By Dr J Scott Younger
Thirteen months into the war in Ukraine and it is effectively stalemate, although there remains bitter confrontation around the town of Bakhmut as well as an almost daily arrival of missiles or armed drones, although most of these are shot down before they cause harm. Four people were killed in the last foray in the Kyiv surrounds. Putin cannot win the war in this way, which he knows.
He has just had a visit from President Xi Jinping of China to show that he still enjoys Xi’s support, except in the form of direct military assistance, which he needs. China is ostensibly trying to broker a peace deal. They are embarrassed by this war; it is affecting China’s trade, not just with Ukraine, but other countries as well, particularly if these nations have sympathy for Ukraine. However, a peace deal usually would require a measure of compromise on behalf of the warring parties. And Ukraine has, with some justification, says that Russia has to withdraw entirely from any Ukrainian lands they have taken. Russia would therefore have no land-take as a result for all the trouble and damage, never mind acts of genocide that some of their troops have perpetrated.
Just in the last few days, President Vladimir Putin has been put on alert that he is wanted by the High Courts Commission in The Hague, Netherlands, for war crimes, including genocide, carried out under his war instructions to the army in Ukraine. In fact, he and his henchmen are to be put on trial for the Crime of Aggression, the ultimate crime as defined at the Nuremberg tribunal after WWII. He is also guilty of deporting thousands of children, away from their families in Mariupol, to east Russia. He hopes to brainwash these youngsters into thinking that Mother Russia is saving them from purgatory. This is arguably the worst crime, the sheer hell that the parents must face daily.
The chances of being caught and deported to face the charges are very slim – before he dies, assuming that the Kremlin does not waken up to reality and depose him, which does not seem likely in the present circumstances. There are not many countries where he would be welcomed, however. The case of Slobodan Milošević, the Serbian leader, was one of the last high-profile persons to be successfully tried and convicted for war crimes, including genocide, in the Balkans war, especially Kosovo. Milošević committed suicide. Nearly 3 decades have passed but the memory remains, just as Putin’s frightful crimes will never be forgotten, despite the fact that he cares about his legacy and hopes that he would be remembered as ‘the great’!
Putin started this war and the preceding fight in Georgia. He looked back in history, and was steeped in Stalin’s days of the Soviet Union. He should have looked forward, seen what lay ahead in the world, a world which was rapidly changing. The population of Russia was already declining even before the Ukraine war. At least up to 600,000 of his people have fled since for safer lands, to the ‘Stans in particular. The Kremlin cannot get them and force them into the military machine. However, Russia will continue to lose population, even without the war, and furthermore the population is aging. The numbers by mid-century of the population will be approximately down to 90 million and its power and influence, just as that of the other prominent countries of the past 3 centuries, will have declined.
President Xi and his eye on Taiwan
President Xi of China has declared his ambition to take over, or back as he sees it, Taiwan. The date for his move is looming, but China has a few problems to deal with, post covid pandemic. Is the pandemic really over in China? The economic growth of the country has slowed significantly, albeit so much of the world’s has also, causing some anxiety. The trade in goods overseas, on which the Chinese economy relies, can be upset.
There is still the Uyghur problem, as he sees it. Against all human rights, the government is trying to brainwash the Uyghur people to give up their religion, Islam, and to follow the way of the government, authoritarian, a pseudo form of communism. The methods used are crude, where necessary, as those carrying out the re-education have a free hand to exert force as they please.
Then there is the fear of fragmentation. There is considerable disparity of wealth between the cities along the Pacific coastline, such as Shanghai, and the significantly poorer interior. In short, governing China domestically is a complex job on its own.
There is the little reported civil unrest in Myanmar, which could well generate into civil war. The tensions between the military, who usurped the popular civilian government headed by Aung San Su Chi over three years ago, are behaving disgracefully, rape, pillage and burning down villages. The largely Burman military has caused the people of the north, the Chins and Kachins, to rally and fight back. The same military which dealt with the Rohingya people the same ruthless way. The China government are quietly backing the military, making money on profitable mining operations, controlled by the military, near their joint border. This serious trouble in Myanmar, worries the rest of the countries in ASEAN, and is a problem the Chinese could well do without. ASEAN and China are another story.
This discourse has wandered a long way from Vladimir Putin and his failing attempt to subjugate Ukraine. It has tried to show that China, the main ally of Russia in their ‘special military operation’, is keen, for their own reasons, to see an end to hostilities, or at least no expansion of them. They realise, however, that peace will not come easily, the Ukrainians and Russians are far apart in what they want. Right, of course, is on the side of the Ukrainians, the injured party. It would, of course, possibly be easier if Putin were no longer the President of Russia.
*Dr J Scott Younger, OBE, is a professional civil engineer; he spent 42 years in the Far East undertaking assignments in 10 countries for WB, ADB, UNDP. He published many papers.