Kyiv’s frustration over a lack of support and engagement from the US might be understandable. Their reaction to it is mystifying, however, and will almost certainly turn out very badly for Ukraine in multiple ways. NBC News reports that Ukraine has turned to China for infrastructure investment, and has already sold out to Beijing’s regime on human rights.
That’s only the down payment, even if the Ukrainians don’t realize it yet:
Frustrated with the U.S., Ukraine is cutting deals with a rival superpower, inviting China to build infrastructure while holding back criticism of Beijing’s human rights record.
Ukraine last month touted agreements with China to build airports, roads and railways in the Eastern European country and expressed gratitude for deliveries of Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccines.
Just days before the cooperation deals were clinched, Kyiv chose to stay silent about China’s alleged human rights abuses.
At the U.N. Human Rights Council, Ukraine withdrew its signature from a joint statement calling on China to allow independent observers into the country’s Xinjiang region to investigate reports of persecution of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.
According to the head of the Ukrainian parliamentary committee on foreign policy, China demanded that withdrawal before delivering large batches of its COVID-19 vaccine. That itself is a bad trade, given that China’s vaccines are nearly worthless. Countries which have relied on the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines have shown little evidence of effective immunity to COVID-19. Still, China held up those shipments — which Ukraine had already paid for — until Ukraine withdrew its signature from the joint statement.
One adviser to Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky warned two weeks ago that “Ukraine may turn to the East” if the US and EU continued “surrendering Ukraine’s interests” to curry favor with Russia. Ukraine must have hoped that Joe Biden’s election would bring back a more favorable policy toward Ukraine, or at least a tougher policy against Russia. Instead, Biden snubbed Zelensky and has indirectly strengthened Russia through Biden’s policies on American energy production. The Biden administration’s concessions on Nordstream 2 probably didn’t impress anyone in Kyiv either.
However, buying into China’s Belt and Road Initiative is the equivalent of cutting off their collective nose to spite their face. The BRI money comes with lots of strings, including massive debt and concessions to China for military access. In fact, it might make matters even worse in their conflict with Vladimir Putin. Ukraine’s engagement with the EU and especially NATO prompted the military actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine as Putin wants his western frontier firmly within his control. How does Zelensky think Putin will react to Ukraine allowing China to encircle Russia? Putin and Xi Jinping may both be tyrants cut from the same essential cloth, but that doesn’t make them allies. Putin will eventually react to this as well, and probably in a similar manner as in 2014, before China can get much of a toehold on Putin’s western frontier.
Ukraine may have good reason for frustration with the West, but they’re going to make matters exponentially worse. And for what? Some bogus vaccines, a mortgage from Beijing, and the loss of their credibility on human rights? This goes way beyond a mere bad trade.