The problem is how to reconcile on one hand respect for the territorial integrity of Ukraine and on the other Russia’s historical, demographic and security claims
By Alper Ali Riza
US president Joe Biden was up bright and early last Monday travelling from Poland to Ukraine. He was supposed to be in Washington but was actually en route to Kyiv having been flown there on Sunday for the run up to the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
For all the cloak and dagger of his trip, the Russians were apparently tipped off about his visit to Kyiv to make sure they did not fire any missiles in the vicinity of the president’s whereabouts. It was good news that the American intelligence services are talking to their Russian counterparts to ensure the safety of their leaders – and one hopes a lot else besides.
In Kyiv, Biden made a speech promising continued US support for Ukraine and visited a plaque embedded in the pavement with his name on it, during which air raid sirens sounded but no missiles landed anywhere near him. The visit was more symbolic than substantive even if it played into the Russian narrative that Russia is in a proxy war with the US and Nato.
Biden did not stay long in Kyiv. After a few photo opportunities with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and praise for Ukraine’s brave defence he returned to Poland and made speeches attacking Russia for its invasion and assured his Nato allies in East Europe that the alliance would defend every inch of Nato territory.
Biden’s message from Warsaw was that the West will remain united in its support for Ukraine for as long as it takes for victory to be achieved, with the removal of all Russian forces from all the territories of Ukraine including Crimea.
Next it was president Vladimir Putin’s turn. He made his state of the union speech on Tuesday and on Wednesday addressed a bussed-in crowd at a rally in Moscow’s main football stadium. Far from being the aggressor state that invaded her fraternal neighbour, Russia was engaged in self-defence of mother Russia he proclaimed to loud cheers and the sounds of the awe-inspiring Russian national anthem.
There was, however, silence in Moscow on the anniversary itself on Friday. Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s stand-in president for 2008-12 tweeted that the Ukrainian forces should, if necessary, be pushed back to the border with Poland, which sounds as eccentric as it is extreme.
At the UN, the anniversary was marked by a lot of megaphone diplomacy between the West and Russia. But China and the Global South struck a neutral stance by calling for states to give peace a chance. There was a resolution by the General Assembly condemning Russia and calling on her to withdraw from Ukraine, which was supported by most states although China, India, South Africa and Iran chose to abstain, which means only a handful of states positively support Russia’s invasion.
More to the point, China has put forward a set of principles for peace in Ukraine which has been rubbished by the West but supported by the Global South. The principles include respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, Russia’s legitimate concerns, an immediate ceasefire and the end of the sanctions regime.
According to the West, China is not neutral and may even be engaged in negotiations to supply lethal weapons to Russia. Turkey is thought of as neutral despite supplying Bayraktar drones to Ukraine, so there is no good reason to doubt China’s neutrality even if she were engaged in supplying arms to Russia, which she vigorously denies.
The Global South wants to give China’s peace plan a chance and rejects the West’s one-dimensional stance on Ukraine. The inclusion of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine as a primary principle of China’s peace plan suggests it is a genuine attempt to mediate by a neutral superpower on talking terms with each of the combatants – the West boxed itself in by not talking to Russia on the grounds of moral superiority which the Global South thinks hypocritical.
It is true that the Chinese plan includes a reference to the legitimate security concerns of Russia but in Chinese thinking that suggests neutrality rather than bias. Chinese strategic thinking is more nuanced than the West’s; they accept Russia’s concerns about Nato’s Cold War obsessions as real because they are China’s concerns too.
For the West, Russia invaded another country and should be condemned and sanctioned and forced to withdraw and the Global South is wrong to remain neutral.
The Global South is the new name of what in the Cold War days was the Non-Aligned World. In those days the Non-Aligned World was anti-western because all the former colonial powers that oppressed them were Nato’s European member states. For those countries today the continuation of the war is causing a lot more economic harm than in Europe and so they want to give the Chinese peace plan a chance.
As a neutral honest broker, China needs to be equidistant from the positions of Russia and Ukraine and take into account the claims and counter claims of the two sides and encourage them to compromise. The problem is how to reconcile on one hand respect for the territorial integrity of Ukraine and on the other Russia’s historical, demographic and security claims.
The idea that China is in a strategic partnership with Russia and cannot mediate in her dispute with Ukraine is nonsense. The US has been in a strategic partnership with Israel for years and yet has been mediating between Israel and her Arab adversaries since the Yom Kippur war in 1973.
The strategic partnership between Russia and China has had its ups and downs since US Secretary of State Dr Henry Kissinger figured there were tensions in that relationship and persuaded US President Richard Nixon to turn them to America’s advantage.
China has no dog in the fight between Russia and Ukraine and means well. Ukraine is best advised to give the Chinese peace plan a chance and not believe the West will support her to the bitter end.
Alper Ali Riza is a king’s counsel in the UK and a retired part time judge