Vladimir Putin is going eyeball-to-eyeball with America and Western Europe in Ukraine and this article in Atlantic explains why countries China (and therefore countries neighbouring China) are looking at the situation with a lot of interest. Why? Because it will give them a measure of whether the Americans and the Europeans have it in them to take on an authoritarian state: “Like Putin, who is eager to bring Ukraine back under Moscow’s control, Xi worries that a former chunk of his country’s empire is growing closer with the United States and its allies. How Xi interprets (or worse, misinterprets) the outcome of the Ukraine standoff could influence whether and how China tries to reunify with Taiwan, and thus has implications for the security and stability of East Asia. That makes the Ukraine crisis a crucial test of American global power.”
So why do we find ourselves in a world where the Russians and the Chinese regularly take adversarial positions vis a vis their neighbours? Answer (and this is something that we in India need to understand more clearly than we have hitherto): “Four years of Donald Trump’s “America First” chaos abroad, combined with political and social polarization and a failed response to the coronavirus pandemic at home, have fueled the perception around the world that America is a superpower on its last legs—one too divided, overstretched, and just plain weary to sustain its far-flung commitments. This narrative, which Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan only reinforced, seems to have taken hold within the Chinese leadership and has become a regular theme of official propaganda.”
And so it comes to this – Ukraine becomes a litmus test of American resolve: “If Biden is firm, deft, and a little lucky, a series of talks this week among Russia, the U.S., and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will lead to a compromise and avoid a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Yet a stalemate persists over Ukraine’s potential membership in NATO—which Putin desperately wishes to prevent. At stake is the balance of power between the U.S. and Russia in Eastern Europe. The outcome, though, could reverberate well beyond the region, and well into the future, affecting whether American power will remain strong enough to maintain peace and advance democracy—or whether the world’s autocracies will claw back clout that they lost decades ago.
Leaders such as Putin and Xi may see an opportunity. “The problem for Biden is that their view is that they should test him at all times, and they are. And he has so far not really passed those tests with any distinction,” Danielle Pletka, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told me. “This is a very important period.”…
In light of all this, Xi will be scrutinizing the situation in Ukraine for useful intelligence about which tools Biden can and ultimately will employ to pressure Russia to back off, how much he is willing to give up in a potential compromise with Putin, and how effectively the U.S. president works with allies and even his own diplomats. China’s leader, in other words, will be looking to measure the level of American resolve.”

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