Ukraine hopes China can alleviate major economic issues.
Written by Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
Since the 2014 Maidan coup, different administrations in Kiev have continued with a single-minded goal – absorbing Ukraine into Western organizations and blocs like NATO and the European Union at the expense of having cordial relations with Russia and China. With this foreign policy, one would expect that a priority would be deepening Ukraine’s financial relations with the West, particularly with the likes of Germany – considered the economic powerhouse of the EU. However, China is Ukraine’s biggest trading partner now, having surpassed Russia in 2020. The Chinese are mostly interested in agricultural and infrastructural projects, something critically needed by Ukraine considering their own immense economic issues.
Ukrainian authorities seem ready to sell themselves due to economic instability and the Asian country is more than ready to help Ukraine with its debts. However, there are of course preconditions, and Beijing expects Kiev to not only end its pressure against it, but to also maintain good-neighborly relations with Russia. If China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative is to arrive in Ukraine, then the country must become politically and militarily stable.
China threatened Ukraine on June 22 with trade limits and non-access to COVID-19 vaccines if it did not withdraw its signature from an international joint statement condemning alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang province. Ukraine joined the U.S. and over 40 other countries in backing a statement that claimed China was committing genocide against the Muslim Uighurs. Ukraine then withdrew its support only two days after the Chinese threats, without an official explanation. On June 30, Ukraine announced investment deals with Beijing, including an infrastructure agreement, aimed at attracting more Chinese companies into the economic-stricken country.
After the West, particularly Germany, found no interest in stopping the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, it appears that Kiev is now repositioning its geopolitics. Although Ukraine wants to be absorbed into the West, it has becoming glaringly obvious that its interests are secondary to the economic and geopolitical goals of the U.S. and Germany. In fact, Oleksi Arestovych, adviser to the Ukrainian president’s office, publicly stated last month that if the West continues to sacrifice Kiev’s interests for more cordial relations with Moscow, “Ukraine may turn to the East.”
For all of Kiev’s complaints about the West not protecting their interests, they too must also self-reflect on why they thought it was a good decision to capitulate to American lobbyists and block Chinese investors from acquiring the Ukrainian aerospace company Motor Sich. Kiev not only surrendered to American lobbying, but even imposed sanctions in January against Skyrizon, the Chinese company which tried to obtain a majority of Motor Sich’s assets.
This demonstrates that Ukrainian leaders are once again not serving the interests of its citizens, but rather the geopolitical goals of Washington to weaken and limit Chinese and Russian influence. For Ukraine’s unprovoked sanctioning of China, Kiev was rewarded by effectively being sidelined and ignored with their complaints about the Nord Stream 2 project. Although Kiev says that stopping Nord Stream 2 is fundamental to Western interests in pressuring Moscow, the truth is that geopolitics is cold and cynical. For Germany it is more important that they achieve energy security then worrying about Ukraine losing out on billions of dollars in transit fees from Russia.
It would seem obvious that after being shunned by the West that there would be serious discussions of policy change in Kiev. However, it is more likely that Ukraine is hoping to gain concessions or attention from the West by appearing to move closer to China. This in turn can potentially create issues for Beijing and Moscow if it appears that the Asian country is moving too close to Kiev. On the other side though, Moscow-Beijing relations are mature as they do not allow third parties to interfere in bilateral relations.
Although China and Russia are Ukraine’s largest trading partners, it can be expected that this economic reality will not deter Kiev’s ambitions of being absorbed into the West, even if it threatens to turn to the East.
Ukraine has found itself in a conundrum. It wants to desperately be part of Western structures, but uses threats of turning to the East. The main problem however is that the West is not affected by Ukraine turning to the East as they know this cannot be achieved in its entirety unless Kiev ends its provocations against Moscow and creates a climate conducive to normal relations – something Ukraine is unwilling to do.
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