US escalates sanctions, fans fire as Ukraine crisis enters 3rd year
Prolonged conflict may become 'a war without winners': expert
Published: Feb 23, 2024 10:42 PM Updated: Feb 23, 2024 11:18 PM
US Ukraine crisis Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

US Ukraine crisis Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The US joined the EU and UK in announcing a new round of sanctions against Russia, ahead of the two-year anniversary of the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine that started in February 2022. But at the same time, Russia is seemingly gaining the upper hand on the battlefield with its latest victory in capturing Avdiivka, a critical town in eastern Ukraine. 

Analysts said considering the previous sanctions were far from reaching expectations, and the US and West are not prepared to compromise with Russia on the conflict in 2024, the stalemate may become a large probability, and a cease-fire is still far from sight. 

At a time when the security environment and economy of the entire world are being seriously affected, the US, whether it is from holding Europe hostage to promote bloc confrontation or from selling gas and arms to Europe, seems to be benefiting the most. However, experts said that if the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues for a long time, it will be a war without winners, and China will continue its efforts in promoting peace talks and a cease-fire as early as possible. 

Stalemate to continue

US President Joe Biden on Friday announced Washington would issue more than 500 new sanctions targeting Russia for the ongoing war with Ukraine and for the death of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. 

The US will also impose new export restrictions on nearly 100 entities for providing support to Russia and take action to further reduce Russia's energy revenues, Biden said in a statement.

The US latest sanctions came on the heels of moves by its allies. The UK on Thursday announced more than 50 further sanctions against Russia, targeting individuals and businesses supporting Moscow's "war effort." On Wednesday, the EU also approved its 13th package of sanctions against Russia, banning nearly 200 related individuals and entities which it claimed as being linked to Moscow's operation, including companies from China and India. The sanction was adopted on Friday.

However, experts found that sanctions from the US and West have failed to have any substantial impact on Russia. Meanwhile, Moscow was also "not nearly as isolated as US officials had hoped," as Russia's inherent strength, rooted in vast supplies of oil and natural gas, "has powered a financial and political resilience," according to a New York Times report. 

Western sanctions on Russia did put short-term pressure on the Russian economy, but it soon adjusted policy and resumed growth, Zhang Hong, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Friday.

The sanctions are a sign of Western political correctness, but they have fallen far short of their intended goals, Zhang said, adding that rounds of sanctions have not changed Russia's position in the Ukraine crisis or caused major economic difficulties for Russia. 

"In a way, it was a failure," said the expert.

According to the expert, compared with the previous measures, the recent ones have focused more on indirect sanctions, by restricting Russia's trade and financial contacts with other countries, narrowing Russia's external economic activity.

The sanctions also come at a time when Russia is gaining the upper hand on the battlefield, capturing Ukraine's eastern city of Avdiivka last week. Ukraine faces a shortage of ammunition and insufficient troops, according to media reports. 

Ahead of the crisis anniversary, Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday that Russia will have to continue fighting Ukraine until it takes the coastal city of Odessa and Ukraine's capital Kiev, according to RT. 

Although some observers, including former CIA director and secretary of Defense Robert Gates, told US media that he believed Russia has "regained the momentum" and "has broken the stalemate," Chinese experts said the current seesaw battle may continue in 2024.   

Medvedev's remark shows Russia's confidence in continuing its "special operation," Zhang said, "What Moscow seeks is to maximize its security interests within the scope of controllable risks."

However, the latest sanctions show the US and the West are not prepared to compromise with Russia, Zhang noted, adding that although Ukraine has recently been passive on the battlefield, it's unlikely to suffer a rout.

On February 1, EU leaders approved the extension of 50 billion Euros ($54 billion) in aid to Ukraine from 2024 to 2027. "It shows that currently the West is not prepared to abandon Ukraine," Zhang said. 

Experts also noted that in the long run, the situation in the battlefield largely depends on US factors, whether it can overcome domestic partisan strife on aiding Kiev, and whether US policies will be adjusted sharply after a possible Trump return. 

In 2024, the continuation of stalemate and attrition may become a high probability on the battlefield in Ukraine, Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Friday. 

The conflict will continue, and there is no end in sight, at least for now, Li added. 

War without winners 

Given that Chinese companies were listed among the latest British and EU sanctions against Russia, on Thursday, the Chinese Embassy in the UK expressed strong opposition, stressing that China has always held an objective and just position on the Ukraine crisis. 

Ahead of the anniversary, some Western media expressed misgivings over China's position. VOA accused China of not pressuring Russia to "stop the aggression," while some German media said the sanctions pushed Russia into the arms of China, making it "the biggest winner" of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The West is trying to pressure China to take sides through public opinion, but as a major power, China will not let this noise affect its neutral position, Li said. 

During a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on February 17, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China has stayed committed to promoting peace talks on the Ukraine issue and will not give up as long as there is a glimmer of hope. China refrains from adding fuel to the fire or taking advantage of the situation, and refrains from selling lethal weapons to conflict areas or parties, Wang said. 

Sanctions and weapons aid have not changed Russia's position, but have prolonged the conflict and extended the damage to Ukraine. In order to end the losses in Ukraine as soon as possible, there must be an early cease-fire and peace talks, Zhang said. 

Due to the conflict, all major economies, including China, have been impacted, both in terms of security environment and economy, and it has also had a negative impact on China-EU relations and China-US relations, Zhang said. 

So far, the US is the biggest beneficiary, analysts said. US liquefied natural gas has entered the EU market and now takes up a large share. Through the export of weapons, US military manufacturers are making huge amounts of money. At the same time, the Russia-Ukraine conflict also further strengthens US control over Europe, prompting the return of the influence of its bloc politics.

However, overall and in the long run, the conflict will be a war without winners, with only tragedy and disaster, analysts said. 

If the goal of the US is to maximize the weakening of Russia by completely depleting Ukraine, even if the goal is achieved, Russia, the US and Europe will most likely fall into a deeper strategic confrontation in the future, Li said. 

If the US and the West hope to wait until Ukraine is almost exhausted before directly engaging Russia on the battlefield, then they are playing with fire, said Li, "to defeat a nuclear power on the battlefield is likely to lead to nuclear war and World War III. If that happens, Russia, Ukraine are the losers, the US, Europe are losers, global security will be at stake, and the end will be disaster and tragedy for humankind."