Arguably one of the most dangerous moments in the world since the end of World War II and one which will undoubtedly have repercussions for Southeast Asia as China watches events in Ukraine after making an anti-western, anti-American ‘no limits’ pact with President Vladimir Putin on February 7th last on the eve of the Beijing Olympics.
There are growing fears that the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which commenced on Thursday, may have unforeseen ramifications for the rest of the world as the smaller nation’s armed forces and population puts up stiff resistance to the aggressor. The UK’s Defence Minister Ben Wallace has said that he fears the Russian leader is not in his ‘right mind’ as events unfold and substantial opposition emerges not only on the streets of Russia but among the country’s elite, to the military onslaught. It comes as US and UK intelligence sources estimate that thousands of Russian soldiers may have already died.
On Friday, a UN Security Council resolution calling on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine, while deploring the invasion of its neighbour, was vetoed at a meeting in the ornate chamber of the council at the United Nations building in New York by Russia, a permanent member of the body.
Although the resolution was not passed, it saw 11 members of the 15 seat council vote in favour while 3 countries abstained from the vote. These were China, India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
‘You can veto this resolution, but you cannot veto our voices,’ the US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said as she addressed the Russian chair. ‘You cannot veto the truth. You cannot veto our principles. You cannot veto the Ukrainian people.’
China abstained in the vote as it lived up to its pact with Russia to cooperate in respect of rising tensions with the West driven by Ukraine and Taiwan
For Thailand, the stance taken by China and India is significant while the ongoing invasion may be the prelude either to a more dangerous and cynical world order with less adherence to the principles and tenets of the UN charter or become a warning of the danger of such exploits, all now depending on the outcome.
It is little wonder that, around the world, ordinary people have been shaken by the events of the last 72 hours as they should be, especially the populations of Europe and Southeast Asia.
In the weeks running up to the invasion, Beijing agreed to a ‘no limits’ pact with Moscow with both countries agreeing to collaborate and assist each other in their struggles against the West which have been driven over the status and security fears in respect of Ukraine and Taiwan.
Putin emboldened by the disturbingly anti-American Sino– Russian deal unveiled on February 7th last
On the eve of the already controversial Beijing Olympics on February 7th last, Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping released a communiqué declaring that the ‘friendship between the two states has no limits’ and specifically endorsing each other’s claims concerning both Taiwan and Ukraine.
The two leaders spoke of a sweeping long term agreement between China and Russia designed to challenge the United States as a world power.
There were to be no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation,’ the statement said.
Over the last two years, analysts have also made similar observations concerning the alarming rhetoric and actions of China’s leader Xi Jinping that they are making now concerning Putin.
The last 72 hours have shown the world just how quickly such rhetoric can take on a new, more ominous meaning once a large military exercise is launched.
China affirms respect for sovereignty of countries
While China has, in recent days, emphasised the importance of respecting the sovereignty of each country, it significantly does not recognise Taiwan as a sovereign nation.
Its UN ambassador, on Friday, also criticised western countries for failing to recognise and address the legitimate concerns and grievances of Russia as a reason for his country’s decision to abstain on the matter before the security council.
Russian offer of talks in Belarus at the same time as embattled Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed openly to Vladimir Putin for dialogue
Earlier on Friday, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the Russian leader was ‘ready’ to send a representative delegation to the Belarussian capital Minsk to find a resolution to the state of war that broke out on Thursday morning when Russia invaded Ukraine from several directions.
Dmitry Peskov said the leader of Belarussia, President Alexander Lukashenko, was ready to create the necessary conditions for such a summit.
The development comes as, on Friday, Russian forces appeared in more locations in Ukraine and began closing in on the country’s capital Kiev.
At the same time, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a call for talks and addressed himself to the Russian President directly.
‘I would like to address the President of the Russian Federation once again. Fighting is going on all over Ukraine. Let’s sit down at the negotiating table to stop the deaths of people,’ he said as Ukranainan army units were joined by armed citizens throughout the capital which has been under attack from the air with bombs and missiles hitting the city of 2.8 million people since Thursday morning.
Citizens in Kiev on Saturday being handed AK 47s assault rifles from just opened crates on the street
On Saturday, citizens were seen collecting AK 47 assault rifles at street corners in Kiev from hastily placed crates just opened by officials.
They were preparing for what is feared may be bloody and horrific street fighting between Russian forces and Ukrainian resistance.
It follows what appeared like an improvised social media video broadcast by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy outside the presidential palace in Kiev denying Russian disinformation and reports that he had fled the capital while calling for army units to give up their weapons.
Ukrainians appear to offer a concession on NATO
Belarus was one of the staging posts for Russian columns of tanks and military ground forces which broke through Ukrainian borders on Thursday morning with columns from the north quickly capturing the Chernobyl nuclear site, the scene of the world’s greatest nuclear disaster in 1986.
Even before Thursday’s invasion, President Zelenskyy had been urging talks with the Russian President and appeared to be resurrecting a reported offer by the Ukrainian leadership to refrain from seeking membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) which is seen by Russia as a threat to its security.
‘Ukraine’s security is linked to the security of its neighbours. That is why today we have to talk about security in the whole of Europe. That is our main goal, peace in Ukraine and the security of our citizens. For this, we are ready to talk to everyone, including you, in different formats and in any place,’ the embattled Ukrainian leader said.
Later, Putin blasted Ukrainian leadership as ‘drug addicts’ and ‘neo nazis’ who had usurped that country as Russian troops surrendered over ‘kill list’ orders
However, later, on Friday, a statement coming from Moscow took on a different tone as the Kremlin appeared to be determined to overthrow the regime of President Zelenskyy who himself told Ukrainian TV audiences that he is a marked man by Russian military operatives as is his family.
Some security sources are reporting that the Russian army active in Ukraine has a kill list of enemies including leading members of the government, anti-Russian activists and politicians.
On Friday, there was video footage and confirmed reports of a Russian military unit in Eastern Ukraine who had surrendered to local forces. They told their captors that they were alarmed and angry at being ordered deeper into Ukraine and given instructions to kill non-combatants.
President Vladimir Putin, himself, in a statement to his forces on the ground called for the government in Kiev to be swept aside.
He referred to its constituent members as ‘terrorists’ and a ‘gang of drug addicts and neo nazis’ who had usurped power in Ukraine.
This was part of a stormy tirade on live TV similar to others this week which has appalled the leadership in western countries and many people across the world due to the tenor of language used and the vitriolic message.
At the outset of the invasion, on Thursday, he warned the world not to interfere referring to consequences unseen before in history. This was clearly a reference to the use by Russia’s leader of the country’s powerful arsenal of nuclear arms.
Fears that Putin may be suffering from some sort of mental aberration linked with the COVID-19 virus
This has given rise to reports that Mr Putin is suffering from some sort of mental disorder possibly brought about by a COVID-19 infection as seasoned observers of the man since his rise to power over twenty years ago, have detected a marked difference in his behaviour and rhetoric.
Some medical practitioners have attributed this to a possible mental condition resulting from COVID-19 where sufferers become more confident, reckless and contemptuous of others although the Russian leader has never been confirmed as suffering from the virus despite appearing last year at times to be in the grips of a cold.
Putin’s intentions are malevolent says experienced TV journalist from Moscow on French state broadcaster
Early on Saturday morning, another view was heard when the long time Moscow correspondent Nick Holdsworth of the global French TV service, France 24, became emotional as he described President Putin’s actions since assuming power as malevolent in shocking and somewhat unacceptable terms. Challenged on his claims, he insisted on them saying he had observed the Russian leader for some time.
The veteran reporter told his stunned worldwide TV audience and colleague in Paris, Francoise Picard, that this could not be denied while emphasising his experienced coverage of Russian affairs since outgoing Russian President Boris Yeltsin handed over power to a young Putin at the end of December 1999.
On Friday, an opposition politician in Moscow, Vladimir Ashurkov, described the Russian leader’s media appearances as ‘really bizarre’ while the UK’s Defence Minister, Ben Wallace MP, described the Russian leader’s actions as ‘deeply irrational’ and stated that he did not think Mr Putin is in his ‘right mind’ as this emergency has progressed and unfolded.
Putin urges Ukrainian forces to stage a coup against Zelenskyy’s rule and resolve the situation with Russia
The Russian head of state, on Friday evening, urged Ukrainian forces to themselves stage a coup and ‘take the power in your own hands’ in excising the country’s current leadership.
He indicated that this could lead to talks to resolve the situation.
However, political commentators familiar with the country have pointed out that the Ukrainian leader, a former comedian and entertainment star, won an election held in the country in 2019 overseen by international agencies in which he garnered 73% of the vote.
The comments by President Putin have led to speculation that he foresees removing the current leadership in Kiev and negotiating with a new government to bring the current conflict to a swift close.
Ukrainian leadership may be planning an insurgency
This is the assessment of US and UK intelligence services although it is now looking increasingly likely that he will be left facing an insurgency coordinated by the current elected government which may ultimately move to the west of the country where it can be supported by Nato countries on its borders.
This may turn out to be a nightmare scenario for Russia with credible reports that between 1,000 and 3,000 Russian soldiers have already been killed in fierce fighting in the opening days of this invasion which has not gone well for Moscow.
At least two hundred Russian soldiers were killed when two aircraft carrying elite troops targeting Kiev were shut out of the sky in the previous 48 hours. These reports, while not confirmed by Russia, have been verified by US intelligence monitoring the conflict inside Ukraine.
It is certainly not the swift decapitation of the Ukrainian government that appears to have been the objective of the attack that unfolded on Thursday and Friday but has run into stiff resistance in all parts of Ukraine.
Opposition to the invasion grows within Russia
Opposition to the war in Ukraine has also been seen and made known on the streets of St Petersburg, Moscow and other Russian cities on Thursday, Friday and Saturday as ordinary Russians come to learn about the wide-scale nature of the invasion of Ukraine from worldwide media channels outside the state’s airwaves.
This led to media orders on Saturday from authorities to refrain from referring to the assault on Ukraine as an invasion and to limit commentary to talk of a military operation in the eastern half of the neighbouring country.
Public opinion on Putin’s side up to the minute of the attack based on a limited military exercise to protect the Russian speaking people in Ukraine
Public opinion had been solidly supportive of President Putin just before the invasion, rising from 62% support to 69% just hours before the attack began. It even allowed him to have a resolution passed by the Duma, the parliament, supporting his special military operation.
However, this suggested a defensive exercise with peacekeeping troops being deployed to support the Donbas and Luhansk regions of Ukraine on the Russian border in support of the Russian speaking populace.
On Friday and Saturday, a storm of protest arose in Russia not only from street activists but from the country’s upper echelons and elite including by MPs in the Duma and even Ksenia Sobchak, reputed to be Putin’s goddaughter, a former presidential candidate, journalist and public figure whose father Anatoly, a former law professor and who, as the Mayor of St Petersburg, was Putin’s boss and mentor.
‘We, the Russians, will be dealing with the consequences of today for many years to come,’ she said on Friday.
MP Mikhail Matveev for the Communist Party also castigated the move and called for the war to stop. He had voted to support what he thought was an incursion into Ukraine by Russian troops to keep the peace this week.
Many commentators have observed a deep sense of shock in both Ukraine and Russia that full scale and fierce war between the two countries has broken out given the strong and binding relationship between the two populations going back centuries.
Serious, dangerous resistance to Putin’s flagging invasion coming from inside and outside Ukraine
This and the determination of the Ukrainian population to hold back the onslaught and fight the invading forces at every turn may already be a cause for serious concern in the Kremlin that Russian forces, even if they prevail, may end up bogged down in a guerrilla war both within the less Russophile areas of the country as well as suffering significant international sanctions which are designed to hurt the already beleaguered Russian economy.
Threat growing to disconnect Swift banking which will do irreparable harm to Russia’s economy
The European Union, on Saturday, was engaged in its third round of sanctions with opposition by Italy, Germany and Austria waning, on a proposal to deny Russian banks access to the Swift banking and international transfer system which could lead to 50% of Russia’s international transactions being immediately impacted.
The move is being urged by the United States, France and the United Kingdom.
A similar block was imposed on Iran in March 2012. Even after nearly ten years, this is still thought to be responsible for knocking out 30% of the oil-rich country’s exports and foreign trade.
Public opinion in the West is outraged
The stout and brave resistance by Ukraine has galvanised public opinion in the western world to such an extent that politicians are being pressed to act with the courage of their convictions by their electorates this weekend.
Populations in western countries are both shocked and outraged by what they are seeing on their television screens and online.
The connectivity of the world’s population has changed dramatically since the last time there was an invasion of a sovereign nation by another on European soil.
European Union Commission President vows Putin’s attack will fail, vows to damage the Russian economy
On Thursday, President of the European Commission and former German Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, flanked by the NATO Secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg and the President of the European Council Charles Michel, outlined severe restrictions targeting Russian business interests and its banking system which have been augmented over the past 48 hours.
She warned while highlighting the unity of the European Union, that they were designed to reverse Russian economic GDP and to raise inflation in the country.
‘First, this package includes financial sanctions, targeting 70% of the Russian banking market and key state-owned companies, including in defence,’ she explained. ‘Second, we target the energy sector, a key economic area which especially benefits the Russian state. Our export ban will hit the oil sector by making it impossible for Russia to upgrade its refineries.’
She forcefully presented the front against the Russian President and emphasised the determination of the European Union to confront aggression on the continent.
‘These events mark the beginning of a new era. Putin is trying to subjugate a friendly European country. He is trying to redraw the map of Europe by force. He must and he will fail.’