Inflection Point

Last week Putin’s intentions and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were being evaluated differently in Washington and Kiev. U.S. intelligence was predicting an imminent invasion, publicized by Pres. Biden, but Pres. Zelensky downplayed the threat, perhaps wanting to believe a possible Russian incursion might be a ways down the pike and not wanting to panic the Ukrainian public.

Until now we didn’t know that the invasion was stalled because Putin was acquiescing to Xi Jinping’s request that he wait to attack until after the Winter Olympics in Beijing were over. The two leaders met just before the Olympics and issued a joint statement affirming that their partnership would know “no limits.” Russian soldiers crossed into Ukraine days after the Olympics ended, following the playbook laid out by the U.S.

But China hasn’t endorsed Putin’s war. It is in a delicate position: China has pledged a partnership with Russia, but now can’t bail Russia out without risking a rift with its primary trading partner, the United States. No matter what action it takes, China will alienate either the U.S. or Putin. It can’t make up Russia’s deficit caused by Western sanctions without jeopardizing its relationship with the U.S.

The surprising resilience of the Ukrainians has so inspired the West that it has responded in ways no one could have anticipated (see Zelensky and the World v. Putin and Russia). The most astonishing result of Putin’s unprovoked aggression is the shoring up of the alliance of the free world on every continent. The solidarity with Ukraine and the outpouring of financial, military and moral support is completely contrary to Putin’s assumptions that the West is too weak and fat to execute harsh sanctions and withstand the consequent hardships like runaway gas and oil prices. The former U.S. president had done his best to rupture the bonds of NATO, but Putin (to his undoubted dismay) has singlehandedly revitalized the alliance. Even the warring political parties of America have found common ground in opposing the invasion.

The world has undergone a transformation.

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