Sergey Radchenko Profile picture
May 2 13 tweets 3 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
Here's an interesting development. China (but also Armenia, Kazakhstan, and many others) vote "yes" to a UN General Assembly resolution (A77/L65) that terms Russian actions against Georgia and Ukraine as "aggression". Let's take a closer look at what this could possibly mean. Image
I'll briefly touch on Armenia & Kazakhstan (Russia's treaty allies) later; here, let me just focus on China. China previously abstained on resolutions that touch on the war in Ukraine, so voting yes is indeed a new departure. Let's take a look at the language of resolution. Oops. Image
A couple of observations. First, the resolution is actually entitled "Cooperation between the United Nations and the Council of Europe" (so, Ukraine is kind of marginal here, and is only mentioned in paragraph 9 of the preamble. Full text here:….
Second, the resolution does not "condemn" Russia's aggression against Ukraine, but merely "recognises" that it has created "unprecedented challenges." Still.
It's worth noting that during the debate on the resolution, there were actually two votes. The first was whether to include paragraph 9 in the resolution. China (and Armenia & Kazakhstan) abstained. But since para 9 passed, the whole resolution was voted on as above. Image
You can watch the debate here:…. This includes a speech by the Russian delegate, lamenting "politisation" of the resolution, and "urg[ing] all the responsible members of the international community to vote against." Ehem.
As to what this could mean. First, the context. We have: Xi's recent visit to Moscow and his promise to Putin, on parting, "to push forward together." Significant. But it's also significant that the wording about "partnership without limits" evaporated from the joint doc.
We also have Defense Minister Li Shangfu's later visit to Moscow and indications of increasingly close Sino-Russian military cooperation. But - also - we have the recent phone conversation between Zelensky & Xi, where Xi reiterated support for Ukraine's territorial integrity.
So what we are seeing are in fact three things: First, Beijing is ticking some boxes to appear more neutral in the conflict than it actually is (Xi/Ze phone call & this resolution are thus part of the same pattern).
Second, this is a clear reminder to Moscow that it has very little leverage with China, and basically has to swallow what it's fed. It's an expected outcome of Putin's disastrous one-sided embrace of Beijing (and it's likely just the beginning).
Third, China continues to lean to one side, but with reservations. It seeks to freeze the conflict, rather than see it drag on indefinitely or escalate. A weakened / isolated Russia beholden to Beijing post-war objectively serves China's interests.
On Armenia / Kazakhstan. Each obviously has their own axe to grind with the Russians. Armenia can't be happy about Russia's reliability as a treaty ally in view of what's happening in Nagorno-Karabakh. Kazakhstan won't miss a chance to carefully stab Putin in the back.
I would, if I were them. Just a reminder: UNGA resolutions are non-binding, but good lord has this drawn a lot of attention. Rightly.

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More from @DrRadchenko

May 1
On this day in 1960, a U-2 plane carrying Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union. Powers, who was on an intelligence-gathering mission, survived, and was later paraded by the Soviets (he was eventually exchanged for the Soviet spy Rudolf Abel).
One interesting aspect of the Powers incident is what impact (if any) it had on the prospects of Soviet-US detente. To remind readers, Khrushchev went to Paris right after the shootdown for a 4-power summit, which blew up badly when Khrushchev demanded an apology from Eisenhower.
Ike refused to yield, and Khrushchev stormed out of the summit. Some historians speculated that if only something stupid like the U-2 shootdown didn't happen, we'd have avoided lots of nasty turns down the road (Cuba? Berlin?), because Khrushchev really was looking for detente.
Read 7 tweets
May 1
An inspiring essay from my SAIS colleague @anneapplebaum and @JeffreyGoldberg, so well written, it can't fail to impress. The piece argues against skepticism about Ukraine's ability to win this war (by which the authors mean retaking all of its territory lost since 2014).
My take on these matters is considerably more cautious, rightly or wrongly. First, I am skeptical of the thesis (aired in the piece by @ZelenskyyUa) that unless comprehensively defeated in Ukraine, Russia will then invade Moldova, "travel through" Belarus and attack the Baltics. Image
This is a form of the domino theory. The original domino theory, put forward by Eisenhower in 1954, envisioned a Communist takeover of Asia (and eventually the world), following a Communist victory in Vietnam. The theory proved to be deeply misguided (to put it mildly).
Read 18 tweets
Apr 29…. A pretty interesting take. A key issue that it sort of hints at and that really does exist in Sino-American relations is that the Chinese have a propensity to misunderstand US domestic politics.
Although they will likely make allowances for US electoral rhetoric, past experience shows that Beijing has a conspiratorial view of US politics, and tends to interpret friendly gestures as an effort to mislead, and unfriendly gestures as expressions of true sentiment.
There isn't really an easy way of changing perceptions at this point. If history is any guide, both sides must suffer the consequences of their strategic rivalry before they come around to an actual attempt to build trust. Soviet-US experience during detente is instructive here.
Read 6 tweets
Apr 28
Took a walk by the WTO this morning, and it reminded me of that time I lived in Geneva, back in 2001 as a kid freshly out of college. At the time, the WTO was the coolest place in town, and everyone talked open trade.
China was just acceding to the WTO, and if you didn't care, you were out of your depth. If you didn't know your NTBs from your IPRs, well, you were just not cool enough. I mean, I learned of the existence of the country of Uruguay from reading about the Uruguay Round.
And you genuinely thought that those crazy youths breaking things in Seattle and those French farmer guys tearing down McDonalds were just weirdoes disconnected from reality. I thought of them as I watched Jake Sullivan this morning talk about how "we still like the WTO but..."
Read 4 tweets
Apr 27
With China's approach to the Ukraine war, it is important to attach importance not to what Beijing says but to what Beijing does. These practical actions - the so called 实际行动 - is what matters; the rest is propaganda and an image-building exercise.
Sending an envoy to Ukraine is fine; but what are we to make of it in the context of Defence Minister Li Shangfu's recent visit to Moscow, and the reality of ever closer Sino-Russian military cooperation?….
What are we to make of it in the context of increasing Sino-Russian trade, where Beijing not just buys up Russian energy but also supplies Russia with much-needed technologies? .
Read 7 tweets
Apr 27
An interesting Chinese read-out of the Xi-Zelensky phone call [in Chinese]:…. Interesting for its emphasis on Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and a fairly detailed discussion of the prospects of a nuclear war, which "can have no winners."
Xi claims that China cannot "watch the fire from the other shore" (隔岸观火), and promises more involvement, including the dispatch of a special representative to Ukraine to talk about peace talks.
The underlying idea seems to be a ceasefire-in-situ, which will be a hard sell in both Kyiv and Moscow, but will cast China in the role of a responsible great power etc and hopefully (for Beijing) lessen concerns in the West about increasing Sino-Russian military cooperation.
Read 4 tweets

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