Antony Blinken warns of ‘Pandora’s box’ if Ukraine support falters

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday warned that if the U.S.-led coalition supporting Ukraine falters, it will “open a Pandora’s box” in which countries like China believe they can also attack smaller states with impunity.

Mr. Blinken began two days of Capitol Hill appearances amid signs that the strong early bipartisan support for Kyiv is softening as the war with Russia enters its second year. The warning, delivered to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, also came as Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped a three-day visit to Moscow in a major show of solidarity with Russian President Vladimir Putin against the U.S. and other Western democracies.

The Xi-Putin summit has coincided with rising concern that Russia’s Ukraine invasion will inspire the Chinese president to speed up the timetable on his promise to seize Taiwan, by force if necessary, despite U.S. pledges to come to the defense of the island democracy.

Mr. Blinken told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Wednesday that China is watching the staying power of the international coalition behind Ukraine “very carefully.”

“They will draw lessons for how the world comes together — or doesn’t — to stand up to this aggression,” the secretary of state said in reference to Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine that began in February of 2022. “If we allow the Russian aggression in Ukraine to go forward with impunity, …we open a Pandora’s box around the world, where would-be aggressors everywhere look at this and say, ‘If they can get away with it, I can too.’”

He added that nerves are particularly raw among U.S. Asian allies on China’s periphery, many of whom have come together in support of the international coalition backing Ukraine. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida this week made a surprise trip to Ukraine to support the Kyiv government, believed to be the first visit by a Japanese leader to an active war zone since the end of World War II.

“Even though this is happening half a world away, they see the stakes for them,” Mr. Blinken said. Countries such as Japan, South Korea and Australia “see the stakes” involved in the war.

Chinese officials have projected a counter-narrative during Mr. Xi’s three-day visit to Russia this week, a trip seen as offering a lifeline to Mr. Putin in the face of Western economic sanctions and the Russian army’s struggles on the battlefield. Mr. Blinken and other U.S. officials have warned Beijing in recent weeks about supplying lethal aid to the Kremlin, which China denies it is planning to do.

Beijing said Wednesday that Mr. Xi’s visit was a “journey of friendship, cooperation and peace,” and again criticized Washington for providing military support to Ukraine.

The trip that ended Wednesday signaled no new progress in ending the bloody conflict between Russia and Ukraine, while shoring up President Vladimir Putin’s standing amid growing efforts to isolate him and his government internationally. Mr. Xi made almost no references to the Ukraine fight while in Moscow and Mr. Putin welcomed with positive but vague comments a Chinese “peace plan” floated by Beijing last week.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin reiterated China’s claims that it remains neutral in the conflict and said it had “no selfish motives on the Ukraine issue, has not stood idly by … or taken the opportunity to profit itself.”

“What China has done boils down to one word, that is, to promote peace talks,” Mr. Wang said at a daily briefing for international news organizations in Beijing.

Mr. Wang also accused the U.S. of lacking impartiality and of “fanning the flames” of the conflict by providing defensive weapons to Ukraine to Washington’s own benefit.

Bombing cities

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s allegations came as Russia’s bombing campaign against civilian targets continued in Ukraine — a campaign that did not abate while Mr. Xi was visiting Moscow. Russian forces pounded an apartment block with missiles in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhya Wednesday, and swarmed other cities with drone attacks overnight Tuesday.

Reuters reported that Ukrainian firefighters battled a blaze in two adjacent residential buildings in Zaporizhzhya, where officials said at least one person was killed and 33 wounded by a twin missile strike. The news agency also cited a local official as saying at least six people were killed in Rzhyshchiv, a riverside town south of Kyiv, where a drone struck two college dormitories.

While details of Mr. Xi’s peace push remain unclear, the Biden administration and its European allies warn it would lock in some Russian territorial grabs inside Ukraine.

“The world should not be fooled by any tactical move by Russia, supported by China or any other country, to freeze the war on its own terms,” Mr. Blinken told reporters at the State Department as Mr. Xi was arriving in Moscow on Monday. A plan that does not restore to Ukraine all of its territory “is a stalling tactic at best or is merely seeking to facilitate an unjust outcome. That is not constructive diplomacy,” the secretary of state said.

Chinese officials have hinted that Mr. Xi will talk with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after his Moscow visit, although no meeting has been officially confirmed. Kyiv, which has had its own economic and security ties to China, has been careful not to dismiss the peace plan out of hand.

At the same time, the Biden administration has faced criticism from anti-war conservatives and liberals in Washington for not calling for a cease-fire in Ukraine and failing to do more to promote peace talks while continuing to send military aid to Ukrainian forces. The administration this week announced a new $350 million package of high-end U.S. military aid for Kyiv, including ammunition, Bradley armored fighting vehicles, fuel tanker trucks and anti-tank weapons.

For many analysts, the Xi-Putin meeting marked a clear shift in the power dynamic between the two countries, who were allies and rivals during the Cold War. Moscow and Beijing described Mr. Xi’s three-day trip as deepening the “no-limits friendship” the two leaders outlined in a joint statement at their last meeting just weeks before Russian forces entered Ukraine, but many say the summit cemented Russia’s role as the “junior partner” in the bilateral relationship.

The two countries, which are among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have engaged in joint military drills over the past year. U.S. intelligence officials have said they believe China is considering supplying Russia with weapons for its fight in Ukraine, but Beijing is believed so far to have given only rhetorical support.

China does, however, look to Russia as a source of oil and gas — buying the energy up despite Western sanctions on such purchases — and as a partner in standing up to what both see as U.S. aggression, domination of global affairs and unfair punishment for the Chinese and Russian governments’ human rights records.

Budget request

Mr. Blinken’s testimony on Capitol Hill came at a hearing Wednesday examining the Biden administration’s 2024 budget request of nearly $71 billion in discretionary funding for the State Department, and other international programs, including the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The secretary of state told lawmakers that the funding is essential to promoting the “positive vision” that the United States has for a “world that is free, that is secure, that is open, that is prosperous.”

The budget request, he said, is key to addressing “the challenge posed by our strategic competitors — the immediate, acute threat posed by Russia’s autocracy and aggression, most destructively, of course, through its brutal aggression against Ukraine, and the long-term challenge from the People’s Republic of China.”

“[A] second set of challenges is really posed by shared global tests, including the climate crisis, migration, food and energy insecurity, pandemics, all of which directly impact the lives and livelihoods of Americans and people around the world,” Mr. Blinken said.

Ukraine was getting funding help on another front Wednesday: The International Monetary Fund said in a statement it had approved a $15.6 billion support package for Kyiv, the first program of its kind for a country at war. The grant still needs to be signed off by the IMF’s executive board, a process that should conclude within weeks, IMF officials said.

• This article is based on wire service reports.

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