Ukraine Update 21 Sept. 2022: Putin Ups The Ante

Vladimir Putin has upped the ante in Ukraine and made it clear that he is determined to end the war on terms favorable to Russia. In an address to his nation Putin announced the call-up of approximately 300,000 reservists. The Russian leader cited Western material support for Ukraine as the primary reason for the mobilization. He labeled the move ‘necessary and urgent’ in light of the advanced weapons that the United States and European nations have been pouring into Ukraine since February. Russia’s standoff with the West has not dissipated. Putin accused the West of ‘nuclear blackmail’ and warned that Russia has nuclear weapons of its own. Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive in the northeast has alarmed the Russian government. This was made apparent by Putin’s support for referendums being hastily set up in territories occupied by Russian forces. Annexation of these areas will make them part of Russia. After that, any potential Ukrainian attacks against them can be considered aggressive action against Russia itself. Putin has declared he is prepared to use every weapon in Russia’s arsenal to defend ‘Russian territory.’ 

 “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 in the address. “This is not a bluff.”

As for the partial mobilization, 300,000 is a significant number of reservists. It will be some time before these citizens-turned-soldier are ready for duty. How useful they will be on the frontlines in Ukraine remains to be seen. Some will inevitably end up there, but not all. Most likely, not even the majority. The move also runs the risk of sewing domestic dissent inside of Russia. Protests broke out across the country in response to the callup. Russian police and security forces detained over 1,300 demonstrators. Although unsanctioned protests can result in prison terms for those found guilty of organizing or attending them, a significant number of Russians chose to take part. The prospect of reservists being called up hits close to home for many Russians. Suddenly the war in Ukraine, which has seemed far away and of little consequence for the average Russian citizen, is now standing at the front door.

Taiwan Policy Act Will Not Go Unchallenged By China

With the Taiwan Policy Act (TPA) having advanced past its first obstacle on the road to legislation, the People’s Republic of China is sending warnings to Washington over its progress. Even though TPA is a long distance away from becoming law, the prospect of it becoming reality is causing concern in Beijing. And for good reason. Provisions embedded in the act would give Taiwan $6.5 Billion in financing for US-manufactured weapon systems. The US would also treat Taiwan along the lines of a ‘major non-NATO ally’ and allow the prospect of expedited arms sales.

China’s foreign ministry lodged complaints over TPA with the US government on Thursday. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning claims it “seriously breaches the US commitment to China on the Taiwan question,” and violates the “One-China” principle. Ning also called on Washington to  “stop playing the Taiwan card”  and refrain from using Taiwan as an instrument to “contain China.”

Some politicians in Washington, as well as a number of defense and geopolitical analysts, are concerned TPA is highly provocative and could prompt Chinese leadership to take action. US-China relations are already tense enough in the wake of Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August. The Chinese response to that was prompt, bellicose and very visible. In the weeks leading up to the House Speaker’s visit included numerous warnings by the Chinese government, both private and public. Yet by issuing those warnings Beijing painted Washington into a corner it could not extricate itself without suffering significant embarrassment.

In this situation, if TPA continues to advance, China may find itself in a similar box.   Later in the coming week I plan to discuss this more. For tomorrow or Tuesday we’ll shift gears back to Central Asia where two conflicts involving former-Soviet republics are now underway.

The Next Strait Crisis: Political Posturing Phase Part II

Joe Biden’s pledge to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack seems to have been an off the cuff move by the American president. It certainly raised eyebrows and alarm bells across the world, signaling a shift in long-standing US policy. In one instant Biden removed all ambiguity over the US military’s role in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan. Or did he? Even now, weeks later, it’s difficult to determine how sincere Biden’s comments were. There was a considerable amount of backstepping by the White House in the days after Biden’s pledge especially on the matter of how the US now regards the One-China policy.

In the eyes of many in Taiwan and in other areas of the Western Pacific, the United States is now committed to Taiwan’s defense should hostilities break out. Biden’s pledge carries a considerable amount of weight. If China managed to call Biden’s bluff somehow, the ramifications the security and stability of the Western Pacific would be altered significantly and not in Washington’s favor. An outbreak of fighting between China and Taiwan would have a similar effect of US forces remained on the sidelines.

With a new Taiwan Strait crisis lurking on the horizon, the Biden Administration needs to come to terms with the fact its pledge might bring the US and China to blows.

Note: The week has sort of gotten away from me here. I was hoping to get this out earlier, but the opportunity never came about. I want to discuss the US pledge to defend Taiwan more. Hopefully I can get another more detailed entry out by the end of the weekend on this subject.

The Next Strait Crisis: Political Posturing Phase Part I

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen took advantage of the sixty-fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis to warn China that it will defend itself and inflict heavy casualties upon an invader in the event of an attack. Tsai’s remarks come during a tense period of time in the region following US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan earlier this month. In response to the visit, China flexed its military muscle with a series of large-scale military exercises in and around Taiwan Strait.

Tsai has pointed to these maneuvers as proof of China’s intent to permanently change the status quo in the Strait and around the Western Pacific. At the same time, Taiwan’s leader is moving to encourage the country’s ‘democratic partners’ to stand together in defiance of Beijing’s intentions. Her attempts are focused firmly upon the United States. US politicians are also maneuvering and the same holds true for the Chinese.

We are on the verge of the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis and all of the major players are presently posturing for the drama to come. Beijing, Washington and Taiwan are emphatically presenting their respective positions to the rest of the world. As mentioned above, Taiwan is also making efforts to compare its current plight to that of Ukraine in hopes of generating international support.

Following Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, China is forced to determine just how ‘official’ Pelosi’s discussions and activities were. Beijing has viewed the United States as gradually moving away from the One-China Policy for years now.  Pelosi’s visit, coupled with the stream of other less-known US politicians visiting Taiwan in recent weeks could signal that the policy is for all purposes now dead. If this is the view being taken in Beijing, China will need to formulate a forceful response to demonstrate its displeasure with the perceived US shift.

The Biden Administration is caught in an unenviable position. Pelosi’s visit has placed the White House squarely in a box and is pushing the United States closer to a possible confrontation with China.  I’ll discuss that more in the next post either tomorrow or Thursday.

Western Pacific Update 7 August, 2022

PLAN and PLAAF exercises in Taiwan Strait are concluding today. China is apparently honoring the exercise schedule, which allows the region to breath a sigh of relief for the time being. This is not the end of drama in the Strait, however. As the PLAN exercises conclude, Taiwanese naval vessels are maintaining a close watch and keeping the Chinese honest. There will be more exercises in the future, though. According to China, the People’s Liberation Army Navy will conduct regular exercises east of the median line.

As the exercises conclude, attention is turning to the intentions of the US Navy over the coming days. The White House announced last week that Seventh Fleet warships, as well as US Navy and USAF aircraft will conduct freedom of navigation (FON) exercises in the Strait in the future. Although the US was not clear about exactly when the FON exercises will begin. If they do not start for another week or longer, there’s potential damage to US credibility in the region. Beijing can say the US was deliberately waiting until China concluded exercises and its warships returned home before moving its own assets into the Strait. Selective power projection, for lack of a better term.

With the Strait temporarily quieting down, I plan to take an opportunity to look over some other global hotspots on Monday and Tuesday. The war in Ukraine continues on and tensions flared up between Israel and Gaza over the last few days leading to rocket attacks on Israeli cities and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes against targets in Gaza. We’ll circle back a bit and see what’s going on over there now.