Waiting on Xi.
1. At dinner Saturday night, a friend who worked on the Sochi Olympics (2014) recalled how his Russian counterpart insisted that Russian President Vladimir Putin would take no action against Ukraine while the Games were in progress.
He would wait.
Wait he did, although not for long. Roughly three days after the closing ceremonies, Putin set in motion the annexation of Crimea.
My friend thinks history will repeat itself. Putin, he says, will do nothing that distracts from the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics. Indeed, Putin will attend the Games as Xi’s guest; a sign of respect for (even deference to) the Chinese leader.
It is hard to overstate how important the Beijing Olympics are to President Xi. This article in yesterday’s New York Times captures the scale of Xi’s investment. In poker jargon, he’s “all in.” “Little Green Men” occupying government office buildings in Kyiv isn’t in Xi’s script for media coverage of The Beijing Olympics. Woe betide anyone who wanders off the script.
So, my friend surmises, we’ll just have to wait until after the end of the Olympics (22 February), to find out what happens next. Putin may not fear the EU or U.S. response. He won’t cross Xi Jinping. (Sources: olympics.com, nytimes.com, warontherocks.com)
China no longer needs to prove its standing on the world stage; instead, it wants to proclaim the sweeping vision of a more prosperous, more confident nation under Mr. Xi, the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. Where the government once sought to mollify its critics to make the Games a success, today it defies them.
Beijing 2022 “will not only enhance our confidence in realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” said Mr. Xi, who this year is poised to claim a third term at the top. It will also “show a good image of our country and demonstrate our nation’s commitment to building a community with a shared future for mankind.”
Mr. Xi’s government has brushed off criticism from human rights activists and world leaders as the bias of those — including President Biden — who would keep China down. It has implicitly warned Olympic broadcasters and sponsors not to bend to calls for protests or boycotts over the country’s political crackdown in Hong Kong or its campaign of repression in Xinjiang, the largely Muslim region in the northwest.
It has overruled the I.O.C. in negotiations over health protocols to combat Covid and imposed stricter safety measures than those during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo last year. It has insisted on sustaining its “zero Covid” strategy, evolved from China’s first lockdown, in Wuhan two years ago, regardless of the cost to its economy and its people.
Very few people today harbor illusions, unlike in 2008, that the privilege of hosting the event will moderate the country’s authoritarian policies. China then sought to meet the world’s terms. Now the world must accept China’s.
If Mr Putin is to attack, he must act soon. He has a narrow window for a combined-arms invasion with tanks and towed-artillery before the infamous rasputitsa turns the ground into a bog.
The military imperative is to lunge deep into Ukraine and deliver a knock-out blow before the mid-March thaw. That is not easy: it took six weeks for Russian forces to clear the Chechen capital of Grozny in urban fighting. Kiev, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Zaporizhzia, and Odessa are all larger.
A team of ex-military officers and planners writing for the Atlantic Council say that Mr Putin has over the last week “set the conditions to execute a high intensity, multi-domain attack.”
This includes the deployment of air defense systems, electronic-warfare platforms, Iskander-K medium-range ballistic missiles, and combat sustainment units.
It has used forthcoming maneuvers with Belarus as cover to bring forward Su-35 advanced fighters and S-400 surface to air missiles. Still missing is the clinching evidence that Russia has begun to call up reservists. (Source: telegraph.co.uk, atlanticcouncil.org)