A guest post by William Hall:
As the situation unfolds between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, many Kiwis may not think it to be top of mind, as COVID and Protests take centre stage for the media we are of course concerned about what is happening within our borders, rather than Eastern Europe. But it is something we should be seriously concerned about, due to us and Russia’s mutual friend, China.
For Russia, the tactics they are using today are nothing new, the Kremlin’s little green men have entered the territory of other post-soviet states many times before and have not left. We have seen this from Vladimir Putin in Chechnya (1999), In the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia (2008) and more recent history the Crimean peninsular, from Ukraine and now in Donetsk and Luhansk in the East.
Putin spent over an hour on Russian Television looking to rewrite history, telling people that the people who inhabit what is historically known as Novorossiya (New Russia) should and must be returned to the motherland. Putin has by sending peacekeeping forces into a region of the former Soviet Union that he believes should rightfully be a part of the Russian Federation has started a war.
Now for New Zealand other than following the United Kingdom and the United States on implementing sanctions. That’s about as far as the current government can go in condemning the actions of Vladimir Putin. But New Zealand should be looking towards China to see how they are reacting to the current crisis in Ukrainian and to learn how better to react.
China has been investigating opening a marine reserve in the South Pacific nation of Kiribati that would be able to double as a naval base. Vanuatu has had to deny Chinese plans surrounding the opening of Naval bases in the island nation. All while the Western world spent the majority of 2021 concerned around Chinese military operations around Taiwan. All of this sounds very similar to the build-up of Russian troops over the past few months around Ukraine. In Belarus, Transnistria and along Russia’s border with Ukraine troops and forward bases were opened and moved into position, to project a sense of power and fear across the globe. China’s work in the Pacific and the South China Sea about building military insulations is an exact mirror to what we have seen from Russia.
On the 22nd of February, Boris Johnson said that “This is plainly in breach of international law. It is a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine.” The strongest measure that the West is willing to use to deal with this crisis is sanctioning Russian exports, banking and Oligarchs. Even Biden’s biggest threat of removing Russia from Swift was hardly a major deterrent. Only on the 18th of February, did the Russian Finance Ministry submit legislative proposals on Cryptocurrency. Further moving away from Western institutions.
Along with hurting Russia financially, the West has also tried to arm the Ukrainian armed forces with weapons, such as antitank and antiaircraft missiles. However, for the German government, a nation that had half of its population living under Russian control for 45 years. They decided to send a handful of helmets to the Ukrainian people, 5,000 in total. As the fresh-faced German Chancellor Olaf Scholz navigates his way around running the heart of European democracy and a worsening energy crisis at home, all while the new Nord Stream 2 lays dormant under the Black Sea.
The West’s continued appeasement of Putin’s Russia has emboldened him to continue to take bites out of Russia and the Soviet Union’s former colonies. Showing the widening instabilities between the European Union, United Kingdom and the United States in the post-COVID age. Weak leadership in the US, Germany and UK have greatly contributed to Russia’s hand.
So if America and Britain won’t militarily protect Europes second-largest nation then why wouldn’t Putin take what he wants. The precedent continues to be set, as it was with Crimea, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. So for a China that economically giants over Russia and is soon to be the globe’s largest economy, understanding their weaknesses is strategically important.
However, there are differences, for Russia the territories it has so far taken are different to China’s relationship with Taiwan. Russia’s interest is with regions that are ethnically Russian and on the whole, wish to rejoin Russia under Putin, whether as a part of the Federation or as an independent de facto state.
For Taiwan, although the population wishes to rejoin China, they do not want to join a nation under communist rule. In Taiwan’s favour, it has the Taiwan Relations Act that requires the US to enable Taiwan to defend itself from any outside aggression. This would mean any conflict China would like to declare on Taiwan would be one fort with the latest US military hardware, Unlikely the Ukrainian armed forces which are mostly using outdated soviet equipment.
New Zealand needs to view what is happening right now in Ukraine as a possibility for what could happen in the Asia Pacific. Just as Europe relies heavily on Russia, New Zealand relies heavily on China. Could our government choose between our economy and another nation several hours away by plane’s economy? How do we sanction our largest trading partner?
It was only back in 2018 when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her then-deputy Winston Peters announced continuing the suspension of negotiations around the FTA with the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan customs union over the poising in the British city of Salisbury. The western alliances have spent 20 years appeasing Russia, waiting for wide enough gaps in breaking international law to enable civil services to negotiate with the largest country in the world. A nation that has repeatedly broken international law and yet our short memories enable us to forget the suffering that has already occurred.