In Other News – Russia is Battling for Donbas and China Signs Security Deal with Solomon Islands – 4/21/2022

April 21, 2022

The battle for the Donbas has commenced. Russia has captured 80% of Luhansk, the siege of Mariupol has been unforgiving and brutal, and Russia is playing to its strengths with superior numbers and equipment on the plains of eastern Ukraine. Putin is hoping for a decisive victory before May 9th (Russia’s Victory Day commemorating the Nazi surrender), but much remains to be seen. In the past week, Ukraine has managed to mount a compelling resistance across the whole of the front line and managed to sink Russia’s flagship, The Moskva. But this initial onslaught of shelling and discrete actions are a prelude to an advance of Russian ground attacks in the coming days. There are reports that Russian troops are weary and demoralized and haven’t reconstituted to mount a thorough assault adequate to win its desired land bridge. Moreover, there is a convincing argument to be made that the issues that beset Russian forces in their initial assault – disastrous logistics, inadequate command and control, insufficient forces, ill-adapted tactics, and a failure to dominate in the air – will endure in the Donbas. While inferior in numbers and materials, Ukrainian forces are motivated and forward-footed. They have launched some strategically-minded pre-emptive counter attacks aimed at disrupting Russian supply lines. And in the past several days, there are reports that the West has provided Ukraine with a significant supply of military aid including heavy artillery and much-needed planes that could give it a better chance at holding off Russian forces. Both sides are running up against the clock. Ukraine has very limited supplies and needs continuous aid from the West. Zelinksyy knows that the longer this conflict endures, with its disastrous effects on the world economy, energy prices, and food supply, the harder it will be to maintain European and Western consensus in supporting Ukraine and isolating Russia. Whether Putin will acknowledge it or not, Western sanctions are profoundly affecting the Russian economy and the absence of a decisive victory brings higher costs and greater risks to Putin, who has really tied his fortunes to the outcome in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, China signs security deal with Solomon Islands, alarming neighbors. As much of the world remains focused on events in Ukraine, China announced a freshly signed security agreement with the Solomon Islands. The security deal is the first of its kind for China in the Indo-Pacific, and reflects Beijing’s ongoing efforts to expand China’s influence in the region. The Solomon Islands changed diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 2019 – a decision that caused considerable unrest, and contributed to widespread rioting that left four people dead and much of the capital city burned. The timing of the current agreement was not coincidental as well, as the announcement came on the eve of a scheduled visit by the NSC’s Indo-Pacific coordinator later this week. Domestically there are concerns that the agreement will lead to an increased Chinese presence in the country, and possibly a military base in the near future. Internationally, New Zealand’s foreign minister called the agreement “unwelcome and unnecessary,” and voiced “grave concerns” that the agreement could destabilize the Pacific region’s security. Australian DPM Barnaby Joyce more bluntly stated “We don’t want our own little Cuba off our coast … That is not what is good for this nation, not what is good for this region.” In response to criticism, and of concern, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated the deal involved cooperation on “maintenance of social order,” as well as humanitarian assistance, and natural disaster response.