America Saved Ukraine from Collapse, Beating Russia and Even China*

If America were as weak as its critics said it would be a year ago, Ukraine would be defeated. In this war, Washington has beaten not only Russia, but, collaterally, China .

America saved Ukraine from collapse. Without the United States’ political and military power, Ukraine could have held out in defense for about a month. Without President Joe Biden, Ukraine would have fallen victim to a European stupor in the face of the energy crisis. Without American weapons and ammunition, perhaps it would have obtained some post-Soviet equipment from Poland, Lithuania and Estonia and prolonged its agony. But Ukraine would have eventually fallen.

America has supported Ukraine in its struggle against a powerful and cruel enemy that is disinclined to negotiate. Unlike any rwar in recent decades, the current clash lacks any moral nuance; Moscow is an unlawful aggressor, and Kyiv is defending itself. Only scholars of international relations, the so-called realists, or rock stars and internet celebrities try to find subtle differences.

After the End of History

America has defended Ukraine in line with the role it has assumed for itself since nearly the beginning of the 20th century as an arbiter of international justice, defender of democracy and benevolent empire. Put more cynically, these are the imperial goals that America pursues by inducing others to adopt its policies. Sometimes the U.S. frees you from oppression, sometimes it oppresses you, but always in harmony with the sense of mission, characteristic of a country consciously founded by a group of enlightened men in 1776.

This messianic mission propelled America into the war in Europe in 1917. And when communism and Nazism prevailed on the Old Continent, American responded with democracy, freedom, the free market, and its institutions: The U.N., the World Bank and European integration, which under its patronage took the form of the EU. The pinnacle of U.S. power was winning the clash of wills and diplomacy with the Soviet Union during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

America’s victory came three decades later, hailed as “the end of history.” The symbolic fate of Poland under American auspices appealed to the imagination of many: going from a failed Warsaw Pact member state to a permanent democracy at first and NATO membership.

In the decades that followed 1990, American “charity” turned into hubris, the pride of power now free from constraints. When the empire did not have to face challenges divided among international blocs, it no longer acted as a superpower but as a “world policeman” in minor conflicts in Africa, the Balkans and repeatedly defeating the army of Saddam Hussein. At the beginning of the 21st century, America was seized for 20 years by a fear of terrorists whose plots even the powerful U.S. intelligence agencies were unable to discover and prevent.

Donald Trump’s time in office was revealing in its own right, though it was not healing, It revealed the weakness in believing America was unique among other powers. Trump was the first American president to publicly declare that America was no better and praised the autocrats of Hungary, Poland and Brazil as role models.

During the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, America was the same as other countries faced with a threat to its people. The Capitol, symbol of the new Rome, was attacked by a mob in which a man wearing a Visigoth’s horned helmet paraded like a barbarian storming the ancient empire in 410. The republic seemed to be descending into chaos. American intellectuals wrote seriously about an impending civil war.

How Empires Fall

Moscow and Beijing both argued that America was retreating. After all, the U.S. had failed its allies in Syria, Afghanistan and North Africa, and it could merely lecture others. On Feb. 4, presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping told the world that their “friendship has no limits.” Three weeks later, Russian tanks entered Ukraine. It appeared that America was only able to offer Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy an evacuation route, just as it did a year ago, when the U.S. flew Ashraf Ghani, the cowardly president of Afghanistan, out of the collapsing city of Kabul.

However, they all miscalculated. Neither Zelenskyy wanted to flee, nor were the Russians so powerful, nor was Beijing’s friendship with Russia that strong. Something unprecedented had happened six months earlier: American intelligence was correct in its warnings before the war. Instead, it was the American allies, skeptical about the role of the U.S. in Europe, who were mistaken. They ignored warnings, and viewed U.S. pressure on Putin in 2021 as an unnecessary game. Even the most anti-Russian Great Britain and Poland did not believe the warnings until the end of January. Ukraine also seemed unfazed by the threats. An attack by Putin would be simply irrational.

The Russian attack turned out to be an imperial act, an attempt to bend the will of a weaker neighbor to the will of the hegemon. Moscow swiftly supplemented its military operations with nuclear threats, which America at first passed over in silence. However, the war was not only a moral error committed by Putin. Ukrainian resistance revealed that it had mistakenly underestimated its enemy and overestimated its own forces. Zelenskyy and his soldiers have rightly become heroes in the West’s imagination.

But they wouldn’t have survived long without President Biden. And without America’s will to confront China.

Not Enough Chinese Nuclear Warheads

Biden has apparently noticed that China is indeed growing economically, has a demographic advantage and is making up for gaps in innovation and technology at an accelerated pace. China has big goals and global ambitions, although to start, it would simply like to absorb little Taiwan.

However, China faces a sensitive period of about a decade to 15 years to make up for its weak nuclear capability. With just some 300 warheads, China cannot think of a militarily challenging America, which has made the defense of Taiwan a symbol of its domination and patronage over this part of Asia. China can only think of capturing Taiwan when it also has thousands of warheads to guarantee a successful amphibious landing on the island.

On the other hand, Russia has thousands of warheads with power ranging from a few kilotons in artillery shells to tens of megatons in multi-head intercontinental missiles. And it can use all that power as an umbrella to protect China’s petty territorial ambition to seize Taiwan, just as it has become Russia’s meager territorial ambition to seize at least part of Ukraine. Nuclear powers should not get away with such aggression.

America’s aid to Kyiv is therefore not only the patronage of American power over the not very strong state of Ukraine in the name of democracy, but it is a confrontation that will determine the course of world affairs for many decades to come, perhaps for the entire 21st century.

A lot was said about this recently at the Warsaw Security Forum held in the Polish capital. Among the speeches and declarations of its American participants, there was probably not a single presentation that featured any mention of China. Americans have become accustomed to talking about Ukraine and then segueing quietly to China.

If one listens to the ongoing U.S. midterm election campaigns, China is on the lips of almost the entire Republican Party, as it hopes to deprive the Democrats of its majority in the House of Representatives. Republicans claim that Ukraine is robbing America of the resources it needs to confront China. And experts like former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development Elbridge Colby argue that America’s interests in Europe are important but “not existential.” Colby adds that Taiwan is within the U.S. zone of defense, not Ukraine.

The “Chinese threat” is beginning to resemble the fear that Americans had during the Cold War of domination by Soviet and Chinese communists. Gen. Douglas MacArthur wanted to drop an atomic bomb on the millions of Chinese soldiers waiting at the border with Korea. A cautious President Harry Truman removed MacArthur from his command for this idea. In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, eased these fears through a diplomatic ploy that strengthened Beijing’s sense of independence without looking at Moscow. They paved the way for President Ronald Reagan to defeat a lonely Moscow in the Cold War. Beijing’s decision to go its own way meant unlimited growth for China 50 years later. Other than nuclear weapons, China has everything it needs to deal with the United States on an equal footing.

Russia’s Mistakes Irritate China

Russia’s wicked and evil war against Ukraine is strategically flawed. Russia’s invasion was an opportunity for the United States and Biden to repeat its strategy with Russia and China during the Cold War, this time in reverse. Russia was strong during the Cold War, and removing China from the alliance weakened it. Now Russia has to be similarly weakened to that a powerful China will no longer make use of Russia’s protective nuclear umbrella. “We want to see Russia weakened,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in April, shortly after Putin’s troops suffered a strategic defeat in withdrawing from Kyiv.]

How naïve the early strategy of French President Emmanuel Macron turned out to be when he failed to persuade Putin to join the West against China in 2019. Macron may have gotten one thing correct, though. China will economically subjugate a weakened Russia.

Putin seemed genuinely concerned at a recent meeting with President Xi where he had to explain his powerful country had not yet defeated Ukraine. This is the Russia that China still pins its fortune to. Putin must have convinced Xi that Russia was not actually fighting Ukraine, but the entire West.

There is some truth in that. Since the beginning of the war, America has committed more than $16 billion to military support for Ukraine. In the past, the U.S. had worked to transform Ukraine’s army into something that resembled NATO forces, organizing and training them in the American way although Ukraine lacked membership in NATO. But Kissinger, who was recently reluctant about supporting Ukraine, said recently that the country has practically become a member of NATO.

Secretary-General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg, one of the foremost trans-Atlantic politicians in the West, is reported to have encouraged Ukrainians to move toward NATO membership. Of course, that will not come soon, as Ukraine is still waging a war to restore its borders. However, there are ideas about the transition period and guarantees similar to those already given by NATO to Sweden and Finland. As in the old classic conflicts between superpowers, it is again about the area that will be attached to one of the blocs.

The Logic of a Declining Power

America’s power problem, however, is that the Ukrainians have started doing too well in this war. Ukraine has suffered terrible casualties, but their determination and hope for victory is even greater. Ukrainian offensives are chasing the attackers from regions that Russia has claimed though no one else is recognizing the annexation.

It was not America that turned out to be a declining power, as Putin said. It is Russia that is in danger of collapse. If America were facing defeat during war, its president would step down in disgrace, waving weakly at supporters. If, on the other hand, Russia loses the war, Putin may flee through the deserted corridors of the Kremlin. Or he might die in some heavily guarded dacha outside Moscow, under house arrest, where he would spend the rest of his short life like Nikita Khrushchev after he was defeated by the Cuban Missile Crisis..

That is why Putin is threatening Ukraine and the West with nuclear weapons. That is why sullen American politicians are warning Russia against striking, particularly in private, as mentioned by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, something that caught people’s attention. America is letting Russia know, probably general to general, how it will respond: Maybe a conventional strike by NATO against Russia? Maybe a blow to the Russian military, or maybe even a nuclear strike at its borders.

Honestly speaking, it doesn’t make sense to speculate about such strikes because nuclear weapons are so lethal that no one has deployed them in a war between nuclear powers. The worst thing about such a strike is that by its very nature, it implies the use of additional launches. And the use of even small warheads won’t bring a breakthrough, so there’s a need for more. This is why nuclear doctrines are a defensive in nature only.

Experts wonder where and how the Russians will strike, which bridges on the Dnieper River and which Ukrainian units. They also speculate about a possible response from America and NATO. However, as former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus rightly recalled in Warsaw, “Now we can say little in public, everything will depend on the development of events.”**

The United States’ sudden silence is perhaps more terrifying than the apocalypse that the media, scholars and celebrities warn about. We should pay more attention to “private” conversations between generals and diplomats and the Russians than wild scenarios about a nuclear war in the Ukrainian steppe.

These signals are testimony, albeit disconcerting, that serious people think about serious matters with concern, not with madness, and a “let the world burn with me” attitude. And these messages also indicate that Biden’s superpower mission, perhaps the most important in his presidency, will be to prevent a nuclear war, clearly something Putin is thinking about.

*Editor’s note: The original foreign language version of this article is available with a paid subscription.

**Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, the original text of this remark could not be independently verified.

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