- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2023

Cold War 2.0 shifted into a new gear this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s three-day state visit to Moscow to show solidarity with Russian President Vladimir Putin against the U.S. and other Western democracies.

The visit, which began Monday, fueled speculation that Beijing could emerge as a diplomatic broker in the Ukraine war, as the U.S. grows concerned that China is using its increasing military and financial clout to challenge American influence around the globe.

Noting how Beijing tacitly backs Moscow in Ukraine by buying Russian oil and gas sanctioned by the West, Mr. Taylor points to U.S. and European warnings that Mr. Xi is pushing a peace plan that the Biden administration says is designed to lock in Russian territorial grabs in Eastern Ukraine.

On the ground, the war itself is perhaps most intense in the small eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. Pentagon correspondent Mike Glenn reports that Russian invaders have surrounded it on three sides, and Western officials have urged Ukrainian defenders — so far without success — to fall back to more easily defendable lines. Ukrainian officials say they won’t because the city’s defense is crucial to a planned spring offensive that could start within weeks.

Fighter jets, nukes and drones

The nature of an anticipated Ukrainian spring offensive will depend on Kyiv’s access to more powerful weaponry. Poland has announced it will send MiG-29 fighter jets, the first such offer from a NATO member. Mr. Wolfgang reports the Polish offer will put new pressure on the Biden administration to send its own American F-16 planes and deliver what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said would be a potential game-changer in the war.

Fighter jets would further escalate tensions between Russia and the West, which are separately intertwined with nuclear weapons posturing by Moscow. National Security Correspondent Bill Gertz highlights the State Department’s rejection of the Kremlin’s recent announcement to suspend the New START Treaty, the last of the post-Cold War era nuclear arms reduction agreements between Washington and Moscow. The tension coincides with separate fallout over the downing of an American MQ-9 Reaper drone that U.S. military officials say had its propeller clipped by a Russian fighter fighter jet just before crashing into the Black Sea. Video made public by the Pentagon seems to show the Russian jet dumping fuel on the Reaper as well.

Muscle flexing in Asia

U.S. forces are set to engage in a massive showing of military force next month in East Asia. Washington Times Asia Editor Andrew Salmon reports that Philippine and U.S. troops will hold a set of wide-ranging joint drills next month in locations that could be strategically vital in potential conflict with China.

The drills come as the Biden administration has been trying to roll back Manila’s efforts to move closer to Beijing. A spokesman from the Philippine armed forces told local press outlets that the drills will include some 12,000 American troops, some 5,500 local soldiers and about 100 Australians. Observers from Japan’s Self Defense Forces also will be present.

While the Pentagon is keeping the door open to direct military-to-military dialogue with Beijing, Chinese military commanders have recently refused to engage in talks with a key U.S. commander. Adm. John C. Aquilino, the U.S. Pacific commander, offered that revelation on a visit to Singapore, where he also sought to counter statements made last week by Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang contending that war with the United States is inevitable unless Washington moderates its policies.

China’s rhetoric is still less severe than that of North Korea, which claims its own recent military drills were a rehearsal for a “nuclear counterattack” scenario against South Korea and the U.S. Mr. Salmon reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the launch of a tactical ballistic missile tipped with a mock nuclear warhead as part of the drills.

Closer to home

Mr. Wolfgang offers up a deep dive on the fallout over the Pentagon’s now-reversed COVID-19 vaccine mandates, which spawned a web of complex legal questions over exactly how to punish — or not — service members who refused to be vaccinated during the pandemic. 

The Times’ Stephen Dinan, meanwhile, reports on Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz’s plea to Congress to provide more agents to address the reality that a majority of sections along the U.S.-Mexico boundary are not secure. Chief Ortiz also notably testified that it was a mistake to stop construction on the border wall.

On the opinion front

Tom Basile marked the 20-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq with an op-ed calling on Americans to “challenge ourselves to look beyond the popular narratives about the mission.” 

Iraq war critics have a bad habit of rushing to “hysterical one-sidedness,” Mr. Basile argues. What they “miss,” he writes, is that “extraordinary and noble work done by hundreds of thousands of brave Americans, military and civilian, who genuinely attempted to forge a better life for the people of Iraq against enormous odds.”

The peace deal reached last week between Middle East rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, brokered by Communist China, is a major strategic setback for the U.S., Ilan German writes.

In the Middle East and Africa, “through a mix of deft diplomacy and economic investments, the [People’s Republic of China] has begun to erect what some observers have termed an ‘emerging Middle Eastern kingdom.’ It has also capitalized on America’s receding regional footprint, as successive administrations prioritized other world regions (such as Asia) and topics, such as climate change, over serious Middle Eastern policy. Now, the Saudi-Iranian deal has cemented the PRC as a central player in the region’s political and security dynamics, eclipsing the traditional arbiter of Mideast affairs — the United States,” he writes.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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