Russian-Chinese Partnership in Ukraine
Updated: Feb 11, 2022
The Opportunity of Putin’s Lifetime
Specific to Russia’s security concerns, the convergence of several occurrences represents a tight window of high-risk, high-reward opportunity for Vladimir Putin to seize.
The expansion of Nato membership has compelled him to use this progressive encirclement as a convenient excuse to go beyond bellicose rhetoric and actually mobilize his modernized military to invade Ukraine. Nato’s “encroachment” within Russia’s Near Abroad hegemony, as articulated by the chart provided by Nato below entitled How Nato Expanded Eastwards, has placed him in a double-bind. Either “do nothing” and lose face (or his head) in debunking his strong man image who wants to resurrect Soviet might, or risk damning sanctions that could cripple the Russian economy and trigger a palace coup.
The following points represent probable reasons why Putin is confident that there will not be any direct US/Nato invention should he decide to advance into Ukrainian territory:
· The US leadership is suffering an historical divisiveness with a cognitively questionable president and internationally inexperienced vice-president.
· Ukraine is a non-EU and non-Nato country thus there are no binding agreements for its defense other than military aid and surveillance support.
· Ukraine has mostly Soviet-era military equipment. Although they’ve been upgraded they are no match for the 21st century equipped Russian military with superior firepower.
· Russia snatched Crimea without firing a shot and subsequently established a naval base for maritime domination in the Black Sea.
· Russian air force sorties with their advanced aircraft in Syria now have battle experience albeit against far weaker air defenses over failed states.
At this point the Twilight Zone possibilities emerge that mimic fictitious organizations such as SMERSH and SPECTRE from a James Bond movie in which the impossible has become the plausible.
The Kremlin in Kyiv
Assuming a successful hostile takeover, Putin will have the following leverage over the US and EU:
· Ukraine - a large geographical buffer between Nato and Russia.
· Complete control over the physical oil and gas pipelines from Russia through Ukraine which supply the EU 40% of its energy needs. Present-day pre-invasion the EU has complained that Russian energy exports are only 50% of contract requirements.
· Control over Ukraine’s agricultural exports, mostly grains with the seizure of port cities of Odesa and Mariupol, secured by its naval base at the newly “acquired” Crimea.
Russia-China Partnership | The Iron Bamboo Curtain
Post-invasion it begs the question whether Russia will assume responsibility for rebuilding Ukrainian infrastructure. Although Russia has built an economic war chest through de-dollarisation and considerable increase in gold holdings, these transfers were for the purposes of weathering new draconian US sanctions, not for rebuilding infrastructure elsewhere.
For this reason this is where cash-rich China steps in to extend their Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) into the heart of Europe with the standard usuary infrastructure loans with non-negotiable terms & conditions.
This could represent the largest joint venture by two mafia states. Russia is the project manager offering protection while China finances & rebuilds. Russia gets its long-desired buffer state while China has access to the European market to satisfy its insatiable essential agricultural goods for its 1.4 billion citizens.
In the meantime Russia can leverage their position by “renegotiating” the contracts and terms & conditions of their energy contracts with the Eu. Alternative energy sources, short and medium term, face present-day low production, low inventories, export restrictions and supply chain difficulties all of which represent considerable economic cost. Furthermore the completion of long-term energy alternatives through pipelines over friendly countries are years away.
Infamous for their gross inefficiencies through outright, bold corruption, it would not be far-fetched if Russia and China repeat the same mistakes as the US in Afghanistan. The economic endgame of mind-boggling waste can be viewed in the following chart entitled Afghanistan: The US Wasted Billions on Buildings & Vehicles provided by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
A pro-Russian Ukrainian leadership protected by the Russian military with Chinese economic management eliminates any forthcoming US or western economic aid putting ordinary Ukrainians beyond a hybrid iron bamboo curtain and in a dire political and economic position teetering on poverty as a de facto failed state.
Ukrainian Agricultural Overview
The importance of Ukrainian agricultural production cannot be overstated. According to the International Trade Administration, agriculture is 9.3% of Ukraine’s GDP. Ukraine’s agricultural yields have been consistently good since 2013 harvesting at least 60 million tons of grains. The 2022 forecast projects a considerable increase. The average annual yield is three times Ukraine’s domestic needs making them self-sufficient and one of the world’s largest agricultural exporters.
The following data are particulars for each crop provided by the World Data Center for Geoinformatics and Sustainable Development:
· With a climate similar to Kansas, Ukraine the main grain output encompasses wheat, corn, barley and rye.
· 4th largest exporter of corn (eastern and southern Ukraine), planted in April/May, harvested in September, and barley (eastern Ukraine), planted in April and harvested in August.
· 6th largest exporter of wheat (south and south-central Ukraine). It’s a winter wheat planted in fall and harvested the following summer.
· 7th largest exporter of soybeans.
· World’s leading sunflower seed oil exporter (southern and eastern regions), planted in April harvested in September. It’s their most profitable crop because of low production costs and high demand.
· Most exports are shipped to Spain and Italy, North Africa, the Middle East and East Asia (China, Japan, Korea).
In the near future this development will have an extreme impact on the following:
· A boost to conservative and extreme-right parties in the spring French national elections.
· Conservative and extreme-right parties will gain enormous representative in other democratic European countries which plays into the hands of autocratic Russia and China.
· With respect to the US, this development profoundly changes the American perspective on the future of Europe creating an increasing socio-political divisiveness leading to the 2022 midterm and 2024 presidential elections.
Incalculable Human Cost
Wars create masses of refugees and the Russian invasion of Ukraine will be no exception. For several years Western Europe has been overwhelmed with unrelenting waves of refugees most of whom are non-white, non-Christian and who come from failed states exacerbating the socio-economic-political tensions in these countries.
The internal and external displacement of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing to and remaining long-term in western European countries, already burdened by millions from Middle East, Afghanistan, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, represent “the straw that breaks the camel’s back.” Already frayed social safety nets are at their breaking point. Even a modicum of additional refugees can trigger violent civil unrest in European countries whose citizenry are furious at their government over pandemic-related mandates.
On the other hand, Ukrainian movement to any European country far easier because movement is over land instead of treacherous seas. Furthermore, their European racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds would make it easier to blend in, move about and “disappear” from law enforcement far better than most present-day refugees. Some Ukrainians probably have family and friends with legal citizenry elsewhere in Europe with whom they can stay. Finally they would gain greater sympathy and support as war refugees vs economic refugees.
The following chart entitled Mapping the World’s Refugee Population provided by the United Nations Human Refugee Agency (UNHCR) indicates the 2020 year-end state of affairs with respect to the refugee country of origin. As you can imagine, the Russian invasion thoroughly rewrites this chart.
Whether by default or design, Russia and China appear to be carving new spheres of influence using agricultural-rich Ukraine as a military buffer and food source all while hundreds of thousands of ordinary Ukrainians create a refugee tsunami to flood nearby European countries taxing their socio-economic safety nets and goodwill.
Russia will now have control of the Ukrainian agricultural sector as well as energy supplies to Europe which represent nothing short of blackmail resulting in energy and food price spikes and, if compliance is not adhered to, outright shortages.
Nonetheless the aforementioned forecast may be part of the Russian strategic plan only if their primary objectives are met swiftly including the cooperation of an always politically fickle China.
Firstly, Russia and China collaborate only as a matter of convenience against US interests. None of their previous agreements have been profound or enduring. For this reason a New Order in Europe dictated by mafia states may be nothing more than a mirage.
Secondly, autocracies and their kleptocratic practices have historically collapsed because of over-reach. This risk is heightened by the fact that neither Russia nor China have natural allies, only small, militarily weak collaborators who have little choice but to toe the line. This represents one of the main differences between autocracies and democracies which is why their reach is limited and ultimately fleeting.
© Copyright 2022 Cerulean Council
The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.