow at least minimal standards of behavior, then Ukraine’s effort to hold Russia to account helps immensely. By documenting the specific behavior of Russian units and even particular servicemen, Ukraine demonstrates that even in the chaos of war, individual soldiers will be held accountable. Their violence will not simply be lost in the larger maelstrom. This is a useful signal, particularly for a Chinese move on Taiwan which could devolve into grinding urban combat in the island’s cities.

Putin sought a fait-accompli – rapid aggression by a large power to quickly reorganize borders before outsiders could take action, using nuclear threats to force acceptance. Such a model is tempting to other autocracies, including China or North Korea. Ukraine is doing East Asia a service by destroying any such ‘model’ before it sets in.

Expert Biography: Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_KellyRoberEdwinKelly.com) is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University and 19FortyFive Contributing Editor.

Written By

Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly; website) is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University. Dr. Kelly is now a 1945 Contributing Editor as well. 

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. TheDon

    December 4, 2022 at 8:51 am

    Putin is making a mistake either way.
    The chinese duplicate and improve Russian military hardware, one of Russias only goods. They have no common ancestry or religion. Russias economy except for energy will be decimated and the currency will change to chinas, not Ruble dream of putins.
    And north korea has nothing to bring to the table and as a good communist citizen,Russia will be expected to feed and arm their new comrads.
    Its a dismal future Putin is setting his country up for.
    By contrast, germany poland, most of europe were buying Russian fuel, fighters, air defense. These countries went on a limb and trusted Putin wouldnt go to war to a point of energy dependancy. A clear carrot to join the EU wave.

    Russias future is with EU.
    Any other path will mean the end of the Russian empire and Russia itself. The dire economic future will result in the largest max exodous since wwII.

    The question, are the generals brave enough to get rid of a misguided ill ruler living in a Stalin past.
    Its time for a Russian reset.

  2. Goran

    December 4, 2022 at 9:27 am

    Kelly raises the most important point of all; Putin not getting his way will have a stabilizing effect in some parts of the world that otherwise may have erupted by now. Having the collective West pressuring Ukrainians to surrender, aside from being ethically and legally unacceptable, would not be pragmatic either as it would encourage other dictatorships in their delusional ways, leading to more, not less conflict.

  3. Jim

    December 4, 2022 at 1:47 pm

    The video that accompanies this article is an example of “magical” thinking in the corporate media & think tank ecosystem in the collective West.

    No evidence exists that Russia is about to run out of anything.

    The boy who cried wolf comes to mind.

    (How many times have we been told Russia is about to run out of something… you fill in the blank.)

    Nobody in the West knows if Russia’s drones are made in Iran or are licensed to be made in Russia (possibly the CIA knows, but hasn’t been forthcoming).

    Regarding Taiwan, recent elections went to the KMT and Taiwan’s President resigned from her party leadership while staying on as President.

    Evidence exists at least part of the reason for the overall loss was the rhetorical push for independence.

    Perhaps, the Taiwanese don’t want the hassle & threat and are satisfied with the current arraignment of a self-governing island.

    China’s South China Sea policy is objectionable.

    I’m much more worried about the U. S. using nuclear weapons because our conventional forces are inadequate in depleted in this proxy war… and political leaders are tempted to use nukes (tactical) to pull their fat out of the fire.

    Overall, this article comes across as “whistling past the graveyard.”

    The article simply does not reflect what is going on in theater on the battlefield.

    Right now Ukraine is suffering horrific loses in the Donbass and is on the verge of suffering a strategic defeat… with a possible envelopment of 30, 000 men in the coming weeks… at the hands of a Russian offensive.

    And the “other shoe” hasn’t dropped, yet, with a Russian offensive in the Donbass that leaves no doubt that Ukraine’s military is strategically defeated.

    I don’t care if you have 200 IQ, if you engage in magical thinking you aren’t going to get what you expect and can only be called dumb & stupid when you end up losing… you might be the smartest loser in the world… but you are still a loser.

    And fanatics lose contact with reality and often engage in magical thinking… we know the neocons are fanatical.

    This article was also filled with “projection” on to the adversary of what Ukraine & the collective West is suffering, themselves.

    It’s the opposite of clear eyed Realism… which we need, now, more than ever.

  4. Friend

    December 4, 2022 at 3:35 pm

    You know what’s funny? Where’s the money? NATO has given Ukraine 20 billion in military aid and that has spent their entire stockpile of ammunition. Which meanse that they have trillions in budgets on paper but only 20 billion is actual guns, and no means to make new guns. Since one tank would likely cost in excess of $100 million, NATO is basically a paper army. An embezzlement scheme now revealed. Those countries spend trillions of taxpayer money so they could pay some dicklick $1000 per hour to watch porn not working from home.

  5. Goran

    December 4, 2022 at 4:49 pm

    Jim, why is it so hard for you to come to terms with Ukrainians opting to die and freeze rather than bend their knees before Putin? You have to at least consider the possibility that others can be patriots, even if you yourself don’t see value in the whole idea of patriotism.

  6. Paddy Manning

    December 4, 2022 at 5:05 pm

    Well written Dr Kelly!
    Well said Goran but Jim is likely a Russian.
    Putin’s defeat in Ukraine has whitened other tyrants.

  7. Jim

    December 4, 2022 at 5:49 pm

    Goran asks, “why is it so hard for you to come to terms with Ukrainians opting to die and freeze…”

    Because I see the Ukraine leadership for what they are: fanatics.

    They will use anybody they can to keep their fanatic dreams alive… and right now it’s very much on life support.

    “The commander of the Svoboda battalion, Petro Kuzik, whose unit is trying to hold Bakhmut, told Western media that the fields and forests around are littered with the corpses of Ukrainian soldiers, and they have to defend themselves in extreme cold and knee-deep in water.”

    “Asked how serious the loss of life is, he said: ‘They are colossal. We don’t even count the bodies.'”

    So, Goran, your description is correct.

    It’s brutal.

    I can’t stand by and stay silent with a good conscience… Ukraine’s leaders are fanatics who will fight to the last Ukrainian… along with their Western backers, principally the U. S.

    It’s revolting & wrong.

  8. Goran

    December 4, 2022 at 6:23 pm

    Jim, landing on the beaches of Normandy was just as savage, but nobody in their right mind considered compromising with Hitler to be an alternative. Ukrainians have charted their course towards freedom from Putin’s clutches because of their children, they are willing to die for that. You calling on them to stop resisting so that abuse hurts less falls on deaf ears for any man of honor. You might wish them well, but you might as well be speaking Klingon.

  9. Snowdog

    December 4, 2022 at 6:52 pm

    How many times having the talking heads on 1945 predicted Russia is about to run out of ______? I’ve lost count. The idea that if Putin loses it will have a stabilizing effect is bonkers. If Putin feels the Russian Federation stands at the edge of an existential crisis, the reaction will be fat from stabilizing.

  10. Goran

    December 4, 2022 at 7:20 pm

    Snowdog, some of those talking heads are Putin’s own propagandists, screaming into microphones all pissed that Russian military in the field is so poorly equipped. As for territorial integrity and sovereignty of a UN member being presented to be of an existential threat to Russia, adopting that reasoning would lead to a free for all with international borders meaning diddly squat. Hardly a stabilizing course of events.

  11. Jim

    December 4, 2022 at 7:53 pm

    Goran, in the moment… yes.

    … the allies hitting the beaches…

    We hit those beaches with high optimism for success.

    Ukraine is not a picture of success… or high optimism.

    When does reality break through?

  12. Steve

    December 4, 2022 at 8:02 pm

    “No evidence exists that Russia is about to run out of anything.”

    Let’s just ignore all the videos of Russian conscripts complaining they are being sent to the front without training or basic supplies, eh?

  13. June

    December 4, 2022 at 8:12 pm

    If any one believes Russia can win the war just by cutting off electricity and water, they live in a fantasy world. During the siege of Leningrad, 1.5 million people died and they survived with cannibalism. About 70 years ago, nearly 3 million people died during the Korean war. Nonetheless, South Korea survived the horrible war and has grown to the 10th largest economy with a high tech economy and become a cultural power house such as K-pop and K-drama. Although Ukraine’s suffering is very painful, Ukraine’s condition is not even close to any of these historical wars. Furthermore, Ukraine is clearly winning. Someday, Ukraine will become bigger than or at least equal to Russia in economy and military and look back on this war.

  14. froge

    December 5, 2022 at 12:43 am

    1945 is not comparable. Russia (The Soviet Union) didn’t have many resourses then either, but the Germans overextended themselves in someone else’s country, not being aware of the winter conditions, and not having proper tanks / military equipemnt for the task (the diesel jelled). Note that today, Russia is invading “the other country” and that country is well aware of their own conditions. They don’t need to be told how cold it gets in Ukraine in winter. Russia won’t be saved from their lack of resourses – by a bad winter this time, in fact if winter is bad enough it could be the Russians who misjudged and suffer. The Russian soldiers have to buy their own clothes, how many are propared for winter?

  15. CRS, DrPH

    December 5, 2022 at 1:43 am

    Nobody is talking about the possibility, if not likelihood, that the country Russia will self-destruct into many smaller countries, just like the Soviet Union did.

    Russia has 11 time-zones, and the most distant territories are sending their sons to fight in Moscow’s ill-gotten adventure. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a breakup as a result of Putin’s folly.

  16. Neofeudalfuture

    December 5, 2022 at 10:46 am

    The only thing China is learning is that the US won’t fight directly against peers only Grenada types.

    Second its vast military budget is mostly corruption and stolen. Theres not much spent on weapons and they’re running out on a relatively light Russian enemy.

    Finally infantry is king vehicles of any sort are too easy to target. Small packages with high accuracy is the key to winning, along with more ammo per gun, its too easy to make guns and they fire far too quickly.

  17. Goran

    December 5, 2022 at 10:58 am

    Jim, I don’t know what the tipping point is at which Ukrainians should bow down and accept Putin’s terms, but it looks as though they are not inching towards it, on the contrary. After all, defensive positions are not being dug out around Kyiv but around Crimea.

    I support the idea of negotiations, and if Russia has concerns about the treatment of Russians within Ukraine, that should be addressed through some form of non-territorial autonomy. Insisting on a right to seize Ukrainian territory or to decide for Ukraine which international organizations it is allowed to join should be a nonstarter.

  18. Serhio

    December 6, 2022 at 3:56 am

    Russians call this situation: “sharing the skin of a bear that you haven’t killed yet.” The bear, whose skin Kelly shares, is not only not killed, but also toothy, clawed, in a bad mood and feels well and grinds the resources supplied by the West to the Ukrainian Nazis at such a speed that senior leaders of NATO countries have already begun to say that they gave too many weapons to Ukraine. And there’s not much left to protect yourself. Stocks of Stingers and Javelins, which were produced for several years, got to Ukraine
    and they disappeared there in a few months. Now NATO is handing over air defense systems to its loyal dogs. However, this does not help, because NATO simply does not have such systems in the right quantity to close the skies of Ukraine. And the few systems that come to the front are destroyed by the Russians.

  19. J.Barry

    December 6, 2022 at 10:25 am

    The 11 time zones of Russia force Muscovy to practice internal brutality to maintain cohesion. It’s crazy, but true. No form of popular or unpopular government can survive without the extensive practice of internal brutality. The FSB is only the most recent name of the former emperor’s secret police. Any reform designed to reduce the brutality of internal security will see the regions fly apart. Just as nothing prevents an invader marching to Moscow, nothing binds Vladivostok to Grozny.

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