Xi Leaves Moscow

Xi Jinping has left Moscow, bringing an end to a visit which was watched closely from Kiev to Washington. Surprisingly, there appears to be a growing consensus in some media and geopolitical circles that the Xi-Putin meetings will not result in in concrete changes to the Sino-Russian relationship, or China’s position regarding the war in Ukraine. Based on public statements and the slivers of information emanating from behind closed doors these thoughts are nothing beyond the obvious. The real decisions were made behind closed doors between Monday and Thursday and just what they were will only become clear as time goes on.

First off, the strategic relationship between China and Russia is almost certainly now solidified in a junior-senior partner dynamic. As the senior partner, it is in Beijing’s best interests to keep Russia afloat in the war for an extended period of time. Or, as an alternative, press for peace talks resulting in a short-term ceasefire at the very least. China’s peace plan is very popular in the Kremlin but has hardly gained a second look in Kiev or the West. To be blunt, the plan is anything but fair and if agreed to by all parties and implemented, would see Russia keep possession of the territory it has gained so far in the war. Should Ukraine and the West formally reject China’s attempt at playing peacemaker, this opens the door for China to supply Russia with military equipment and material.

More disconcerting, it will also pave the way for China to start laying the foundation for its own geopolitical and military moves in the Western Pacific and beyond.

Author’s Note: Short post today. Free time slipped away a bit. I’m considering starting up a substack for DIRT to have a place where I can post in-depth analysis, while keeping this blog mostly for shorter briefs and updates. I’ll be sure to keep readers in the loop. –Mike  

EU Plans To Provide 1 Million Artillery Rounds To Ukraine

Over twelve European Union member-states have come together and pledged to supply Ukraine with at least 1 million artillery shells over the next calendar year. The plan was put together and agreed to on Monday in Brussels. The Ukrainian government has told the EU it needs to use 350,000 artillery rounds each month to keep the Russians from gaining more ground, as well as prepare Ukrainian forces for a counteroffensive at some point later this year. The Ukrainian foreign minister called the EU decision a ‘game changer.’

The first phase of the EU plan is for member-states to draw from their current stockpiles with the target goal of sending this to Ukraine by May. €1Billion has been committed for this phase. Phase Two will see an additional  €1Billion allocated to jointly order 155mm rounds for Ukraine. These are the rounds Ukraine uses the most. The terms of the deal will require participating nations to share information about their ammunition stockpiles with the EU and other member-states taking part in the plan. This move is unprecedented and could cause problems in the future as accurate ammunition numbers are generally considered secret in nearly all European nations.

More intriguing is the motivation behind the EU plan. Instead of working to train the Ukrainian military to improve its fire discipline the EU has instead decided to feed Ukraine’s infinite appetite for artillery rounds. The problem is that Europe’s overall supply of available artillery rounds is finite, and so is its production ability. The United States has seen the writing on the wall and recognized it cannot meet Ukraine’s ammunition demands. Earlier this month the Pentagon announced it will be retraining Ukrainian troops to conserve their artillery rounds and use them more effectively. The US shift makes sense and puts Ukraine on notice that it cannot continue to recklessly expend ammunition the way it as.

The EU on the other hand, appears to be rather short-sighted with its newest plan and appears to be banking on a lengthy ceasefire coming about by the start of the summer.

Xi Jinping Set To Arrive In Moscow On Monday

Xi Jinping is set to arrive in Moscow on Monday with the weight of China’s foreign policy ambitions weighing on his shoulders. The visit to Russia comes as the war in Ukraine continues on with no end in sight, the International Criminal Court has announced it intends to put Vladimir Putin on trial for alleged war crimes and China is ambitiously seeking to expand its global role. Should Xi play his cards right, he could walk away from Moscow on Wednesday in a strong position to influence and perhaps bring about an acceptable end to the war. Acceptable to China and Russia that is.

Russian officials have voiced hope that Xi’s visit will result in new approaches to the war being found.  Putin’s foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov said, “I’m sure that our leader and the Chinese leader will exchange their assessments of the situation. We shall see what ideas will emerge after that.” China’s proposal for a ceasefire and negotiations was warmly received in Moscow last month. Ukraine welcomed China’s involvement but went no farther.

It could be difficult if not impossible to ignore China’s growing presence and influence, however. After successfully brokering a restoration of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Xi is looking to position China to play a greater role in managing global affairs. It would not come as a shock if Xi laid out a new ceasefire proposal while in Moscow or offered to mediate talks between the Russian and Ukrainian governments aimed at reaching a peaceful settlement to the war. China playing the part of peacemaker is in contradiction to its position on territorial integrity. Specifically, concerning Taiwan. The Taiwan matter could prevent any future Chinese peace proposals from being taken seriously by Kiev or the West.

Ukraine Update: 16 March, 2023

China’s foreign minister conducted a phone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart and expressed the Chinese government’s growing concern with the continuing war between Russia and China. Beijing is anxious over the prospect of the war escalating and is urging Kiev to discuss a political resolution with Moscow. Coming from the Chinese, a request for negotiations at this point appears self-serving. The discussion between foreign ministers comes amid reports that a Chinese-made drone was shot down last weekend. The United States has led the charge in accusing China of moving closer to supplying Russia with weapons. It would make sense for China to urge a negotiated settlement to try and divert attention away from the discovery of a Chinese-made drone on the battlefield. Pushing this tact is even more sensible considering that Xi Jinping is expected to visit Moscow in the near future and there is widespread speculation concerning what Xi’s arrival in Russia might bring about.

Unfortunately for the West, the warnings put forward about China potentially supplying Russia with weapons and war material is an instance of the pot calling the kettle black. Led by the United States, NATO has provided Ukraine with a continuous stream of weapons since the start of the war. Most recently, a limited number of main battle tanks have entered the pipeline. In the next few days four Polish MiG-29s will arrive in Ukraine. These will be the first combat aircraft provided by a NATO member-state, representing a sizeable escalation in military support. Other alliance members could follow suit, opening the prospect of combat aircraft being made available to Ukraine’s air arm.

This could produce two significant actions. First, Russia might commit a sizeable portion of its air force to the war. So far, the Russian Air Force has played a limited role with the majority of its available combat aircraft kept out of the fighting. Second, an increase in NATO military support could prompt China to begin providing copious amounts of war material to keep Russia afloat. Time will tell which of these two prospects takes shape.

A Little Sawgrass Chat On This Sunday Evening

The Players Championship had drawn to a close. After spending a few days immersed in golf paradise it is time to start thinking about my impending return to the real world. As I sit here enjoying my final Sawgrass Splash and take a look at what has been going on while I have been pleasantly preoccupied here at TPC Sawgrass, I must admit it has been an active last four or five days around the world.

First up, China’s peace-brokering mission in the Persian Gulf. Normalizing relations between the two major powers in the region will provide China with some much-needed positive press. Today, China insisted its was pursuing no ulterior motives in bringing Iran and Saudi Arabia. In a statement released earlier this weekend by China’s Foreign Ministry stated,  “We respect the stature of Middle East countries as the masters of the region and oppose geopolitical competition in the Middle East.” Despite the contents of this press release, Beijing’s move is a clear signal of its intent to play a significant role in the Persian Gulf region for some time. China’s growing presence and influence in the region does not sit well with the United States and for good reason. For much of the past three decades, Washington has been the undeclared Godfather of the Middle East. Nothing moved forward the discreet approval of the White House. Regional leaders were not always satisfied with the arrangement but nevertheless played ball. Unfortunately, the Biden administration made a strategic error by relegating the Middle East to the back burner and focusing almost obsessively on Europe, the war in Ukraine and more recently the Western Pacific. US diplomats and the White House created a tremendous opportunity for China and Beijing wasted little time cashing in. Now there are two major outside players competing for friendships and influence in the region. The more savvy operators in the Gulf will use this new reality to their advantage. For the time being, US prestige has taken a hit. It will be up to Antony Blinken to right the ship, so to speak. I’m not convinced he can pull it off.

Then there is the Bakhmut meatgrinder in Ukraine. Neither side can effectively disengage at this point without suffering a significant blow to morale. Ukraine is almost fully invested in defending Bakhmut. Zelenskiy has not ordered a retreat yet and seems he is in no hurry to at this point. Despite the heavy number of casualties that pile up daily. Losing the city now will do tremendous harm to national morale. For better or worse, Ukraine is committed to the defense of Bakhmut, signaling its willingness to turn the city into a miniature Stalingrad. Russia is thinking along similar lines. Unfortunately for both sides, the war will not be won in Bakhmut. However, it could easily be lost if men and equipment continue to be added to the battle without a definitive strategy.