History seems to move ahead in lurches. February 2022 will be remembered for a lurch away from the West’s post-Cold War hopes and expectations of stability and prosperity toward what NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called the “new normal . . . for our security.” February will be remembered as when Cold War II officially began.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the most obvious example, a ghastly echo of the Europe of the first and second World Wars, the era of tooth and claw in international affairs.
Also significant, but less commented upon, was the Feb. 4 joint statement of Presidents Valdimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China putting a formal end to Mao Zedong and Richard Nixon’s historic realignment of China away from Russia and toward the United States 50 years ago. China and Russia announced a friendship “without limits.”
Call this a marriage of convenience, but the convenience is joint hostility toward the United States.
China has not specifically signed on to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but one can imagine that it will come to view Ukraine as Russia’s Taiwan and therefore a legitimate goal of Russia’s ambitions.
Fifty years ago the United States signed on to a One-China policy, meaning that Taiwan is a province of China but should not be taken by force. What became known as “strategic ambiguity” became US policy, meaning the United States hasn’t spelled out what it would do if China should invade Taiwan. Since the foundation of the Nixon-Mao agreement has been formally renounced, one might ask what purpose strategic ambiguity now serves. Have no doubt that China is watching closely to see if Russia gets away with invading Ukraine.
President Biden gave a strong and forceful speech about Russia not getting away with it, but at this writing Russia has not been banned from the SWIFT banking system. Biden should push for that.
Putin must see this as a lack of Western resolve that can be exploited. After all, he got away with biting off a chunk of Georgia and two chunks of Ukraine without anything serious happening to him.
Putin sees that Europe has laid its throat bare to Russia’s knife by becoming so dependent on Russian oil and gas. Former German chancellor Angela Merkel’s defense minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, tweeted her regret on Thursday “for our historical failure” in dealing with Russia. One of Merkel’s great mistakes was to abruptly abandon nuclear power, and all of Europe needs to diversify their energy sources and quickly. But Germany’s Green Party will not permit nuclear power.
As for Biden, he needs to see that sanctions have not, and will not, deter Putin. As Estonia’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, pointed out, the West is “seeing this through the prism of a democratic country. You say it’s going to be super expensive for Russia to have a war . . . [Putin] doesn’t care. He’s not up for election.” Rather than sending just a few thousand troops, Biden should immediately send 100,000 to NATO’s Eastern flank.
Putin must take encouragement that Donald Trump almost got away with ending American democracy, and that Trump and his Republicans may take power again. Pro-Russian Fox News analysis is regularly exploited by Russian media.
And with Trump showing his admiration for Putin even now as Ukraine is being overrun, Putin must figure his long game will win.
H.D.S. Greenway is a former editorial page editor of the Globe and author of “Foreign Correspondent: A Memoir” and “Loaded with Dynamite: Unintended Consequences of Woodrow Wilson’s Idealism.”