Moscow’s Crimean Anschluss taught China it can do the same in Asia, Russian analyst says

Russian President Vladimir Putin shaking hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Beijing, China, November 2014. (Image: Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin shaking hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Beijing, China, November 2014. (Image: Reuters) 

2016/08/05 • Analysis & Opinion, Politics

The extent to which Vladimir Putin upended the international order by his illegal seizure of Crimea is becoming ever more obvious: Now Chinese officials are citing the Kremlin leader’s actions there – and implicitly the West’s failure to block him – as reasons for thinking that they can do the same in Southeast Asia, according to a Russian analyst.

In a commentary on the Svobodnaya pressa portal today, Andrey Ivanov says that Beijing “wants to repeat the success of [Russia’s] Crimean scenario in Southeast Asia” and then offers the comments of Aleksey Maslov, a senior orientalist at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, in support of his argument.

Following the Hague Court’s ruling against it concerning the islands in the South China Sea, Ivanov points out, Beijing’s rhetoric has become ever clearer about China’s intention to use whatever means are necessary to defend what it views as its sovereign territory, including the use of military force, which could lead to a major war.

Maslov agrees and makes an argument which, although he does not acknowledge it, underscores some additional parallels between Beijing’s posture now and that of Moscow prior to its invasion of Ukraine in 2014 by suggesting that China had to react to the Hague decision because of its increasing economic and social problems at home.

“The worsening social situation within the country” and “problems in the economy,” he says, meant that Beijing “must show to its own citizens that the position of the leadership of the state regarding the islands remains unchanged,” that “the islands are Chinese and must be defended as such.”

Maslov says that he does not think that anyone “really wants to fight” because “any military actions in the area of the disputed islands would throw China back many years” and force China to change its approach in a major way because “China from a peaceful state would be transformed into a state ready to fight.”

What all this is about, Maslov says, is that “China wants to show itself to be a military power.”

Maslov’s key observation is this: “China has very carefully looked at the Ukrainian problem, at how Russia resolved it and at what has been the reaction of international public opinion.” That is because “China wants to do something similar” so that Beijing will look both prescient and powerful.

He then says that he “fears that precisely this attempt to repeat the Russian experience could lead to a prolonged conflict.” Such a conflict could grow into a much larger one, although it is “extremely” unlikely that it could trigger a third world war, Maslov says, given that there aren’t any countries in the region interested in or capable of fighting one.

The country that might benefit from such a conflict the most would be the United States, the Moscow orientalist says, because then Washington could portray China as “an aggressive country” and thus a danger, against which countries of the region should be united with the US. There is some evidence that the US is encouraging such feelings, he concludes.

Edited by: A. N.

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  • Alex George

    Perhaps, but there are other lessons too.

    Russia succeeded in Crimea partly because it is an easy area to isolate, but most of all because the officers of the Ukrainian armed forces in Crimea were riddled with collaborators and put up no fight. But even the success is arguable because Russia failed to secure a land bridge to Crimea (for reasons set out in my next paragraph) – without this, Crimea has become extremely expensive to administer. It is a running sore in the Russian budget.

    In the rest of eastern Ukraine, Russia largely failed. it attempted to elicit insurrection among the Russian-speaking people, but they mostly went the other way, i.e. volunteered to fight against the Russian proxy forces. The Ukrainian army and air force were in a bad way after 10 years of neglect, but the influx of volunteers was spectacular – eventually about 50 volunteer battalions were raised. Russia was reduced to only holding a small sliver of eastern Ukraine.

    The lessons are that any invading force runs a great risk that local volunteer forces can impose a disproportionate cost on the invaders.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      Don’t forget that Washington, Paris and Berlin put pressure on Kyiv to do nothing against the dwarf’s invasion of the Crimea, plus the disarray in Kyiv following the events surrounding the Maidan.

  • Dagwood Bumstead

    What Maslov doesn’t mention is that Dwarfstan is also a potential target for Peking’s expansion, and a less risky one. Japan, S. Korea etc- even Vietnam- can count on a certain level of support from the US if Peking tries any funny stuff. Dwarfstan, however, can’t. I doubt whether the dwarf could count on much sympathy should Peking advance across the Amur and Ussuri.
    Furthermore, Peking is already infiltrating Dwarfstan’s Far East. It has never made a secret of wanting the territories back that Aleksandr II stole in 1856 and 1860. Who will stop a Chinese invasion of Primorskii Krai, with the bulk of Dwarfstan’s army aligned against the Ukraine and Belarus, plus involvement in Syria? If Peking decides to send in its troops tomorrow, there’s nothing the dwarf can do to stop them, except the nuclear option. But that would lead to Chinese retaliation. So while the dwarf can turn Peking into a nuclear desert, Peking can do the same with Moscow.
    And if China reclaims its lost territories, then you can bet that Japan will reclaim the Kuriles and probably also Sakhalin, which Stalin stole in 1945.

  • zorbatheturk

    Two totalitarian cockroaches find common ground. Unsurprising. Mao and Stalin had a thing going on, too. Diktator schtick.

    Someone fetch a can of Raid. Blast these usurpers.

  • Nowhere Girl

    Don’t forget that China *has already done* things comparable to Anschluss of Crimea – the best known example is Tibet. In fact, Russian occupation of Crimea is really quite mild when compared to the level of aggressiveness that Chinese communism had at that time (and especially in the 1960s, during the “cultural revolution”). So it should rather be said that Putin is following examples already shown by totalitarian regimes including China (but also, of course, the Soviet Union and the Third Reich), not that China is trying to emulate him by doing things it hasn’t sone before.