Drastic Changes in the Ukraine and Kazakhstan: Lessons for Taiwan
United Daily News Editorial, January 15, 2022
Russia’s neighboring countries Ukraine and Kazakhstan have experienced unrest in recent days. Russia is preparing to send a large army to invade Ukraine while Kazakh civil unrest is being quelled by the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The turmoil on both sides involves the great power struggle between the United States, Russia, and China. Even though the United States and Russia have launched strategic dialogues in Geneva, they have been inconclusive. Furthermore, Russia has claimed that unless Washington expressively opposes Ukraine and Georgia joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Russia will call off security talks with the United States. As Russia and the United States wrestle for power, the countries involved are used as pawns while the European Union (EU) remain as an outsider. Under these circumstances, Taiwan should be deeply alert to its own international situation.
At present, Russia has 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border. Experts estimate that these troops will invade before the end of January, otherwise, the operation of armored forces will be unfavorable to the Russian troops after the snow melts. Earlier, President Joe Biden of the United States has threatened Russia with unprecedented economic sanctions if the Russian army dares to invade. Although President Biden expressed strong warnings, it is unlikely that he will repeat his mistake with Afghanistan and has made it clear that the United States “will not send troops.” Experts believe that the United States will do no more than impose economic sanctions on Russia, but they must be stronger than those used when Russian President Vladimir Putin took over Crimea in 2014. The most ruthless move would be to remove Russia from the society for worldwide interbank financial telecommunication (SWIFT) and cut off the connection between Russian financial institutions and global banking financial telecommunications.
If that does happen, Russia will have to seek other alternative systems and China’s Cross-Border Inter-Bank payments system (CIPS) could be a tolerable replacement. From China’s perspective, the Russia-Ukraine crisis is almost like a rehearsal for the conflict in the Taiwan Strait. The way that the United States deals with Russia may likely be how it will deal with China in the future. Thus, it is probable that China might step in to help Russia overcome the sanctions. However, if the crisis in eastern Ukraine continues to escalate, Biden may try to improve the U.S.-China relations. It would then be used as a bait to ask China not to assist Russia so that the United States can avoid a two-front war.
While the Ukraine issue has left China in a dilemma, the Kazakh crisis has further exposed Russia’s hegemonic mentality. In Kazakhstan, the recent street riots are essentially a palace revolution. Through protesting against rising gas prices, Former President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s family attempted to wrest power from the current President Tokayev. The color revolutions supported by the U.S. and western countries were simply playing in the background and have fallen victim to the suppression of the CSTO.
After its independence, Kazakhstan has been seeking an “equidistant diplomacy” between China, the United States and Russia. Politically, Kazakhstan has formed a military and security alliance with Russia; economically speaking, it has attracted Chinese investment and benefited from the Belt and Road Initiative. In addition, Kazakhstan has welcomed American power by allowing non-governmental organizations to settle in and opening up oil fields exploitation to American investors. The intention is to balance the influence of Russia and China in the country. However, today, Tokayev’s request for the CSTO to pacify the chaos is no different from asking Moscow to send troops, which is breaking its neutral policy and re-emphasizing Russia’s “suzerainty” status in Central Asia.
The whole circumstance no doubt makes the United States furious. Secretary of State Blinken believes that once Russia enters Kazakhstan, it will be difficult for it to leave. Blinken also accused Mr. Putin’s move to rebuild the Soviet Union as “unacceptable”, which exposes what the United States is worried about. Kazakhstan is the starting point of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and also acts as an important transportation corridor connecting to Europe. China also has a great interest and need for mineral resources in Kazakhstan. Moreover, Beijing has always regarded Tokayev as “one of their own people” since he speaks fluent Mandarin and used to work for the former Soviet Union’s embassy in China. However, in the recent incident, China immediately stated that it would not intervene. After Russia quickly dispatched troops in aid of Tokayev, China was soon left behind. China can only accept that Kazakhstan is now leaning more towards Russia.
Neither Ukraine nor Kazakhstan is a small country, but as they are caught up in big countries’ fight for hegemony, they can only submit, follow and be under the mercy of those counties. In the case of Ukraine, it seeks protection from the United States and hopes to take refuge in NATO. As for Kazakhstan, it decided to ask for external help from Russia to pacify the chaos within the country. Nevertheless, the turmoil in Ukraine and Kazakhstan are actually interrelated and both require Russia to respond with power. For the United States, this is evidence that proves Mr. Putin’s hegemonic nature. In the eyes of Beijing, it only confirms the grim reality of international politics.
Taiwan has far less land and international recognition than Ukraine and Kazakhstan, but the people of Taiwan seem to be fearless of the danger of international politics. Many people are even naive enough to believe that if anything happens between Taiwan and mainland China, the United States will surely send troops to defend Taiwan. Yet, the reality on this world chessboard is that not only Ukraine and Kazakhstan, but also the interests of the EU and NATO, are merely pawns in the hands of major powers.