Russia (and China) are on the verge of collapse! (Not.)
The US (and NATO) are on the verge of collapse! (Not.)
Speculation is rampant that the war on Ukraine is a harbinger of huge geopolitical changes to come in rapid succession. This is often premised on one or the other side already being in a dangerously precarious state, with the war on Ukraine serving as the tipping point. Data points are carefully cherry-picked to reach these conclusions; countervailing evidence is assiduously shunned.
But what if, “East” and “West” are actually quite robust? What if the war on Ukraine however it ends, leaves the geopolitical scene largely unchanged? What if the war on Ukraine is actually about little more than the fate of Ukraine?
“Little” that is to the outsiders. By a wide stretch, Ukraine is the country which has the most at stake. Russian hyperbole that the “very existence of the state” depends on keeping Ukraine out of NATO (and the EU) is preposterous. Russia has survived far worse threats to its sovereignty throughout its long history. Equally preposterous is the claim that allowing Ukraine to be carve up by Russia would lead to the dissolution of NATO. NATO survived the Afghanistan fiasco intact, and the Georgian war caused hardly a hiccup. The call from both side for a new international security order are not helpful; that is a goal which will take many years, even decades, to evolve. Hitching it to this conflict only prolongs it.
So, shouldn’t what’s best for the peoples of the Ukraine be front and center? Obviously, expelling the Russian would be a good outcome for all those who have made sacrifices to preserve Ukraine’s independence. Likewise, being allowed to live in peace as part of the Russia Federation might be cherished by some people in the southeast. It would seem beyond debate that the former group is significantly larger than the latter. And surely, it would be an outrage to have the minority stance imposed upon the majority. But what about the minority, does it not merit any consideration? Or are they simply traitors that must pay for their sins?
The Kyiv peace proposal is silent on this score. Given the hatred toward Russia generated by its invasion, this is not at all surprising. There are now, for example, reports that 19 million books in the Russian language or otherwise tainted, have been removed from Ukrainian libraries. The peace proposal is also silent on the future of the Russian language in Ukraine. Understandable, yes, but wise? Probably not.
The Russian claim the Kyiv was on the verge of “invading” the Donbass is patent hogwash. Obviously, in the face of the long and massive Russia build-up along its border (in Belarus as well), Ukraine took precautionary measures to brace itself for an invasion. True, but in the longer run, the fate of the two Donbas “republics” was uncertain at best. What will be the fate of the Donbas leaders and followers in a peace settlement?
Clearly some of them have committed war crimes. (Also, Kyiv to a lesser extent.) And war crimes should not go unpunished. But might not some form of amnesty be in order for the greater part of the insurgents? The point of peace is not to set the stage for further fighting down the road.
“Humiliation” is a much-exaggerated phenomenon. It takes an evil genius like Adolph Hitler to convert “national humiliation” into a national policy of revenge. Otherwise, one picks oneself up, shakes of the dust, and carries on. Aiming to humiliate the other side is playground thinking. “Degrade”, the newest military jargon for “cut’m down to size”, is, in common speech, a near synonym of humiliate. A country the size of Russia will always have the capacity to cause mischief outside its borders. (In that regard, the US knows hardly any limits!) No amount of “degrading” will change that. But it remains an invitation to mission creep. It should be disavowed.
So why all this drama? Is it not enough to defend Ukraine’s independence? Is it not enough to ensure Russophiles are accorded human rights?
The basic problem is that war is a life-and-death struggle and to keep it going the grander the cause the easier it is to maintain motivation. But, as Khruschev warned Kennedy, it “tightens the knot”, unnecessarily prolonging deadly conflict. Whether or not it must be propagated to the masses, at least the diplomats must eschew it. Their focus should be on peace for all the peoples of Ukraine (including, of course, the refugees), and an end to the slaughter of soldiers and civilians, the waste of resource on war material, and the disruption of the world economy (including sanctions). Talks, thus focused, should have begun long ago.
It is time to take a deep breath, shut out the cries of the madding crowd, and work for peace. If this is not done, the price of negligence might ultimately be nuclear war, the ultimate tragedy.