Russian Invasion ‘Refocuses West on Cold War 1.0,’ Shifting Attention Away From New Cold War With China: Analysts

NEW DELHI—Russia’s attack on Ukraine is recasting the world’s attention towards the old Cold War equations, taking its focus away from the Chinese regime’s expansionist agenda in the Indo-Pacific.

Experts have told The Epoch Times that the attack on Ukraine indicates a Chinese-Russian convergence that’s creating new challenges for the existing global order.

Cleo Pascal, an associate fellow at London-based think tank Chatham House, said that the Russian attack on Ukraine helps China in multiple ways.

“First, it refocuses the West on Cold War 1.0, on the Cold War with Russia, and takes its focus away from the Cold War with China, which is rapidly turning into somewhat warmer,” Pascal told The Epoch Times.

Holding the Biden administration and the NATO member states responsible for strategic distraction from the Indo-pacific region, Madhav Nalapat, a strategic analyst and the vice-chair of the India-based Manipal Advanced Research Group, said that the situation has given Beijing a “freehand” in the Indo-Pacific.

“The revival of Cold War 1.0 (Moscow-Washington) taking oxygen majorly away from Cold War 2.0 (Beijing-Washington) is a blunder of historical proportions where the democracies are concerned,” said Nalapat.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Chinese leader Xi Jinping pose for a photograph during their meeting in Beijing, on Feb. 4, 2022. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

China-Russia Ties

Since the invasion, Beijing has been walking a diplomatic tightrope, refusing to take a firm position backing either side.

Beijing has repeatedly refused to call the attack an “invasion” or to condemn Russia for the attack, and has instead blamed the United States for “fanning the flames” of war.

In a phone call between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, Xi urged Putin to resolve the Ukraine crisis through talks

Xi described the attack as “the abrupt changes in the eastern regions of Ukraine,” and reiterated that “China’s fundamental stance has been consistent in respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries.”

Less than three weeks before the invasion, Putin met with Xi in Beijing on the opening day of the Winter Olympics, which resulted in both leaders declaring a “no limits” partnership. Xi also voiced support for Russia’s opposition to the expansion of NATO, the issue at the heart of the current crisis in Ukraine; while Russia supported the CCP’s territorial claims over self-ruled Taiwan. The two countries also signed gas and oil contracts worth nearly $118 billion.

Frank Lehberger, a Germany-based sinologist told The Epoch Times that his sources told him that Xi and other high-level CCP officials in the politburo, the Party’s top decision-making body, held a secret meeting during the Beijing Olympics, where a “shouting match between Xi and [his] rivals happened.”

“Xi was forced to take back the full backing of Putin. Now China in the U.N. is not giving a full endorsement for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine anymore,” said Lehberger.

As the Russian forces entered the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv on Saturday after two days of airstrikes on cities and military bases around the country, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy refused American help to flee Kyiv and said he needed anti-tank ammunition and “not a ride.” He asked his countrymen to “stand firm” against the siege.

Meanwhile, the Chinese state media took this as an opportunity to condemn the United States for not acting responsibly towards Ukraine and for using the war for gaining more strategic interests.

“Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a video speech complained that Western countries have abandoned Ukraine and left it to defend itself alone. Some Western netizens even asked: Where has the US been which provoked the war and said it “stands with Ukraine?” said the Chinese state-run media Global Times in an editorial.

Epoch Times Photo
Ukrainian servicemen ride on tanks towards the front line with Russian forces in the Lugansk region of Ukraine on Feb. 25, 2022. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images)

However, Lehberger said that the crisis in Ukraine was a diplomatic failure for Beijing because before the attack the U.S. official repeatedly informed China about the impending attack but Beijing didn’t believe it.

“Xi and the leadership were hoodwinked by their ‘ally’ Putin that he would not attack. They scoffed at the Americans and then after [Feb] 24’s invasion were totally taken aback,” he said.

“There are 20,000 Chinese working in Ukraine and they are now in the way of being slaughtered between the fronts,” said Lehberger, adding that the Chinese trying to flee Ukraine are putting their national flags on their cars to “belatedly flee the killing zones in the city.”

Ukrainian air space was closed to all civilian flights after the Russian attack.

Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese Studies at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University told the Epoch Times that the Russian invasion came at an awkward time for the CCP, which is scheduled to hold an important meeting, the Party Congress, later this year. Xi is set to launch an unprecedented bid for his third-term in power at the Congress.

“Russia, which helped form the [Chinese] Communist Party in 1921, has a lot of political leverage in China and the Ukrainian developments are expected to play out in the domestic political struggles,” Kondapalli said.

“Already several factional leaders in China are questioning the Russian actions. Despite the clampdown on any negative coverage of Russia in China’s media, political dissonance in China is rising,” he added.

Do Sanctions Help China?

After the attack, the United States, the E.U., UK, Japan, Canada, Taiwan, and New Zealand, announced a raft of sanctions on Russia. Most recently, Washington and allies moved to block certain Russian banks’ access to the SWIFT international payment system, likely to inflict a crippling blow to the country’s economy.

Pascal said that the sanctions will help China because Russia after being shut out by the West will become more economically reliant on Beijing.

“Which is probably why we saw those big economic deals around fossil fuels being signed between Russia and China because it gave Putin the economic lifeline that he would need if he was going to get cut off some degrees in the West,” she said, referring to Putin and Xi’s meeting in early February.

The Chinese customs administration announced this week that it has decided to import wheat from all regions of Russia. China has earlier restricted wheat imports from the world’s top wheat producer, Russia, due to the fears of a disease-causing fungus.

Australian Prime Minister Morrison on Feb. 24 condemned China liberalizing trade with Russia amid the crisis.

“At a time when the world was seeking to put additional sanctions on Russia, they have eased restrictions on the trade of Russian wheat into China,” Morrison said at a press conference.

“You don’t go and throw a lifeline to Russia in the middle of a period when they are invading another country. That is simply unacceptable.”

However, Lehberger said that both Russia and China are opportunistic states and the sanctions don’t necessarily go in China’s interest.

“The duplicitous Chinese will try to squeeze all kinds of concessions out of a weakened and ostracized Russia. They do this always when they smell weakness no matter if you are a friend or an ally,” he said, adding that “Putin is not much better, he hoodwinked his best friend Xi on the invasion, and so well that he [Xi] distrusted any truthful information that Biden gave him.”

Two Chinese state-owned banks, the Bank of China and the offshore units of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China on Feb. 25 said they had restricted financing for Moscow’s commodity purchases, following the announcement of Western sanctions.

“The Chinese are already sniffing Russian weakness 3 days into the war,” said Lehberger.

Due to China’s significant economic ties with the West, it may not be Beijing’s interests to help Russia evade the impact of the sanctions, according to  Kondapalli.

“Even though China had announced a ‘dual circulation’ strategy of lessening its dependence on exports, this process may take a longer duration and hence the Ukrainian fallout is problematic,” he said.

“Associating with Russia could further increase costs for China as the sanction regime intensifies,” Kondapalli added.”

Sanctions on Russia have also increased the oil prices from $94 per barrel to $100 barrel per barrel and this directly impacts the import-dependent China.

“China’s energy imports face sustainable and affordable supply disruptions in the near future,” said Kondapalli.

Epoch Times Photo
A Polish border guard assists refugees from Ukraine as they arrive to Poland at the Korczowa border crossing, Poland, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Weakening the West

Though Russia and China are not all-weather-friends, they have a common interest in weakening the West and their convergence would create fresh challenges for countries in the Indo-Pacific that rely on the U.S. leadership to counter China, analysts said.

Pascal said that she expects both China and Russia to support each other tactically over their wide range of interests.

“Where Russia gets, kind of some sort of tacit backing at least economically or support economically for incursions into Europe. There’s practically no cost to Russia for this. And similarly, I would expect that they would not object to the Chinese moves in the Indo Pacific,” she said

While Russian and Chinese interests don’t overlap in many areas, they share a common interest in weakening the west, according to Pascal.

“Anything that weakens the West, is an advantage to both Russia and to China. So whether it’s China that’s weakening the west or Russia that’s weakening the West, it benefits them,” she said.






Venus Upadhayaya


Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.

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