China is holding on tight to one thing and the last warning of Russia’s invasion could be when China gives in to it.
Troop ships were put to sea. Artillery took up positions on the borders. Tanks and trucks flock to the highways.
But the final warning of the Russian invasion may be what is happening at the Chinese Embassy in Ukraine.
The telltale signs of war are flashing thick and fast.
Russia has mobilized field hospitals and large-scale blood supplies. Cyberattacks are underway against government mechanisms. Maintenance-intensive bombers were deployed forward on sparsely prepared runways.
According to reports, military engineers have started building a bridge over a river just 8 km from the Ukrainian border.
All that’s left is the “deploy” order. When that will happen remains unclear.
The final clue may come from Moscow’s only prominent friend and supporter – Beijing.
So far, China has played down the evacuation of embassies by the West.
Its embassy staff remain in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. This is despite the fact that many military analysts believe that is the main objective of President Vladimir Putin’s plan to install a puppet government.
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Australia evacuated its personnel. The United States has moved its diplomats to a Ukrainian town closer to the border with NATO member Poland.
The UK, Germany, Lithuania, Japan, New Zealand and the Netherlands have also urged their nationals to leave immediately.
China has so far remained steadfast.
His “wolf warrior” diplomats have backed President Putin’s line that he has no intention of invading. But Beijing has offered no alternative reason for mobilizing 150,000 Russian frontline troops.
Neither does Moscow. And that leaves Chinese nationals and embassy staff on a limb.
The Beijing Factor
The Beijing Winter Olympics end on February 20.
Their success is important to President Xi Jinping. He wants the show unsullied to validate the Communist Party’s iron-clad controls over the Chinese population and economy.
Mr. Putin is well aware of this.
He flew to Beijing for the opening of the games in a bold show of solidarity between the two leaders.
The emerging axis of power between Beijing and Moscow is a key pivot in the opposition to Washington. When they met earlier this month, the two men criticized “attempts by outside forces to undermine security and stability in their common adjacent regions”.
They said there were “no prohibited areas of cooperation” between the two countries.
But any “friendly fire” incident involving the Chinese embassy could strain that relationship.
China supports Russia’s “security concerns”. He agrees that NATO should revoke the membership of former Soviet bloc states such as Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Romania. Its troops should fall back to pre-1997 positions. Ukraine should not have the power to solve its own “security problems independently”.
It is a position that has drawn criticism from the United States.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Beijing’s “tacit support” for Moscow was “deeply alarming”. “Their joint statement on February 4 certainly provided further evidence that China has decided to stand with Russia regarding what is happening in Europe,” he added.
But Beijing has been cool on the idea of war.
“We call on all parties to remain rational and refrain from taking any measures that may escalate tensions and aggravate and sensationalize the crisis,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday.
“We believe that all parties should sincerely respect the Minsk II Agreement and work towards a comprehensive resolution of the Ukrainian crisis and related issues through dialogue and negotiation.”
Mr Wang slammed Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for criticizing Beijing for its “frightening silence” on Moscow’s war preparations.
“We urge the Australian side to abandon the Cold War mentality and ideological biases and stop making bellicose rhetoric that will escalate tensions,” he said. “Such acts of seeking selfish political gain by demanding confrontation are unethical and dangerous.”
A model for Taiwan
“Under the current circumstances, exaggerating and exaggerating the possibility of war is not responsible behavior,” Wang warned yesterday. “Willingly resorting to sanctions and pressure will not help to defuse the situation. Calling for bloc confrontation will only lead to the old Cold War path.
Beijing’s interest is not entirely benevolent.
He sees similarities between Moscow’s “security concerns” and his own desire to take over Taiwan.
Mr. Putin considers Ukraine to be historically part of Russia.
Non-Russian-speaking Ukrainians disagree.
Mr. Xi considers Taiwan to be historically part of the People’s Republic of China. Taiwan – the last outpost of the Republic of China – claims never to have surrendered to the Communist Party.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen sees the parallels.
“Taiwan has long faced military threats and intimidation from China. We understand the situation in Ukraine,” she recently told a meeting of her national security advisers.
Beijing and Taipei see Ukraine as a test of Washington’s resolve.
Chinese Communist Party spokesman Hu Xijin accuses Washington of following a “diabolical script” on Europe and Asia.
“Washington has repeatedly stated that once war breaks out in Ukraine, US troops will no longer be part of it,” he wrote.
“On the question of Taiwan, the United States did not promise to send troops if there was a war in the Taiwan Strait. So the US has no bottom line as it incites regional radicalism and extremism, forcing Russia to attack and pushing China for strong responses.
Does the United States have the political will to take a stand? And does this indicate whether or not the US military would intervene in any Chinese invasion of Taiwan?
This is a credibility challenge of which Washington is aware.
US Secretary of State Tony Blinken said during a visit to Australia last week: “Others are watching. Others look to all of us to see how we react.
Meanwhile, Moscow continues to call the accusations it plans to invade “absurd”, insisting that all such warnings are “hysteria”.
Beijing agrees. With a note of caution.
“China is closely following the development of the situation in Ukraine,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Monday.
“The Chinese Embassy and Consulate General in Ukraine are operating normally, and the Embassy has issued a consular notice reminding Chinese citizens and institutions to follow developments closely and raise their security awareness.”
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel