Ukraine Crisis, February 20, 2022: Deterrence has failed. Only China may be able to stop Putin’s invasion of Ukraine; now is no time to make concessions to an aggressor, in the Minsk negotiations or anywhere else

Recent and significant dispatches and analyses


1) Singling Wei, “Behind China’s Warning Against a Russian Invasion Is a Desire to Protect Ties With the U.S.; After strongly supporting Moscow’s standoff with the West over Ukraine, Beijing aligns its position closer to Washington’s,” Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2022 (12:02 pm ET);

2) Bernhard Zand, “Leise Warnung aus Peking; Mit seiner Kritik an den USA, an Europa und der Nato stellt sich Chinas Außenminister auf der Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz an Russlands Seite. Doch bei der Bedrohung der Ukraine rückt er um eine bedeutende Nuance von Moskau ab,” Der Spiegel, den 20 Februar 2022 ( 14.40 Uhr);

3) Sebastian Sprenger, “Ukraine, UK, Poland announce security pact amid heightened tensions,” Yahoo News (from Defense News), February 17, 2022 (1:20 p.m.);

4) “Ukraine Crisis, February 1, 2022: Security Council meeting on January 31 a welcome success; tripartite security pact between Ukraine, Poland, and Britain reportedly in preparation,” The Trenchant Observer, February 1, 2022l

This article highlights the fact that potential Polish intervention in collective self-defense of Ukraine, were it to lead to a Russian attack on Poland, could trigger the Article 5 mutual defense obligation in the NATO Treaty– that all members come to the collective self-defense of Poland. Should that occur, the U.S. and Russia would be directly engaged on opposite sides in a military conflict.

5) Paul Sonne and Robyn Dixon, “Wielding the threat of war, a new, more aggressive Putin steps forward; Russia’s president is leveraging a reconstituted military to force the world to reckon with his demands after having complained for years that he has been ignored, Washington Post, February 20, 2022 (6:00 a.m. EST, updated at 9:24 a.m. EST);

6) Clemens Wergin, “Die Weltordnung wankt – und Europa ist überfordert,” Die Welt, den 20. Februar 2022 ;

7) Le Monde avec AFP, “Crise en Ukraine : Macron, Poutine et Zelensky s’accordent pour « intensifier les efforts diplomatiques », sur fond de tensions toujours vives; Après des échanges téléphoniques séparés avec Emmanuel Macron, les présidents russe et ukrainien se sont tous deux dits prêts à poursuivre les pourparlers,” Le Monde, le 20 février 2022 (à 19h24, mis à jour à 00h48).


The most significant development in the Ukraine Crisis in the last few days has been the clear statement by the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, participating via video conference in the Munich Security Conference, that,

“The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of any country should be respected and safeguarded,” Mr. Wang told the Munich Security Conference by video link. “Ukraine is no exception.”

This statement was not an off-the-cuff comment, but rather the product of a week of deliberations at the highest levels of the Chinese government.

What it means is that if Vladimir Putin persists in his mad effort to overthrow the U.N. Charter, international law, and the Charter-based international legal order that has existed since 1945, he is on his own. China will not support his efforts.

Journalists and other commentators frequently assert that Russia and China are trying to replace the current system with one of their own creation.

This is certainly not true, at least for China, and Russia even if it wanted to could not begin to propose, much less build, a system of its own.

What China may seek, in the South China Sea and even with respect to Taiwan, is to violate the international law prohibition against the threat or use of force, while claiming that they are not violating what are the most basic provisions of the U.N. Charter and international law.

To a layman, this distinction may seem irrelevant, but in fact it is of fundamental importance.

Putin’s challenge to the international legal order is quite different. He argues, in effect, that the norms which govern international relations are irrelevant. The new order he desires is one where “might makes right”, as before World War I, and that powerful states can establish spheres of influence in which they call the shots.

China does not support Putin’s project, as foreign minister Wang Yi’s statement makes clear.

A second significant development in recent days is the signing of a tripartite security pact between Ukraine, Poland, and the United Kingdom. Should this lead to Polish military intervention to help defend Ukraine from a Russian invasion, any Russian attack against Poland could trigger the mutual defense obligation contained in Article 5 of the NATO Treaty.

A third and late-breaking development has been the energetic telephone diplomacy Sunday evening of Emmanuel Macron, and what appears to be an agreement in principle for Putin and Biden to hold a summit, “provided Russia doesn’t invade Ukraine”. Russia had not been heard from late Sunday night confirming the agreement.

It is hard to see how the quoted language is useful.

If it occurs, the meeting with Biden and further Putin meetings with other leaders could buy some time, which would be good, and also serve to draw Putin out of his cocoon and his narrow circle of advisers. Perhaps that will persuade the madman not to launch his crazy invasion, at least at this time.

But in the longer term such a summit or similar meetings will not resolve the problem of Putin and his army poised to invade Ukraine. He can simply pull his troops back for a few months and then have another go at it.

Negotiations within the Minsk process, however appealing in principle, will not placate Putin unless he gets what he wants: recognition by the Ukrainian government of the separatist “governments” in the Donbas provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, to be followed by the election of “autonomous” governments, which will give Putin a veto over many domestic policy decisions, including those relating to NATO membership or EU accession.

The Minsk agreements were carefully balanced agreements negotiated in 2014 and 2015 at the end of a barrel of a gun–Russian troops massed near the Ukrainian border. The agreements call for the withdrawal of Russian troops and Russian-supported irregulars from the Donbas, the withdrawal of heavy artillery, the maintenance of a cease-fire, and restoration of control of the border to the Ukrainian government in Kiev.

Putin wants only implementation of those provisions which would give him control of the elections.

These are the critical points that have deadlocked negotiations, in the Normandy format, since 2014.

Negotiations within the Minsk process are not likely to make progress so long as Putin remains totally intransigent. His mobilization of an invading force of 190,000 troops suggests that that could be a long time.

The great risk in any meeting between Biden and Putin, or in negotiations to avoid an invasion, is that the U.S. and NATO, and/or Macron and Olaf Scholz, could pressure Zelensky to make concessions in the Minsk negotiations which in the end will amount to a surrender, or that a secret deal could be made behind his back that effectively blocks Ukraine from ever becoming a NATO member.

Such concessions would amount to rewarding Putin for his aggression.

As the Munich Pact in 1938 demonstrated, rewarding aggression through a policy of appeasement may bring “peace in our time”, but that time is likely to be short.

Following the Munich Pact on September 30/October 1, 1938, Hitler invaded “rump” Czechoslovakia in March, 1939, and Poland on September 1, 1939. Indeed, Hitler’s threats against Poland and Germany’s false-flag and propaganda operations in late August 1939, accompanied by frenetic diplomatic activity, greatly resemble Russia’s threats and false-flag operations against Ukraine today.

Final thoughts

As Radek Sikorski, a former foreign minister of Poland, said on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS program this morning, “Putin doesn’t want security guarantees. He wants Ukraine.”

Another quote from Sunday’s TV programs is worth bearing in mind. Retired. Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, former Vice-president Mike Pence’s National Security Adviser, reminded his audience on Fox News, “Putin doesn’t bluff.”

The Trenchant Observer

1 Comment on "Ukraine Crisis, February 20, 2022: Deterrence has failed. Only China may be able to stop Putin’s invasion of Ukraine; now is no time to make concessions to an aggressor, in the Minsk negotiations or anywhere else"

  1. Michael Mauldin | February 21, 2022 at 7:32 am |

    Great article.
    Lots of deep background for thoughtful reflection.
    Send to the post and times right now.

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