Sergey Radchenko

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Russian and Ukrainian negotiators meeting via videoconference in March 2022. Photo posted to Telegram on March 14, 2022 by Vladimir Medinsky / Illustration by Foreign Affairs

In the early hours of February 24, 2022, the Russian air force struck targets across Ukraine. At the same time, Moscow’s infantry and armor poured into the country from the north, east, and south. In the days that followed, the Russians attempted to encircle Kyiv.

These were the first days and weeks of an invasion that could well have resulted in Ukraine’s defeat and subjugation by Russia. In retrospect, it seems almost miraculous that it did not.

What happened on the battlefield is relatively well understood. What is less understood is the simultaneous intensive diplomacy involving Moscow, Kyiv, and a host of other actors, which could have resulted in a settlement just weeks after the war began.…  Seguir leyendo »

On guard in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, September 2023. Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters

The visit in early July of Russian Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov to Beijing would have gone largely unnoticed but for an unexpected announcement. Krasnov revealed that he and his Chinese colleagues had discussed the need to counteract the increasing Western influence on their “inner neighbor”, Mongolia. To this end, Krasnov said, he had already forwarded a proposal to his Mongolian counterpart to help strengthen ties with both China and Russia.

Krasnov’s remarks triggered alarm bells in Mongolia. For the past three decades, Mongolia has tried desperately to keep itself at arm’s length from its two neighbors, in part by exploiting their differences and in part by pursuing closer relations with the West.…  Seguir leyendo »

Vladimir Putin Is Still Useful to Xi Jinping. Until He Isn’t.

In 1969, China and the Soviet Union seemed on the brink of war.

They fought a deadly border clash in March of that year and another in August. The Kremlin dropped hints of a nuclear strike. Over the next few years, they exchanged barbs. Mao Zedong warned, “You piss on my head, and I shall retaliate!” The Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev called Mao “treacherous”. An alliance that Moscow and Beijing previously billed as unbreakable quickly unraveled.

So Mao reached out to his avowed foe the United States. Mao, a scathing critic of what he called American imperialism, suddenly referred to President Richard Nixon as “the No.…  Seguir leyendo »

A map of Cuba with detailed instructions on readying the Soviet missile division in the country

There aren’t enough palm trees, the Soviet general thought to himself. It was July 1962, and Igor Statsenko, the 43-year-old Ukrainian-born commander of the Red Army’s missile division, found himself inside a helicopter, flying over central and western Cuba. Below him lay a rugged landscape, with few roads and little forest. Seven weeks earlier, his superior—Sergei Biryuzov, the commander of the Soviet Strategic Missile Forces—had traveled to Cuba disguised as an agricultural expert. Biryuzov had met with the country’s prime minister, Fidel Castro, and shared with him an extraordinary proposal from the Soviet Union’s leader, Nikita Khrushchev, to station ballistic nuclear missiles on Cuban soil.…  Seguir leyendo »

Soldiers in 1951, during the Korean War. Photo12/Universal Images Group, via Getty Images

After a year of brutal fighting, in which thousands of lives have been lost, civilian infrastructure destroyed and untold damage caused, the war has reached a stalemate. Neither side will countenance a negotiated settlement. On the battlefield, battered armies contest small strips of territory, at a terrible cost. The threat of nuclear escalation hangs in the air.

This isn’t Ukraine today; it’s the Korean Peninsula in 1951. No two wars are exactly alike, of course. But in the long history of carnage, one war stands out for its relevance to the current blood bath in Ukraine: the war in Korea from 1950-53, where the South Koreans and their allies, headed by the United States, battled it out against North Korean and Chinese troops, backed by the Soviet Union.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian President Vladimir Putin watching a military parade in Moscow, May 2022. Mikhail Metzel / Sputnik via Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin has lost touch with reality. He has declared a partial mobilization to reverse his defeats in Ukraine and, signaling his desperation, ratcheted up Russia’s nuclear saber rattling. Each day the war drags on, his country grows more isolated from the rest of the world. Increasingly, Russia depends on China to keep its economy from collapsing under the weight of sanctions, even as Chinese leaders express doubts about the invasion. Russia’s failure to take Kyiv, and its recent reversals in the Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine, have led even pro-Putin commentators to question his decisions. Against this backdrop, it makes sense that many Russians are starting to ask how much longer Putin can stay in power and pursue his barbarous war.…  Seguir leyendo »

As Russia continues to brutalize Ukraine, Chinese leader Xi Jinping is trying to appear neutral while taking steps that reveal his support for Moscow. Under his leadership, Beijing has criticized the United States for allegedly triggering the current crisis by enlarging NATO; helped Russia to spread conspiracy theories about Washington’s involvement in a nonexistent biological weapons program in Ukraine; taken exception to Western sanctions; and provided Russian President Vladimir Putin with a lifeline amid Russia’s deepening economic crisis.

Citing a Chinese proverb, Xi has told U.S. President Joe Biden “Let he who tied the bell to the tiger’s neck untie it “only he who tied the bell to the tiger’s neck can untie it”, meaning that he sees Biden as responsible for, and therefore required to resolve, today’s military conflict in Europe.…  Seguir leyendo »

Stumbling Toward Armageddon

A nuclear standoff. One leader is drunk. The other is delirious. The underlings scramble to avoid the worst. This is not an end-of-the-world Hollywood thriller, or an episode in President Trump’s erratic diplomacy. It is a story of how the United States and the Soviet Union found themselves on a collision course in the Middle East.

The Yom Kippur War, fought over several weeks in October 1973, was a tumultuous conflict between Israel and a coalition of Arab states, led by Egypt and Syria. The war ended with a decisive victory for Israel, but even 45 years later, questions about the roles played by the two Cold War superpowers remain.…  Seguir leyendo »

With China stumping assertively on the world stage, one might think Beijing would be open, even gracious, about the country’s past. To the contrary, history remains an exceedingly sensitive subject here, drawing relentless attention from authorities anxious to keep all skeletons safely in closets.

As a university professor in China, I face the consequences of this official apprehension every day. My young, bright students know little about their country’s recent past. What they do know tends to agree with government-sponsored discourse on the pride and glory of China’s rise after a century of humiliation by Western powers. Library and bookstore shelves tell, with enviable conviction, this same story of national grandeur.…  Seguir leyendo »