Russia’s War Viewed from China



Mark Leonard
Russia’s war viewed from China. Photo collected

Russia’s war viewed from China. Photo collected

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Is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine merely the first in a series of conflicts that will make Europe seem more like the Middle East in the coming years? A Chinese academic who requested anonymity put that question to me last month, and his reasoning showed just how differently non-Westerners view a war that is reshaping the European geopolitical order.

In speaking with Chinese academics to understand how they view the world, I have found that they start from a fundamentally different position than many in the West do. It’s not just that they are more likely to blame the Ukraine war on NATO enlargement than on the Kremlin; it is that many of their core strategic assumptions are also the opposite of our own.

While Europeans and Americans see the conflict as a turning point in global history, the Chinese see it as just another war of intervention—one that is even less significant than those launched in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 75 years. To them, the only material difference this time is that it is not the West that is intervening.

And while many in Europe think that the war has marked America’s return to the global stage, Chinese intellectuals see it as further confirmation of the incoming post-American world. To them, the end of American hegemony created a vacuum that is now being filled by Russia.

Whereas Westerners see an attack on the rules-based order, my Chinese friends see the emergence of a more pluralistic world—one in which the end of American hegemony permits different regional and sub-regional projects. They argue that the rules-based order has always lacked legitimacy; Western powers created the rules, and they have never shown much compunction about changing them when it suits their purposes (as in Kosovo and Iraq).

These are the arguments that lead to the Middle East analogy. My Chinese interlocutor sees the situation in Ukraine not as a war of aggression between sovereign countries, but rather as a revision of post-colonial borders following the end of Western hegemony. Likewise, in the Middle East, states are questioning the borders that the West drew after World War I.

But the most striking parallel is that the Ukraine conflict is widely regarded as a proxy war. Just as the wars in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon have been fuelled and exploited by great powers, so, too, has the war in Ukraine. Who are the main beneficiaries? My Chinese friend argues that it certainly is not Russia, Ukraine or Europe. Rather, the United States and China ultimately stand to gain the most, and both have been approaching the conflict as a proxy war in their larger rivalry.

The argument goes that the Americans have benefited by locking Europeans, Japanese and Koreans into a new alignment of US-dictated priorities, and by isolating Russia and forcing China to clarify where it stands on issues such as territorial integrity. At the same time, they say China has benefited by cementing Russia’s subordinate position in the two countries’ partnership, and by prodding more countries in the global south to embrace non-alignment.

While European leaders cast themselves as 21st-century Churchills, the Chinese see them as mere pawns in a bigger geopolitical game. The consensus among all the scholars I spoke with is that the war in Ukraine is a rather unimportant diversion when compared to the short-term disruptions of Covid-19 or the longer-term struggle for supremacy between the US and China.

Obviously, one could argue with my Chinese interlocutor’s points. Europeans certainly have more agency than he implies, and the West’s vigorous response to Russia’s aggression could well prevent the war from being the first in a longer series of border conflicts (as occurred during the decade-long wars of Yugoslav succession in the 1990s).

Nonetheless, the fact that Chinese observers frame things so differently than we do should give us pause. At a minimum, we in the West should think harder about how the rest of the world perceives us. Yes, it is tempting to dismiss Chinese arguments as mere talking points, designed to stay on the good side of a hostile, undemocratic regime (public discussions about Ukraine are heavily controlled in China). But perhaps some humility is in order.

The fact that Chinese observers have such a radically different perspective may help to explain why the West has not garnered near-universal support for its sanctions against Russia. At a time when the politics of ‘taking back control’ is ascendant, we should not be so surprised to see other governments discounting the importance of Ukraine. Where we see a heroic self-defence of the rules-based order, others see the last gasp of Western hegemony in a world that is quickly becoming multipolar.

[Mark Leonard is director of the European Council on Foreign Relations and the author of 'The age of unpeace: how connectivity causes conflict'.]

Far-right government in Italy, asylum seekers and migrants



Eric Reidy
Asylum seekers in an Italian port.

Asylum seekers in an Italian port.

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The Brothers of Italy party – which topped the polls with 26 percent of the vote on 25 September – has its roots in Italy’s post-war neo-fascist movement. The party’s head, Giorgia Meloni, is set to become Italy’s next leader – and its first female prime minister. She is looking to form a governing coalition with the far-right League party and the centre-right Forza Italia party of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The main issues for voters in the election were rising energy prices, inflation, and Italy’s policy towards Russia and Ukraine. However, the winning coalition also campaigned on a hardline anti-migration platform, promising to implement a naval blockade to prevent asylum seekers and migrants from reaching Italian ports and to follow in the UK’s and Denmark’s footsteps by attempting to send asylum seekers outside Europe to have their claims processed.

Migration and rights experts told The New Humanitarian they expect the new government to also crack down on NGOs and volunteers carrying out search and rescue activities in the Mediterranean and providing humanitarian support to refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in Italy.

In the lead-up to the election, there were several high-profile violent attacks against asylum seekers and migrants, including the killing of Alika Ogorchukwu, a 39-year-old Nigerian man who was beaten to death in broad daylight in the town of Civitanova Marche in July, which put a spotlight on racism in Italian society.

The leader of the League party is Matteo Salvini. His tenure as Italy’s interior minister from June 2018 to September 2019 provides a good indication of the policies a new, far-right government is likely to pursue, according to Carmine Conte, a legal policy analyst at the Brussels-based Migration Policy Group think tank.

Salvini closed Italy’s ports to search and rescue NGOs, gutted the Italian asylum reception system, and made it more difficult for people to receive humanitarian protection in the country.

Salvini – who remains on trial over charges stemming from his refusal to let rescued asylum seekers and migrants disembark in an Italian port in August 2019 – is unlikely to return as interior minister because his party performed poorly in this election. But “now we are going… towards hostile, anti-migrant policies on the same level as Salvini,” Conte said.

Ukrainians who have escaped the Russian invasion will likely be exempt from this hardline approach, according to Conte, exemplifying a double standard seen across Europe in the treatment of Ukrainians and people from other parts of the world seeking safety.

According to Migration Analysis 28 September 2022, what a far-right government in Italy means for asylum seekers and migrants
Beyond stoking racism and xenophobia, experts fear Meloni could double down on migration policies that lead to more deaths at sea.

Eric Reidy, Migration Editor-at-large, The New Humanitarian.

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World opinion shifts against Russia as Ukraine worries grow



News Desk, Barta24.com
World opinion shifts against Russia as Ukraine worries grow

World opinion shifts against Russia as Ukraine worries grow

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The tide of international opinion appears to be decisively shifting against Russia, as a number of non-aligned countries are joining the United States and its allies in condemning Moscow’s war in Ukraine and its threats to the principles of the international rules-based order.

According to media reports, Western officials have repeatedly said that Russia has become isolated since invading Ukraine in February. Until recently, though, that was largely wishful thinking. But on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, much of the international community spoke out against the conflict in a rare display of unity at the often fractured United Nations.

The tide had already appeared to be turning against Russian President Vladimir Putin even before Thursday’s U.N. speeches. Chinese and Indian leaders had been critical of the war at a high-level summit last week in Uzbekistan. And then the U.N. General Assembly disregarded Russia’s objections and voted overwhelmingly to allow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to be the only leader to address the body remotely, instead of requiring him to appear in person.

That shift against Russia accelerated after Putin on Wednesday announced the mobilization of some additional 300,000 troops to Ukraine, signaling the unlikelihood of a quick end to the war.

Putin also suggested that nuclear weapons may be an option. That followed an announcement of Russia’s intention to hold referendums in several occupied Ukrainian regions on whether they will become part of Russia.

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Socrates and the life worth living



Oscar Davis, Bond University
Socrates and the life worth living

Socrates and the life worth living

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Socrates was notoriously annoying. He was likened to a gadfly buzzing around while one is trying to sleep. The Oracle of Delphi declared him the wisest of all human beings. His life and death would go on to shape the history of Western thought.

And yet he proclaimed to know nothing. The genius of Socrates lay in his professed ignorance of what it means to be human.

Socrates (469-399 BCE) grew up in Athens over two and half thousand years ago. At the time, the Athenians were recovering from a devastating war with the Persians. As they rebuilt, the military general and politician, Pericles, championed democracy as the form of government to bring Greece into its Golden Age.

The Athenians practised a direct (as opposed to representative) form of democracy. Any male over the age of 20 was obligated to take part. The officials of the assembly were randomly selected through a lottery process and could make executive pronouncements, such as deciding to go to war or banishing Athenian citizens.

The Athens of Pericles flourished. Bustling crowds of traders from around the Mediterranean gathered at the port of Piraeus. In the Athenian agoras – the central marketplaces and assembly areas – the active social and political lives of the Athenian citizens would inspire the mind of Socrates.

Socrates teaches us that philosophical contemplation prepares us for the good life. The experience of aporia – in all of its discomfort and disruption – is the very catalyst of wonder. The philosopher, the lover of wisdom, is anyone who dares to escape the cave and look upon the sun, anyone who lives for the values Socrates died for.

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Putin signals a coming escalation



News Desk, Barta24.com
Putin signals a coming escalation

Putin signals a coming escalation

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Vladimir Putin accelerated his war effort in Ukraine yesterday and announced a new campaign that would call up roughly 300,000 additional Russian troops.

In a rare address to the nation, the Russian president made a veiled threat of using nuclear weapons. “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people,” Putin said. “This is not a bluff.”

His comments appeared to be a shift in his domestic strategy to the war. Ukraine said Putin’s remarks reflected his desperation: Russia’s military has suffered humiliating setbacks this month.

It also seemed to be an effort to startle the U.S. and its Western allies into dropping their support. But at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Western leaders looked undeterred. President Biden said the U.S. and its allies would “stand in solidarity” against Russia and accused Moscow of violating the U.N. charter.

Protests erupted across Russia in response to the “partial mobilization,” and at least 1,252 people have been detained. Russians also rushed to buy one-way flights out of the country.

Experts say Russia currently has 200,000 troops, or fewer, in Ukraine. Putin’s campaign would more than double that, but those called up need training and weapons.

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