Editorial : War of Attrition and China's Mediation

【明報專訊】The war between Russia and Ukraine has gone on for exactly one year. On the battlefields were scenes of terrible carnage, and behind the deadlock between the two armies, the Russia-US confrontation remains a tug-of-war. The West continues to step up its arms provision for the Ukrainian army and put in place waves of sanctions, but it has yet to bring Russia to heel.

In the early days of the war, Russian forces attacked like a hot knife through butter. Many analysts believed that Ukraine's defeat would only be a matter of time. However, the situation has continued to unfold in unexpected ways. Not only has the Russian army failed to overthrow the pro-Western government in Kyiv, but its poor performance shattered all expectations. The Ukrainian army managed to hold its ground. Then, with the huge amount of weapons, intelligence and other support from the West, the Ukrainian army recovered nearly half of its lost territory before winter.

To make up for the loss of frontline troops, Vladimir Putin has trained more than 100,000 new conscripts. As for Ukraine, Europe and the US have promised it even more weapons, including about 100 tanks. Spring battles are imminent.

The Russo-Ukrainian War marks a head-on confrontation of Russia against the US and the West. On this silent battlefront, with sanctions, energy warfare, and containment ruthlessly employed, the developments have also gone against many people's expectations. When the US announced last year that it would kick Russian banks out of the SWIFT international settlement system and block Russian oil exports, many believed the Russian economy would collapse. However, Russia has not collapsed one year on and is still earning substantial revenues from oil. In Europe, after Russian oil and gas supplies were slashed, many people worried about an acute energy shortage in Western Europe during winter. However, thanks to the relatively warm weather and the fact that the door to Russian energy has not actually been firmly shut, the energy supply and economic situation in Europe were not too bad in the past winter.

If NATO is involved to the point that leads Ukraine close to victory, Russia is more likely to use nuclear weapons, or it may lead to a direct confrontation between NATO and Russian forces. This is a situation America and Europe do not want to see. On the other hand, if the Russian army makes an actual breakthrough, the US must decide between saving or abandoning the Kyiv administration. Choosing the former means risking a war with Russia, and the latter will repeat the political fiasco of the Afghan retreat two years ago.

For Washington, by wearing down Russia's power and strengthening US control over Europe, the stalemate of battles between Russia and Ukraine is a strategic win. Under so many plans, pushes and pulls, one of the possible developments in the Russo-Ukrainian War is a temporary ceasefire between two drained and distressed armies.

Recently, China has put forward a Russo-Ukrainian "peace proposal". Yet for the US, China's mediating the conflict may change the current situation that advantages the US. Washington's threat to publicise intelligence on "Chinese support for Russia" suggests somewhat its intention to wreck the arbitration by Beijing as a neutral player.

Although the public of the West generally sees an enemy in Russia, around 70% of people in Turkey and India regard it as a strategic partner. The West's influence over the world is waning, and it is unable to persuade non-Western countries onto its side. From this perspective, the "post-Western" world order is indeed taking shape.

明報社評2023.02.24:俄烏陷入長期消耗戰 中方斡旋美施計離間











carnage : the violent killing of a large number of people

like a hot knife through butter : easily; without meeting any difficulty

shatter : to destroy sth completely, especially sb's feelings, hopes or beliefs; to be destroyed in this way

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