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China May Be Surprising Winner in Ukraine Turmoil

Farmland in Ukraine. Photo via Reuters

Farmland in Ukraine. Photo via Reuters

The surprising winner in the turmoil engulfing Ukraine is turning out to be China, a top U.S. expert on Central Europe and Russia said on Monday.

Ukraine has lost thousands of lives in the fighting, the European Union and U.S. lost stature in failing to react to the February annexation and subsequent referendum of Crimea “and Russia has lost because of sanctions,” Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder said during a presentation at a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

The reason is twofold: “Russia is a much weaker negotiator on [the price] of natural gas,” having recently completely a sales agreement with China to replace potential losses under sanctions in Western Europe, he said. At the same time, China completed negotiations with Ukraine to lease about nine percent of its grain-producing lands to feed its own people. This Russian tilt toward China will have longer-term consequences.

“In foreign policy, you like to have options of playing one side against the other,” as Russia did with the European Union and China — both economically stronger than Moscow, Snyder said.

Russia moved closer to China and, “the tilt toward China is going to be a downhill slide” for Russian President Vladimir Putin that he or his successor will need to correct, Snyder said in answer to a question.

Yet the Russian moves, including using soldiers in uniforms without insignia, in Crimea and other parts of eastern Ukraine have strong support among the Russian people.

But Snyder added, “I think it all got out their hands,” and the result was ratcheting up tensions and military operations to prove that the initial move in Crimea was the right one.

“It was clear pleasure [the Russian political elite] were having in Crimea,” he said.

He dismissed Putin’s contention that Crimea and eastern Ukraine are Russian by history and language, a similar argument Adolf Hitler made in claiming Sudetenland in pre World War II Czechoslovakia. Using 1815 as a high point of the Russian empire following the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte and restoring it to those boundaries would also allow Portugal and the U.K. to reclaim its colonies in Africa and Asia.

Snyder said history could be viewed as always learning from the past in a comprehensive manner or using a fragmentary approach.

“I think it’s not accidental” that Putin uses the same argument as Hitler in 1938, he said.
“He does read history [but in a] post-modern fragmentary way.”

The differences between Russia and Ukraine show up in other ways than the reading of history. “Russian society is tilting toward the right” on social issues while Ukranians are moving more in alignment on these questions with Europe.

  • KazuakiShimazaki

    I’m shocked that anyone is surprised that China is the winner. For 20+ years, even after the Cold War and the end of the Soviet Union itself, the West was more dedicated to trying to make Russia lose than realizing who the real enemy is. This leaves Russia little choice but to get closer to China.

    • Jay

      @Kazuaki… I agree with Kazuaki, the Western nations needless enmity with Russia only weakens them, and gives China an opportunity to become stronger. The Iraq war also made China stronger. If the US goes around the world seeking to make enemies, then of course China will get stronger. Not that a strong China is necessarily a bad thing. All civilized nations should pursue civilized principles rather than trying to push down others. There was no reason for the US via Nuland and Pyatt to stir up this trouble in Ukraine. If the Ukrainians really wanted Yanukovych gone, they could have voted him out in the next elections. Instead, ignoring the fact that Eastern Ukraine and Crimea had strongly supported Yanukovych the US and Europe supported street mobs who drove Yanukovych out. No wonder that Eastern Ukraine now no longer wants to remain with Western Ukraine.

      • appaulled

        Your blaming the USA for Ukrainians not wanting to wait to vote Yanukovic out is very insulting to Ukrainians. Yanukovic had no authority to move closer to Russia or to abandon closer ties to EU. The people did not want to wait until it was too late to change course so they acted. That is the will of the people taking a position not the people being forced by some sort of coercion by the USA.

        • Jay

          “Yanukovic had no authority to move closer to Russia or to abandon closer ties to EU.” Exactly how did Yanukovych exceed his legal authority, he was the elected President.
          This sort of unnecessary conflict weakens the US, it weakens EU, it weakens Russia and the worst sufferers are the Ukrainians. There is much more common between these nations and infighting is bad for all of them, and I say this as an Indian. There are real threats in this world, like the ISIS. Whether Ukraine is a part of NATO or not is not one of them (except to Russia given the history of the last two hundred years).

          • appaulled

            The Rada passed an act that moved the Ukraine to the EU. Yanukovic unilaterally move the country in the opposite direction. He had no authority to do this without consent of the Rada.

          • Jay

            If you really are going to make the point that the Yanukovych was acting unconstitutionally by not signing the agreement with EU you need to provide a lot more details about what the Ukrainian constitution says. Normally one would assume that the President of a country cannot be forced by the Parliament to sign a treaty that he does not want with a foreign entity.

          • appaulled

            In a demcrocy, presidents cannot act unilaterally to set aside legislation and sign oposing legislation. That would be a dictatorship. Even Putin must ,at least symbolically, get authority from the Duma to commit his country to significant legislation. The Rada passed legislation. If it means nothing,why would the have Deputies.

          • James Bowen

            Our President can veto legislation though. Are you sure that something like this is not what happened there? There are as many Ukrainians who want to align with Russia as there are who want to align with Europe. The fact that a legally-installed President was driven out by a mob that did not necessarily represent a majority viewpoint raises a lot of questions.

  • Larry Reid

    Does ANYONE edit these posting articles? The number of “typo” and grammatical errors is astounding day after day! Time to wake up, guys, and make the effort to present a professional, literate product.

    • appaulled

      Maybe you should read a more high brow literary journal if you are bothered by typos. At times my spell check has changed words and I did not notice. Perhaps you need a job as an English teacher to satisfy your thirst to correct and scold.

  • Secundius

    ChiCom, Plans-Within-Plans-Within-Plans. The United States, tends to think Short-Term strategies, while China, tends too think Long-Term strategies. That bad intelligence on our side. CIA, sleeping again!

  • Sacto43

    “Ukraine has lost thousands of lives in the fighting, the European Union and U.S. lost stature in failing to react to the February annexation and subsequent referendum of Crimea “and Russia has lost because of sanctions,”
    I’m so tired of this narrative. We didnt “prevent” Crimea from falling to Russia because its not ours to won or lose. We didnt cause Russia to do anything. THEY did it. To say other wise just high brow internet consipiracy theory. Ukraine has many reason to not want to be close to Russia that has nohting to do with the US so read some history. If Russia and China get closer then good! They deserve each other.

    • John Allard

      I agree, what was NATO supposed to do? Drop JDAM’s on the Kremlin and start WW3, over the Crimea? A non-NATO territory? Its seems the article faults the west for not going to war with Russia, which was the only way to eject Russian troops, as if they’d apologize and leave on their own.

  • Charly Garcia

    That’s true: China became the EU replace in terms of economical partnership with Russia; but now this is the point where Russia got astray: China took advantage of Russia weakness what means that China without strive got an easy leverage that will be very uncomfortable for the Ruskies in the long run. Also, China is lending so much money to defaulted Russian banks and for the state to oxigen its stumbled economy..China is becoming the Landlord of the Russian foreclosed house.

  • John Macassey

    Perhaps both Mr Grady and Mr. Snyder would benefit by reading a little history of the regions of the Ukraine, Donetsk and Crimea

  • Waldez

    Anytime a”so called historian ” really wants to show their ignorance out come Hitler and Czechoslovakia. Do the fact checking, Czechoslovakia never existed prior to WWI, and the Czechs were a minority in the newly arbitrated country, out numbered by German and Hungarian speakers and the Slovaks who never wanted to be part of a Union but over and over we hear the “if only, if only”. Why did it break up if it was such a wonderful creation? By the way Slovene’s consider themselves German Speakers and never wanted to be part of Yugoslavia and they proved it, Russia left them alone. The Crimea was a forgone conclusion because the population is overwhelmingly Russian and was handed over by Khrushchev in the 1950’s to Ukraine, it merely returned itself to it’s past. Putin is a much stronger leader than any President we have had in decades so none of the events of the last year in Ukraine surprise me. When the US starts holding thoroughly corrupt, totalitarian Vietnam up as a shining example of goodness which must be protected from China, you can see how pathetic our leadership is.

  • James Bowen

    I don’t understand why the West is so concerned about Russia’s policy toward Ukraine. Ukraine has always been part of Russia. Prior to 1991, the only precedent for an independent Ukraine was a few months during the chaos of the Russian Revolution, and that was imposed by the Brest-Litovsk Treaty which was soon nullified by the Verseilles Treaty. The cultures and economies of Russia and Ukraine are so intertwined as to make them inseparable. Between the two countries, Ukraine has about 25% of the population, about 25% of the industrial plant, and about 50% of the prime agricultural land of the Russian steppes. It is totally understandable why Russian foreign policy seeks to keep Ukraine in their fold, and some 50% of Ukrainians want to align with Russia. We would not take kindly to a major world power making a close alliance with Canada or Mexico. The Cold War is over. There are greater menaces in the world now than Russia, and rather than start a new Cold War over a country which did not exist 25 years ago and whose status is irrelevant to our interests, we need Russia on our side.

  • daniel Chung

    -.- Those who have a higher virtue will win. China has a greater virtue.