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Ukraine Crisis: How China Satisfies Both U.S. and Russia

Putin with Liu Peng (front L), president of the Chinese Olympic Committee in Sochi in February
Putin with Liu Peng (front L), president of the Chinese Olympic Committee in Sochi in February
Pavel Tarasenko and Kirill Belyaninov

MOSCOW — Amidst the showdown over Ukraine, the United States tried in vain to pressure China into joining the international sanctions against Russia. Moscow officials have said that while other countries were trying to tie a noose of sanctions around Russia’s neck, China has unexpectedly turned out to be an "absolutely solid partner.”

And yet at the same time, officials in Washington have stated that they are pleased that China has publicly declared that Ukraine’s territorial integrity should be respected.

Diplomats on both sides of the issue have noted that China, while opting not to take a leadership role in the Ukrainian crisis, has successfully managed to maintain the good will of both the U.S. and Russia.

A Russian diplomat familiar with the situation told Kommersant about the U.S. efforts to convince China to join the sanctions, but said that China did not like the idea of punishing ordinary Russians for the Russian government’s actions.

The White House press office refused to comment on China's stance in the escalating crisis in Ukraine, but according to our sources at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, American officials have been working closely with their Chinese counterparts on the issue. The White House also hasn't hidden that Barack Obama himself has personally tried to convince the Chinese to publicly condemn the Russian actions in Crimea.

During Obama’s recent two-hour closed-door meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping, the American president made it clear that the question of Moscow’s economic and political isolation had already been decided by European leaders and the United States, said an American diplomatic source.

The same source added, however, that the U.S. never expected China to join the sanctions against Russia. “It was clear that the Chinese government was not ready for such strong actions,” he said.

One of the reasons for Beijing’s expected hesitation was not only its close relationship with Moscow diplomatically, but also because of close business relationships with several of the individuals included on the European and American blacklists.

Beijing’s current position on the Ukraine crisis appears to be a case of well-calibrated diplomacy. Beijing has not publicly criticized Russia’s actions or slapped sanctions on any individual Russian, but it has publicly declared that Ukraine’s territorial integrity has to be respected. According to Kommersant's sources, when the Russian government asked China why it had abstained from the United Nations Security Council vote on the situation in Crimea, China mentioned its own conflict with Taiwan, as well as separatists in Western China and Tibet, but also brought up the more general need to respect international law.

In spite of these comments, Moscow still considers China an ally. During Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Beijing, sources close to the delegation said that Russia is “completely satisfied” with China’s position on Ukraine. That sentiment was repeated after the meeting between high-level Russian and Chinese government officials last Friday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also added his voice to the question, affirming confidently that there is nothing surprising about China offering its support to Russia. “Our relationship is developing successfully and is better than it ever has been, in terms of our level of trust, of working together,” he said in a recent address to Russian citizens. “We are neighbors, and we are also, to a certain degree, of course, allies.”

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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