In Other News – NATO Diplomatically Engages Putin on the Ukraine, the Beijing Olympics, & More – 1/28/2022

January 28, 2022

NATO members continue to diplomatically engage Putin on Ukraine, but US ramp-up of weapons to Kyiv could significantly impact Putin’s calculus. This week, French President Macron was the latest to speak with Putin regarding Ukraine tensions, but in the conversation, Putin reportedly reiterated that the recent US and NATO responses to his demands failed to account for Moscow’s primary concerns: preventing NATO’s expansion and refusing to deploy strike weapons systems near Russia’s borders. Further, on Wednesday US Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized that admissions for new NATO members remains open, which would include potential Ukraine membership. Simultaneously, Washington has recently raised the cost of a Russian invasion by shipping weapons like Stingers and Javelin anti-tank missiles and launchers to Ukraine‒ sophisticated equipment that would show up in droves in the case of an actual invasion.

NATO is also carefully watching Putin’s latest build-up of troops and weapons in Belarus, and on Friday Belarusian leader Lukashenko announced that Belarus will fight alongside Russia if Moscow invades Ukraine. Both Lukashenko and Russian officials, however, continue to publicly state that Moscow is not planning an invasion. Putin is now going to escalate or de-escalate based on his calculations of what a Ukrainian war might look like. He’s likely weighing how many Russian lives would be lost in a drawn-out battle, and what he can accomplish through other efforts to destabilize Kyiv.

The Ukraine-Russia tensions have already demonstrated to NATO that the alliance must secure alternative energy resources for Europe and continue to actively support pro-democratic governments while increasing cooperation among members in this mission. This work is key, because Putin’s determination to retake Ukraine by force, subterfuge, election meddling, repeated cyber-attacks and disinformation, or any subsequent annexations, will remain steadfast regardless of how the next few weeks play out. While Turkish President Erdogan’s upcoming discussions with Putin could be important, as Turkey is the second largest standing military force in NATO and maintains friendly relations with both Moscow and Kyiv, Putin will use both the content of these diplomatic conversations, and his assessment of Ukraine’s increasing military strength, to decide on his next move.

Upcoming Beijing Olympics raise political and security concerns, frustrating China. The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and an evolving number of European nations are participating in a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in a move that has enraged Chinese officials. The protesting nations cite Beijing’s human rights abuses ranging from anti-democratic acts in Hong Kong, to the public disappearance of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai after she made sexual assault allegation against a former top official of the Communist Party, as reasons to boycott the competition. Not one to pass up an opportunity, Putin recently stated that Russia and China “share common values,” and announced that he will attend the opening ceremonies and meet with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

While athletes from the boycotting nations will still be participating, Chinese officials have referred to the political protest as an example of American political manipulation, further remarking that the United States can’t boycott the Beijing Olympics because Washington hasn’t been invited. China has also stated that the boycotting nations would “pay a price” for their action. Notable US allies South Korea, Germany, Italy, and France have thus far not joined the boycott; while all have been critical of China’s human rights record, Italy and France are respectively hosting the Olympics in 2024 and 2026 and they likely want to avoid retaliation by China.

China has been preparing for months to shine, even ensuring blue skies by suspending factory production across the country’s northeast. Beijing has also enacted strict lockdown measures to contain Covid-19, although some nations still aren’t sending representatives due to pandemic concerns. Despite China’s best efforts to present Beijing as a safe environment, National Olympic Committees in countries like Sweden and the United States are warning athletes that they’ll be exposed to a myriad of data security risks such as surveillance and cybercrime while in country; athletes are advised to leave all personal technological equipment at home and instead use temporary “burner” phones. Security flaws have also been detected in China’s mandatory Olympics app for athletes that contains sensitive personal data, and there are ongoing concerns about the safety of making financial transactions via China’s digital yuan. Opening ceremonies are scheduled for February 4.