Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — the most consequential military conflict Europe has witnessed since the Second World War — has riveted the attention of the world. Observers have grappled with the meaning of the act of aggression and scrambled to ponder the wider implications of the war. Almost inevitably people look to draw analogies—both historical and contemporary ones. One popular contemporary analogy is between Russia’s actions vis-à-vis Ukraine and China’s approach to Taiwan. Beyond some broad-brush parallels — the most obvious parallel being that both Ukraine and Taiwan are peace-loving democracies that are the objects of belligerent irredentism on the part of more militarily powerful and threatening neighboring autocracies — there are also significant differences. Xi Jinping’s China is not Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and Taiwan is not Ukraine.
China Is Not Russia
Russia under Putin has repeatedly dispatched its armed forces for combat missions overseas to a range of countries, including Georgia, Syria and Ukraine, as well as conducted major military interventions against other states, most recently Kazakhstan (albeit at the invitation of that country’s president). Moscow has also actively supported armed groups and militias in some of these same countries and others.
Taiwan Is Not Ukraine
The fact that Ukraine is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was almost certainly a decisive factor in Putin’s calculus to invade Ukraine. Russia’s commander in chief knew that his invading forces would likely not have to contend with the militaries of any other countries. And if there were any lingering doubts in the Kremlin about the disposition of the most powerful member of NATO, U.S. President Joe Biden stated publicly that the United States would not send military forces to help defend Ukraine. Nevertheless, the Biden administration has taken strong steps to reinforce NATO allies in Eastern Europe and provide robust military assistance to Ukraine.