TIPP Insights: China persistently thwarts western efforts to unite against Russia

By tippinsights Editorial Board, TIPP Insights

American efforts to isolate Russia are failing, with many countries refusing to toe Washington’s line. Beijing’s overt support of Moscow is worsening the situation.

Ukraine has had rare successes this week on the geopolitical front. Three E.U. leaders from the most powerful states – France, Germany, and Italy – visited Kyiv this week in a show of solidarity, visiting bombarded neighborhoods and assuring President Zelenskyy of continued support. The E.U. also officially recommended Ukraine’s candidacy to join the bloc, a long standing dream of Zelenskyy’s.

But on the security front, the West appears to be falling well short of its vaunted goals to isolate Russia. When National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Rome, in March, the administration signaled that the meeting was about isolation and penalties that Beijing would face if it helped Moscow. Yet, on June 16, in a big blow to Washington, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping said he supported Moscow on “sovereignty and security” matters.

Xi did not stop there. “China is also willing to work with Russia to promote solidarity and cooperation among emerging market countries … and push for the development of the international order and global governance towards a more just and reasonable direction,” he said. Translation: China is unhappy with the way Washington is weaponizing the dollar and threatening countries with secondary sanctions to isolate Russia.

Countries of the Global South – including India, Israel, South Africa, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, and Indonesia – are among the world’s democracies that have refused to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Each has stepped up trade with Russia, much to Washington’s ire. America frets that these countries are practicing a flavor of realpolitik rooted in pragmatism. They agree more with the Kissinger worldview that Russia ought not to be made a pariah state because of its contributions to world history for over 400 years, good or bad. In short, they don’t like Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but they don’t want Russia to be punished to the degree that it becomes isolated.

Aging Washington politicians who grew up during the Cold War have much harsher views on Russia opening ties with China and helping create a superpower in its own right than even Kissinger, the 99-year-old stalwart of Nixon’s foreign policy. Former Senator John McCain, a veteran on the Armed Services Committee who was 82 when he died, epitomized this anti-Russia view: “Look, Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country.”

The “Global South” countries that have remained neutral in the war don’t quite see Russia that way. Of course, India and China are benefiting from buying Russian oil at deeply discounted prices, but the relationships extend well beyond energy. Brazil’s vast agriculture sector cannot survive without Russian fertilizer. The Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), which was spun out of MIT as an open-source project, says that in 2020, Russia was the world’s biggest exporter of wheat ($10.1B), semi-finished iron ($4.5B), non-fillet frozen fish ($2.58B), raw nickel ($2.26B), and pig iron ($1.34B). Russia also exports vast quantities of gold ($18.7B) and coal briquettes ($14.5B). Given these facts, Sen. McCain’s views seem rather narrow.

Besides, many countries rely on Russia for sophisticated weapons and other advanced technology, such as equipment and expertise to build nuclear and hydroelectric power stations. Russian spacecraft regularly launch these countries’ weather and communication satellites.

Unfortunately, the war is dragging on each day with no end in sight. Ukraine has already conceded that Russia now controls 20% of its land mass, with the most valuable real estate gone to the occupying forces. Vast agricultural acreage, oil fields, gas wells, and access to the Sea of Azov and the Northern Black Sea are now Russia’s prized assets. An estimate in the Wall Street Journal puts the economic value of Russia’s energy heist alone at over $1.4 trillion.

Writing in Politico, Daniel R. DePetris, a fellow at Defense Priorities, and Rajan Menon of Columbia University said that many countries outside North America and Europe believe that publicly condemning Russia will do nothing to end the war in Ukraine, “Picking sides in a confrontation between Russia and the West is a losing strategy whose costs significantly outweigh the benefits.”

As non-Western nations unite by continuing their relations with Russia, it is the West that is feeling increasingly isolated. Added to this, the J6 Commission’s wall-to-wall hearings, inflation, primary elections, Supreme Court rulings, and the stock market are now front and center in American media coverage, not Ukraine.

Xi Jinping’s phone call with Putin this week expressing solidarity exploited all these factors. It was a calculated recognition that despite Washington’s threats, America would not want to risk its global standing and impose secondary sanctions on countries. America’s single-minded focus on taking a moral stand to defend the rules-based order of nations is now at risk of failing, further strengthening Putin’s hand.

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