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Why China Won’t Mediate an End to the Ukraine War

If there is one person other than Vladimir Putin who can end Russia's war in Ukraine, it is Chinese President Xi Jinping. But Xi has so far remained on the sidelines and is likely to stay there, owing to various domestic political vulnerabilities and his own lack of courage and imagination.

CAMBRIDGE – Russian President Vladimir Putin thought he could quickly capture Kyiv and replace Ukraine’s government. Whether he was misled by poor intelligence or by his own fantasies about history, his “smash and grab” failed in the face of effective Ukrainian resistance. He then turned to a brutal bombardment of cities like Mariupol and Kharkiv to terrorize the civilian population into submission – as he had previously done in Grozny and Aleppo. The tragic upshot is that Ukraine’s heroic resistance has been accompanied by increasing civilian suffering.

Is there any way to end this nightmare quickly? One possibility is for Chinese President Xi Jinping to see that he has a “Teddy Roosevelt Moment.” After the brutal war between Russia and Japan in 1905, Roosevelt stepped in to mediate. He pressed hard for the parties to compromise and ultimately prevailed, thereby boosting America’s global influence and winning himself a Nobel Peace Prize.

Turkey, Israel, and France (among others) are attempting to mediate in Russia’s current war, but they do not have nearly as much leverage with Putin as his ally Xi does. The question is whether Xi has the imagination and the courage to use it.