US aim to weaken Russia likely to escalate conflict
During his visit to Moscow and Kyiv this week, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a cease-fire, and stressed that efforts be made to create conditions for a peaceful resolution to the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
The message came at a critical time when efforts to peacefully resolve the crisis are seriously lacking. Unfortunately, what have been abundant are moves to escalate the tensions and prolong the conflict. They include the continued special military operation by Russia in Ukraine and the increasing supplies of modern weaponry to Ukraine by the United States and its NATO allies.
What US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Monday is quite disturbing. His remark that the US goal is "to see Russia weakened" is in stark contrast to the efforts by Guterres and many countries, including China, to urge the warring parties to de-escalate the conflict and peacefully settle their differences as soon as possible.
When European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said recently that "this war will be won on the battlefield", I asked a EU spokesman whether the EU had given up efforts on the diplomatic front. The spokesman said the EU is still exploring multiple channels to politically resolve the issue.
But Western powers have made little effort to help end the conflict and instead flooded Ukraine with weapons, the latest being the German government's decision this week to supply its "Gepard" anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine, which is a major shift from Germany's previous stance of not providing heavy weapons for fear of triggering a direct conflict between Russia and NATO, or even a third world war.
Shortly after Lloyd's remark, Richard Haass, president of New York-based Council on Foreign Relations and a former senior official of the US State Department, criticized the Joe Biden administration's policy toward Russia because it "continues to be plagued by lack of rhetorical discipline. First calling for regime change, now goal of weakening Russia".
Haass warned that such a US policy could prompt Russia to escalate the conflict and shift the focus away from Russia's actions in Ukraine and toward a Russia-US/NATO showdown.
Kishore Mahbubani, a Singapore-based scholar and former diplomat, told CNN's Fareed Zakaria on Sunday that the perception of 88 percent of the global population outside the so-called West has shifted in the past two months. They now view the conflict as a geopolitical game where the West is trying to weaken Russia instead of resolving the Ukraine crisis. That's why they are no longer going along with the West's agenda where their interests and goals don't align.
Ukraine, its people in particular, has been the biggest victim of the current conflict, having been caught in the middle of the geopolitical rivalry between Russia and the US-led NATO which has kept expanding eastward over the past three decades despite the US pledging that there would be no extending of NATO's jurisdiction for its forces one inch to the east after the end of the Cold War.
So Ukraine's goal should be a peaceful settlement of the crisis as soon as possible, not to weaken Russia by becoming a proxy for the US because that would mean more bloodshed for Ukrainians.
That should also be the goal of EU member states, because despite the current conflict, Russia will continue to be a neighbor of the EU and Ukraine as well as the world's largest country with a territory four times the EU's.
So taking measures and adopting strategies which could further vitiate relations with Russia, not just for years but decades, don't make sense and will serve no one's interests. It's time the EU showed that it has learned the right lessons from the two bloody world wars, both of which started in Europe.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict will not end anytime soon if the goal of the US and NATO is to humiliate and weaken Russia. The conflict will end only with a negotiated settlement, a pledge to address each other's key concerns.
The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.