No one who had paid attention to Putin’s foreign policy was in the slightest surprised when tanks rolled into Ukraine in February 24.
The Crimea annexation. Bailing out the indefensible Assad regime in Syria. The brutality in Chechnya. These are the actions of a deeply consistent imperialist – the type progressives assumed was of a bygone era.
The Ukraine invasion was another step Putin’s chauvinistic revanchism, but one that took an alarming number of observers by surprise.
Complacent commentators of many political stripes assumed the Russian leader was playing politics with the mass military buildup his neighbour’s border, never dreaming that another war could happen on European soil.
A tragic number have even turned to apologia.
With news that China is flexing its military muscles around Taiwan, it is vital that they learn vital lessons and don’t repeat the same mistakes.
Democracy can be deeply imperfect, and this is certainly the case with Ukraine. But it remains a promising, fledgeling liberal democracy to rise out of the ashes of the authoritarian USSR.
The problems of corruption and far-right organisations in Ukraine are not secrets. But they do not negate the nation’s right to self-determination or justify an invasion of its territory.
Taiwan, too, is a flourishing democracy with a solid progressive record – perhaps most notably being the first Asian nation to legalise same-sex marriage.
It faces a similar existential threat to Ukraine. Beijing maintains that Taiwan is not an independent nation, but a breakaway province destined to be reunited with the mainland.
Only a cursory browse of a history book would raise issues with this assertion, not least that Taiwan has never been part of the People’s Republic of China.
But Xi Jinping has refused to rule out the use of force to achieve the annexation of Taiwan.
This week’s sabre-rattling from Beijing in the wake of Nancy Pelosi’s visit will no doubt see many draw comparisons with Ukraine.
Under the One-China Policy, the US has maintained ambiguity around Taiwan, only engaging in formal relations with Beijing.
Democracy is worth defending, both for liberals and socialists alike. To support Ukraine against Russia is anti-imperialist solidarity, and the same applies to Taiwan.
And much like with Ukraine, the early warning signs of China’s intentions should already be too clear. The industrial scale repression of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. The brutal crackdown on Hong Kong’s autonomy. The buildup in the South China Sea.
Now it the time to be categorical about Taiwan. The international response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea was insufficient to deter future incursion.
Make no mistake, a war is completely undesirable. No level headed diplomat would seek to risk escalation that could lead to direct conflict between two nuclear powers.
But the onus is on the aggressor to de-escalate. The war in Ukraine was preventable, and a more concerted diplomatic effort to force Putin to back down – such as more stringent sanctions on the Kremlin – should have been deployed many years earlier.
The age of imperialist conquest should be over. Skilled diplomacy will be needed to prevent future invasions while averting disastrous escalation.
Spotting the parallels and learning from the past is a good place to start.
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