The Russia-Ukraine conflict is sliding into escalation and war of attrition, with the risks of both direct NATO involvement and Russia’s use of tactical nuclear weapons on the rise, Chinese experts warned, following US and NATO hype of a Russian “Spring offensive” and Ukraine’s counterattack as the one-year mark of the conflict’s beginning draws near.
With signs of a possible end to the military conflict still appearing distant, experts called to deescalate the situation before more spillovers emerge. At the upcoming Munich Security Conference which will convene on February 17, China is expected to mediate and play a constructive role in promoting peace talks, experts noted.
At a NATO defense minister meeting in Brussels on Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that Russia has already started its new “spring offensive,” with “more troops, more weapons, more capabilities.”
The NATO chief was referring to the intense military conflict in Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. He stressed the need to deliver more ammunition to Ukraine and accused that Russia is “preparing for more war, for new offensives and new attacks.”
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Tuesday that he expects Ukraine to conduct a counterattack and assured Kiev that Western allies remain resolute in offering support.
According to Aljazeera, NATO members are expected to discuss defenses on its eastern flank on Wednesday, with main issues like beefing up budgets, air defense, forming a tank coalition, training troops and logistical support on the agenda.
In terms of the advanced fighter jets and tanks that Kiev wants, 11 countries have agreed to send tanks to Ukraine, 22 countries have committed to send infantry fighting vehicles, while 16 nations have pledged “artillery and munitions,” according to US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley at Tuesday’s meeting.
However, US officials had no announcement on providing fighter jets to Ukraine, a continuation of the White House position of refusing to send military fighters, along with UK, Germany and other allies.
Zhao Huirong, an Eastern European studies expert from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that the US and NATO, by hyping a Russian “spring offensive” and Ukraine’s counterattack, are preparing for an escalation of the military conflict and rallying allies.
An escalation and spillover effect seems inevitable at a time when neither side is willing to compromise, Zhao said, noting that the inflection point of the military conflict has not yet arrived.
Yang Jin, an associate research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that in a state of stalemate and attrition, the “spring offensive” and “counterattack” may be more of a psychological contest. “Soldiers on both sides are exhausted and need morale boost.”
NATO will be getting increasingly involved into the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Zhao said. “In fact, NATO is already there in intelligence, training soldiers, supplying weapons, except for the final step of sending troops directly,” Zhao said.
Russia, as a military power, is not going to allow itself to be a loser, and Russia does have the means to make sure that it does not lose, for example, in the worst-case scenario, that some weapons of mass destruction could be used, Yang said.
According to an annual report from the Norwegian Intelligence Service, Russia has begun deploying tactical nuclear weapons-armed vessels in the Baltic Sea for the first time in the last 30 years, Politico reported.
The European Union is working on a 10th package of sanctions against Russia. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it would target €10 billion ($10.7 billion) worth of exports, and “further starve Russia’s military machine,” according to media reports.
The risk of Russia using tactical nuclear weapons is on the rise, and the international community should be working to deescalate the conflict, not fan the flames, Yang said.
Gleam of peace
Analysts believe that the US is the initiator of the escalation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently alleged that US officials have admitted that they were behind the Nord Stream pipeline explosion, which was also exposed in a report by US veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.
On the other hand, Wang Yi, director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, kicked off visits to France, Italy, Hungary and Russia from February 14 to 22 at the invitation of the governments of the four countries.
Wang, a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, will also attend the 59th Munich Security Conference, where he will deliver a speech to make clear China’s abiding commitment to peaceful development and share China’s position on major international issues, according to Xinhua.
“The issue of Russia-Ukraine conflict is very likely the focus of Wang Yi’s trip. And the schedule shows that China will play a constructive role in mediating and promoting talks and peace, especially in promoting exchanges between Russia and other European countries,” Yang Jin said.
Unlike the US, China has always stood in a neutral position, calling for all parties to resolve disputes through political negotiations, and hoping that the situation will cool down and the military conflict will end as soon as possible, Yang noted.
Analysts believe that the escalation and continuation of the military conflict would have a significant negative impact on Europe, Russia, Ukraine, international energy supplies, and even China’s Belt and Road Initiative. By contrast, the US, which has set obstacles to a peaceful political solution, is clearly the one that gains the most.
“From energy, military industrial complex interests, to reintegrating NATO, tightening control over EU, and using Ukrainian lives to impair Russia, the US has pretty much achieved what they wanted, and they don’t mind getting more,” Zhao Huirong said.
At the same time, the US is somehow taking the reins over the pace of the conflict. Washington’s assistance to Ukraine is limited. While ensuring that Ukraine has a certain combat capacity, it will not fully meet Ukraine’s needs to ensure a quick victory for Ukraine, as this is the best way to drag Moscow into attrition, Zhao said.
NATO and the EU, to a large extent, has been led by the nose by the US. Even if there is a bigger disaster in Europe in the future, the impact on the other side of the Atlantic should be minimal, she added.