Thirteen months after Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, ordered Russian troops and tanks into Ukraine, his ally, President of China, friend and most covert supporter, Xi Jinping, flew to Moscow to visit him. Why did Xi take so long a time to visit his friend? He waited so that time would have proved to Putin that his gambit of invading Ukraine was fruitless. By the date March 20, 2023, when he arrived in Moscow, Putin was literally begging for anyone to propose a formula of Peace, to end his war of Destruction of Ukraine: the higher his plea for intervention and redemption from the war, the more he bombed eastern Ukraine. Both Xi and Putin knew that no one would take them seriously, not even the Iranians, who found themselves siding with Russia, and China, as though atheism had never been an ideological antithesis in Moscow or Beijing. The equivocation of South Africa, and the sympathy of Syria and North Korea, will not bring peculiar comfort to the Russian President; paradoxically the main objective of the war he started in Ukraine on February 22, 2022, has become malleable, and looking un-achievable, every passing day. Those are the fortunes of war, and the longer it lingers, the greater the uncertainties of victory, especially with foes such as the Ukrainians. Had victory been swift for Putin, the agenda of Xi’s State visit would have been celebration parades, in both the cities of Russia, and the ruins of the totally destroyed towns and rural hamlets of Ukraine. Nearly 70% of the bombardment acts in this atrocious war have been intended to inflict psychological and physical pain on the civilian populace. The consequences and effects of the war, seem to pale or becloud the actual objective of the war. The wider and longer the spread of atrocities, the more hideous the end goal is. What is the goal Putin started the war with, and is it still the same goal that he intends to achieve now? Can those goal(s) be achieved still?
UKRAINE HAS DUG IN AND FOUGHT BACK AGAINST A BAD BULLY
Based on the two earlier attacks Putin directed at Ukraine, in the 2014 occupation of Crimea, and the onslaught against Kyiv in 2022, the surreptitious nature of the campaigns left little counter-attack space for the forces of the small Ukrainian Army of less than 246,000 active personnel in 2021, who were outsmarted by Russia’s massive military strength of 1,154,000 active soldiers, ranked the 5th strongest army in the world. Increasingly, and gradually, the Ukrainian forces out of sheer patriotism for their country, and the bold clear support of the West, led by the US, EU, UK, and other NATO allies, fought a series of gallant battles, for a full year, and through the dread of the unknown western European winter. The harrowing missile, air, artillery, and drones attacks and bombardments by Putin’s Army and soldiers, openly now led by the mostly illegal contracted mercenary forces of the Wagner Group, (owned/Commanded by Yevgeny Prigozhin), were slowed down by the cold winter.
Putin made two critical rallies in the 2nd to the 3rd Quarter of 2022. First, he mobilized all the Reserve forces of Russia, aiming to recruit nearly 3 million additional active soldiers, and caused a major emigration stampede of eligible men out of the country: being early signs symbolizing the unpopularity of the war, as the emigres expressed dissatisfaction with the political goals of the war, (even Wagner began recruitment of fighting soldiers from Russian prisons – 42 depots across Russia, of vulnerable jailed persons, including foreigners). The second rally by Vladimir Putin was the sustained deliberate destruction of strategic and critical physical infrastructures of Ukraine, roads, bridges, ports, factories, electricity plants-grids, hospitals etc so massive that thoughts of his threat of use of tactical nuclear weapons, tended to cause global concern. In spite of continued high-end arming, support and refitting of the Ukrainian forces by the West, the Wagner group, attacked more cities in eastern Ukraine, such as central Bakhmut, and Avdiivka, claiming to be in control of 70% of Bakhmut. The Wagner group has warned the Russian Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu, that the Ukrainian forces will launch a major attack, end of March to early April 2023, to cut off Wagner special military operations forces, from linking with Russian forces, in the Eastern frontlines of the war: comments and criticisms from Wagner aimed at and against the Defence Minister, has imputed blame and ineptitude, in case of Ukrainian successes, to orchestrate the competition for the attention of Putin. In the current massive military operations, several cities have been under attack by Russian/Wagner forces, and 81 missiles were fired in a single day, by both Russia and Ukraine, in the cities of Lviv, Dnipro, Kherson, and Zhytomyr. Russia has claimed Kinzhal hypersonic missiles were launched in these attacks. The Zaporizhhia nuclear power plant has been cut off from Ukraine’s power grid for several hours-days, during this warfare, prompting the nuclear energy operator Euratom, to warn that this is 6th instance of these military attacks (since Russia captured the plant last year), the IAEA, the nuclear watchdog Head, Rafael Grossi, issued the statement, lamenting, “How can this be allowed to happen…One day our luck will run out”. Threats of nuclear fission accidents and safety have been a major concern because the plant has been in this explosive war zone.
CHINA AND THE PEACE TALKS PROPOSALS
Preparatory to the instant visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Chinese Foreign Ministry began a series of efforts seeking to place China at the centre of resolving Russia’s seemingly failing war in Ukraine. Against the backdrop of tensions between China, the US, the UK, Australia and Taiwan, China seemed to pick concerns about the uncertain situation of Russia, and its ill-motivated, unpredicted invasion of Ukraine; tensions of the militarization of Southeast Asia ( which includes North Korea, the South China Sea, Japan, the Philippines ); the close relationship sought by Xi and Putin, opposing the bi-polar world system being engineered by the US using the structures of NATO, and the crippling sanctions released as punitive deterrent policies, to stop Putin, and even in a sense Xi, as well, from seeking to create a different new global order, based on a new friendship that will include India, Iran and if possible Brazil and South Africa. In addition, there is the tension and pressure now created by the issuance of a criminal arrest warrant by The Hague-based International Criminal Court ( ICC), accusing Putin of committing crimes against humanity in Ukraine.
Certainly, Russia, as well as China, do not recognize the prosecution authority of the ICC, but the fact of the criminal indictment of Putin, is merely symbolic; nonetheless, it is an attempt to elicit more noble policies, behaviours and conduct from world leaders: but of note are lesser world leaders who had been indicted by the ICC, and after they left office were prosecuted and convicted of crimes against humanity and were jailed. Some are still in jail. Putin, as the current leader of Russia, may escape being categorized within this genre, depending on how far China’s Xi will stand to protect and defend him, yet there must be lessons to be learned from Putin’s current indictment.
Tensions in the South China Sea, and on the Straits of Taiwan, play a major role in how China responds to the stances of Russia in Ukraine. Much as Xi Jingpin has not acted in as much as the reckless manner of Putin, in Ukraine, the pronouncements of the new Chinese Foreign Minister, Qin Gang, warning the US that persisting on its current approaches to China, and her relations and friendships with other aligning States to China, (Russia, North Korea, Iran, Belarus), will bring China and USA closer to war. Unless China is prepared to go to war over Taiwan, or The excesses of the government of North Korea, the chances of war between both countries, (USA & China), and their NATO, or other allies, is very low. Playing brinkmanship of this ilk can sometimes be exasperating and confusing. But in the context of modern warfare, the modalities, capacities and end result of such a war are near impossible to imagine or be fathomed by the belligerent parties. It is in that light that the balance of power (and mutually assured destruction), and other relationships in the South China Sea, Southeast Asia, and Pacific Asia basin, need to be kept at their current even keel. Neither NATO, the new USAUUK (USA-Australia-UK) alliance, China, Taiwan, or Russian or North Korea issues, should be dealt with, with full recourse to UN, IAEA participation and guidance. That way the high speed of political and economic expediency can be moderated and be overtaken by plausible multilateral diplomacy.
CRIPPLING SANCTIONS AGAINST RUSSIA BY THE WEST
The wave of political, economic and consular sanctions by the US and its Western allies against Russia, since its invasion of Ukraine, have been crippling, and have ranged from the freezing of enormous amounts of money, stocks and investments by rich Russian oligarchs, to visa denials and cancellations for 278 individuals and parliamentarians who enabled the referendum to annex four regions of Ukrainian territories: 14 persons involved in Russia’s Defence industries were also sanctioned. The US has stated that any foreign organizations that support the invasion of Ukraine or which support Russian military operations in Ukraine would be targeted with sanctions. To ensure that Russia’s access to money is drastically reduced, the US has blocked Russian banks to have the capacity to make payments with funds domiciled in US banks, and to stop global financial messages through SWIFT, adding to delays in processing Russian oil and gas payments. The European Union, EU, on its part announced sweeping sanctions against Russia, including a ban on all imports from Russia, and a ban on the export of hi-tech materials.
With respect to gas and oil, the US, EU, the UK, Canada and other G7 countries, have stopped buying oil, gas and coal from Russia, and directed additional sanctions against any parties found to be flouting these sanctions against the Russian energy sector. Mainly it is China, India and Iran that are the major defaulters. But the sanctions have affected payments, receivables and incomes, including the export levels of Russia in this domain. In addition, insurers from the West have been warned against insuring oil-gas exports from Russia, whose price cap is above the price benchmark of the West, again aimed at suffocating both volumes of exports, and the overall incomes earned by Russia. Starvation of funds by the US and the NATO Allies, effectively will reduce the capacity of Russia, to wage war in Ukraine, and force strains in Russia’s economy that will force Russian civilians to demand an end to atrocities against the Ukrainian people.
In response to the question, is the policy of economic sanctions against Russia working? Clearly, her capacity to continue the war cannot be stopped summarily, but Russia has had its economy, the easy lien of civil life and international image significantly affected and the country has suffered and is still suffering major diplomatic isolation. Clearly, the monetary and material wealth of Putin and several of his Ministers, friends, cronies, oligarchs, their yachts, investments, gold, and other precious metals, domiciled in banks, cities and industries in North America and Europe have been frozen by governments of NATO, and the G7, in order to force her invasion of Ukraine to be stopped. There are still several issues to be addressed, in the context of the peace proposal/resolution of the war, now proposed by China, which will be contained in the conclusion of this statement.
NEW OBJECTIVE OF THE WAR IN UKRAINE
Much as Ukraine has been constrained to plot and pursue objectives to defend itself, territorial and national integrity included, her objectives for defeating the invading Russian Army, are constantly evolving and organic. The Governments that have supported Ukraine do also have clear goals and objectives for the war. These were quickly stated as the war began, but in truth, these objectives are never sacrosanct and do change as the fortunes of war become real. It is the leaders of these governments, in alliance, who manage these goals to suit their deepest desires and direction, they wish to drive and order the world. From the onset of Russia’s invasion in February 2022, the West, inclusive of NATO, G7 and the OECD countries set out to support Ukraine, to defeat the invader. As the destruction of Ukraine has progressively worsened, these countries have planned early reconstruction and rebuilding of Ukraine and have vacillated between taxing Russia to pay full and adequate reparations to Ukraine, which will serve as a deterrent, especially in the future, to other autocratic regimes.
There has been a discreet effort to differentiate between punishing Russia, as a people, or Putin, as a reckless brutal leader, that must be stopped. The tragedy of the war has been such that acting too rigidly against Russia, will push the country (Russia), to seek closer and further cooperation with China, and not secure the objective of making the highest consequence of the invasion be a reinforcement of democracy and the inclusive global government. Rather, higher punishments, will be driving such autocracies closer, to an order that will cause more problems for the nations of the world. The early efforts at seeking funds for the reconstruction of Ukraine, at the Lugano Conference, which did not include the Global South, such as India, South Africa and the Gulf States, yet included Albania and Moldova, who had little to contribute by way of funds, was an error. The technical and financial capacity to join in the reconstruction of Ukraine at victory will show if the effort is to further reintegrate the world or to further divide it. Surely considerations such as these may have contributed to the reluctance of these global South countries in distancing themselves in early support of the two UN Resolutions, sponsored by the West, that garnered early support for Ukraine against Russia. What is the current military goal of the war, is it regime change, the defeat of The aggressor, or the re-ordering of the global order, to include wider democratization and the redaction of autocracies? What will be the position of China in all these, and the new place of Russia in the comity of nations, taking into cognizance her scientific, technological, military and vast natural resources and territory? Would simply changing the Putin regime be sufficient as a repercussion for the wrong and reckless policies Putin himself has pursued in Ukraine? All these variables may still change. The new deployment of tactical nuclear weapons by Russia, on the borders with Belarus, based on an Agreement with their President, Alexander Grigoryevich Lukanhesko, which they have discussed for the past year, is another unnecessary reckless policy. Though, the weapons can be used on battlefields, they will not be used to wipe off cities: so, is Putin already planning another war, when he is yet to conclude the current one? Is his new objective to further scare the West or the world? Where will the final goal of Putin’s Government of 2022-2023 rest? Higher responsibilities, surely very delicate ones still fall on the shoulders of Xi Jinping.
NIGERIA: FOREIGN POLICY, LEGITIMACY OF NEW 2023 PRESIDENT AND THE WAR IN UKRAINE
In my last review of the War of Russia against Ukraine, as a 2023 PDP-PRP Presidential Aspirant, my summation was that Nigeria played a passive role, not being very closely involved, and cleverly mindful of Soviet assistance to her (Nigeria), during the Biafra war (though today’s Russia is constitutionally different from the Soviet Union of 1967-1970); the Nigerian foreign policy establishment, were mixed in the early approach to the Russian escapade in Ukraine, and the vehemence of Western stance. The Foreign Ministry European desk in Abuja, staffed by young diplomats, was stiff-nicked in opposing the brazen invasion by Russia. Yet the leadership of the Directorate were not disposed to either vehemence or indiscretions of both sides of the European war. The wars raging currently in Africa, in the Sahel (Mali, Tchad, Niger, Sudan, Ethiopia, Tigray, Somalia), in the Congo, the long-standing climatic devastations in Southern Africa, or diaspora Negroid world (Malawi, Mozambique and Haiti); and the displacements of refugees across the continent, even in Nigeria, has not received the level of attention and empathy the Europeans and Americans have showered on the Ukrainians, very warmly welcomed to all their countries, with easy entry visas, in North America and Europe, compared to the hostility of the same governments to the thousands escaping our continent, or Central America, and dying in the capsized boats in the Mediterranean Sea, the Sahara desert, or the hard Seas of the Caribbean. The wars and conflicts inflicted on our peoples, due to the instigations and encouragement of corrupt autocratic governments, have largely dissipated Africa. These have not concerned or elicited the most humane dispositions from the West, yet their expectations of Nigeria were unalloyed support and condemnation of Russia when that war started. As the war progressed destructively against Ukraine, with the wide coverage of the Western press, the attitudes in Nigeria’s diplomatic sector changed. Opinions at the Institute of International Affairs, Lagos, and on several university campuses, have also coagulated into a more diverse disposition against Russia. Indeed, the longer any belligerent conflict lasts, the more diverse will opinions on its necessity and justification devolve. The capacity to participate in reconstruction programs in Ukraine for Nigerian businesses is expectedly nil. Concrete sentiments of humanitarianism, and honest concerns about a wider World War III, between the West, China leading those countries opposed to Western “hegemony”, and the weaker South global nations, whose support at the UN and possibly on war fronts may be expected; Nigeria, the Government or the populace, need only be concerned simply about the diverse economic, inflationary and financial impact of the Russian war in Ukraine. Apart from these specific and other rather mundane considerations, the position of Nigeria on the conflict will remain passive. Any new war in Europe cannot be of major or central importance to our people in this part of the globe. Hypocrisy is still the game of the West, regarding issues of corrupt governance in our country, and hopefully our disinterestedness in these direct problems will inspire greater sensitivity to our own issues.
In the aftermath of the divisive 2023 General elections of Nigeria, especially the search for legitimacy and acceptance of the Presidential outcome, the ethnic profiling and suppression of Igbos in Lagos, and other rigging-violence issues leading to and during the Governorship election: Negatives, denials of announced results, refusal of major foreign governments to congratulate and recognize the Presidential and some Governorship results, weaken and elicit more dislocations, as the main consequences and repercussions of the current Nigerian situation. Until Nigeria approaches a more sane, Constitutional, Legal, and legitimately clearer national standing, on who is our legitimate leaders: the diplomatic circle will provide stability and resilience in the pursuit of emergent matters that will require responses by the Nigerian Government. The Administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, (Aso Rock, and several Governorship Lodges), still in contention, will remain more lame-duck as May 29, 2023 approaches; coupled with the near-permanent go-slow – act – slow long-standing trait of the Federal government, that is nearly close to retiring to Daura, Katsina State. Herein lies the inevitable necessity for transparency in the governance processes of all or any government. Issues pertaining to the integrity of the 2023 General election in Nigeria, affect the perception of the Nigerian policy positions vis a vis all issues with respect to global affairs. The global, regional and domestic capacity and size of the Nigerian polity, measured against other governments in the continent, reserves for the country, a place in that comity of nations, where Nigeria’s voice must be one that counts immensely. It is in that light that the current high controversies surrounding the legitimacy, domestic and external, and acceptability of the President-elect, exactly one month after the Presidential election is in a very bad light for the country. This situation will persist for another 6-8 months, and hopefully, there will be a more clear resolution. The longer it persists, the worse it is for the political system and the Nigerian populace.
The huge support to Ukraine and supply of varied weapons of defence by the West, against her invasion by Russia, is already giving the impression that Russia readily wants a resolution of peace to the war, that China will guarantee, to reduce defeat and disgrace for Vladimir Putin. The goals of the war are being extended to now include Russia returning all annexed Ukrainian territories, including Crimea. It is very unlikely that Ukraine will accept less. China aims to delay the end of the war, to protect Putin, the territories Putin wishes to still retain and keep under his control. These aims will be consolidated by Russia or be solely accepted by Ukraine unless the West abandons Ukraine, which is very unlikely. NATO and the OECD are already receiving more members in Europe: China and Russia, have very limited capacity to gain such new friends, due to the recklessness of the Putin mode of governance, especially of external policies. As the war further progresses, the extent of its duration will become more clear. China should be more incisive in prodding Putin to end the war and begin the rebuilding of Ukraine. Adolf Hitler’s quest to annex the neighbours of Germany led to World War II. Is there any approximate possibility that Vladimir Putin’s ambitions to enlarge Russia will lead to World War III? It looks very unlikely.
Signed: Dr. Orefo Nnamdi Onochie, Convener/Chairman, NACOPPIN Nigeria 2023,
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