Analysis: Russia’s Ukrainian Quagmire Teaches China Hard Lessons


HONG KONG/BEIJING, April 29 (Reuters) – Whether countering a Western “information war” in a conflict in Taiwan or using “shock and awe” to quickly subdue island forces, Chinese strategists are drawing lessons from the Ukrainian Russian quagmire, diplomats, say academics and analysts.

Chinese military experts discuss the conflict in private chat groups, offering their views on Western involvement in Ukraine and Russia’s perceived failures, say two academics and four Asian and Western diplomats who are in contact with strategists Chinese.

Although their findings have yet to surface in official military diaries or state media, Russia’s failure to quickly crush the Ukrainian military is a key topic, as are fears over the performance of China’s untested strengths.

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“Many Chinese experts are watching this war as if they imagine how it would play out if it happened between China and the West,” said Zhao Tong, a Beijing-based security expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Russia’s approach early in the war failed to subdue Ukrainian forces, which encouraged the international community to intervene with intelligence sharing, military equipment, and economic isolation of Russia.

“China should probably think about carrying out a much stronger and much more comprehensive operation at the very beginning to shock and scare the Taiwanese forces to secure a major advantage,” Zhao said, referring to observations from Chinese strategists.

They believe that gaining this advantage “would deter enemy forces from wanting to intervene”, he said.

Singapore-based researcher Collin Koh said such an approach would create its own problems for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

“If you’re going to ‘shock and amaze’ Taiwan with overwhelming force in the early stages, there could be a lot of civilian casualties,” said Koh, of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. This would make occupation difficult and harden international opposition.

“The Chinese can no longer have any illusions now that they will be welcomed as liberators in Taiwan and will receive supplies and aid,” he said.

Taiwan also has greater missile capabilities than Ukraine, enabling pre-emptive strikes on Chinese reinforcement or attacks on Chinese installations after an invasion.

Neither the Chinese Defense Ministry nor the Chinese Taiwan Affairs Office immediately responded to requests for comment.

Russian forces invaded eastern Ukraine from February 24, reducing towns to rubble amid fierce resistance, losing thousands of troops as well as tanks, helicopters and planes. British officials estimated this week that 15,000 Russian soldiers had died; other sources suggest a higher number.

More than 5 million people have fled after what Russia describes as a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and Western governments say this is a false pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression by President Vladimir Putin.

Chinese strategists are also worried about how Russia is coping with indirect Western military assistance, a factor that China would also face in a Taiwanese scenario, say two academics and four diplomats.

Chinese experts are privately discussing the need for Beijing to better compete in so-called information warfare, which has complicated Russia’s position on the battlefield, Zhao said.

In addition to isolating Russia economically, Western diplomatic efforts — and reports of atrocities in the war zone — have made it easier to help Ukraine and harder for Russia to find outside support.

Zhao said that for Chinese strategists, one of the most important aspects of the current conflict was how Western nations “are able to manipulate, from their point of view, international opinion and decisively change the international response to the war”.

Some Chinese strategists believe that information control has created a far worse impression of Russian performance than warranted.

“There’s a lot of talk about how China should pay great attention to this area of ​​information,” Zhao said.

Some analysts note that the Ukrainian campaign was underway long before Russian forces invaded in late February, with months of buildup on the Russian side of the border. These efforts were easily followed by private sector open source intelligence companies and repeatedly highlighted by the United States and other governments.

“Taiwan would present a far greater logistical challenge than Ukraine, and preparing an invasion force of this scale undetected would be incredibly difficult,” said Alexander Neill, who heads a strategy consultancy in Singapore.

Chinese military leaders have also for decades looked to Moscow not only for weapons, but also for structural and command doctrine.

Russian and Chinese forces have held increasingly intensive joint exercises in recent years, including large-scale combined arms operations in Russia in September 2020.

The strategic hypotheses resulting from this collaboration are, however, being tested. In 2012, the PLA adopted units similar to the Russian Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) – units that were supposedly fast, agile and self-sufficient. But the Russian BTGs got bogged down in Ukraine and proved vulnerable to attack.

Russia also struggled to coordinate the involvement of several military districts in the war in Ukraine. Chinese analysts fear that a Chinese invasion across the Taiwan Strait – widely seen as a far greater military challenge – will face similar problems, as it requires smooth cooperation between its southern, eastern and northern theater commands. recently trained.

Russian forces in Ukraine have experienced command breakdowns and low morale. Analysts say it’s unclear how Chinese troops – untested since they invaded North Vietnam in 1979 – would fare in a modern conflict.

“We have seen alarming signs of indiscipline on the part of Russian troops, which reminds us that there is so much we don’t know about the performance of Chinese troops under the pressure of war,” Neill said. “Despite all the political indoctrination, we just don’t know how resilient they would be.”

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Reporting By Greg Torode in Hong Kong and Martin Quin Pollard in Beijing; additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian. Editing by Gerry Doyle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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