Post #361: Ukraine’s Future: Peace Through War?

Hopes and Realities

Ukraine’s President Zelensky had a fairly successful visit to Washington last month, returning home with promises of more American weapons and unqualified US backing for Ukraine’s war effort. Zelensky’s sales pitch, that the war is an investment rather than a charity, went over very well in Congress. But questions remain, such as how long that investment will continue and when (if ever) will the war move into a negotiating phase. Zelensky no doubt is attuned to two slow-moving trends in American opinion that his country will have to confront sooner or later: one on the far right, which wants to substantially reduce aid to Ukraine, and on the left, which demands negotiations with Russia.  Both those paths seem closed for the foreseeable future. (See my Post #351, Predictions of a Ukraine Victory are Premature.)

Zelensky’s own hopes, which may or may not have been a subject of discussion with President Biden, is for future protection from Russia, which includes Ukraine membership in NATO. He said several months ago: “De facto, we have already made our way to NATO. We have already proven our compatibility with alliance standards.” He also said: “This is an alliance, de facto. Today, Ukraine is applying to make it de jure.” But he backed down later, acknowledging that his country needed to accept that it might never join NATO (https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/09/30/world/russia-ukraine-war-news#putins-speech-on-annexation-paints-a-stark-picture-of-an-existential-battle-with-the-west)

And with good reason: The very idea of Ukraine in NATO faces some unpleasant realities. First, Ukraine does not have French, German, US, and probably other members’ support for membership. Second, when Sweden and Finland decided to apply for membership earlier this year, they were immediately green-lighted to apply. Moscow considered that a provocation, but imagine how much more of a provocation Ukraine’s membership in NATO would be. Third, and probably most important, the NATO treaty would require that all members contribute to driving Russia out of Ukraine—a full-scale US and European intervention that would mean war with Russia. Some experts now talk about a postwar security guarantee for Ukraine in lieu of a treaty, but that too would raise the risk of a wider war.

Even though Ukraine cannot join NATO, it makes a plausible argument that it is performing NATO’s mission: defeating Russian aggression. But that is an argument for prolonged war and no negotiations with Russia. In Europe, opinion polls show only a slight erosion of public support for arming Ukraine. “A new survey by eupinions, a platform for European public opinion, found that 57 percent of Europeans, down from 60 percent in the summer and 64 percent in March, still support sending arms to Ukraine” (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/07/world/europe/europe-ukraine-war-support.html). Few Europeans seem to buy Putin’s argument; even the new Italian right-wing leadership firmly supports Ukraine. Yet one can detect a slow erosion of support for Ukraine, and the longer the war goes on, the more will that erosion continue.

Is There a Negotiated Path to Peace?

Meanwhile, support in the UN for negotiating peace is far from firm. To be sure, in October 66 UN members voted in favor of a cease-fire and immediate talks between Ukraine and Russia
(https://www.commondreams.org/views/2022/09/29/end-war-ukraine-say-66-nations-un-general-assembly?utm_source=daily_newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=daily_newsletter_op).  However, no country offered a plan for implementing a cease-fire, which the UN secretary-general himself discounted as a prospect. Nor was any opinion offered about how to induce either Kyev or Moscow to accept a cease-fire, or what its ground rules might be, for how long it would be in effect, and on what basis it might lead to negotiations. And then there’s the cost to Ukraine of Russia’s aggression, which would have to be measured in terms of reparations: hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild a shattered economy and shattered lives. Should Russia be compelled to pay, and if so, how?

Recently, Vladimir Putin again said he is interested in peace talks. But the Russians have created insuperable obstacles to peace by violating the UN Charter’s article 2 on the use of force against another state. (They are also accused of violating a UN sanction on Iran’s sale of drones that Russia is now using in the war. https://www.reuters.com/world/france-says-iranian-drone-sales-russia-would-violate-un-security-council-2022-10-13/).  Moreover, by occupying Ukrainian territory and declaring it their own, by intimating that use of nuclear weapons is conceivable, and by dramatically increasing the number of soldiers being sent to the front, the Russians also are in violation of the Charter’s Article 33, which calls for the peaceful resolution of disputes. Few of those 66 UN delegates recited the list of Russian violations of the Charter and international law, and some of them–specifically India–were outright hypocritical in saying that their country took no side other than the side of peace. Those observers who see India, or China (which has day offered its services), as a potential broker are whistling in the wind.

Peace Through War is Not the Way

A recent op-ed in the Washington Post gives insight to the mindset of the US foreign-policy elite (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/01/07/condoleezza-rice-robert-gates-ukraine-repel-russia/). Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and former defense secretary Robert Gates propose that “the way to avoid confrontation with Russia in the future is to help Ukraine push back the invader now.” Arguing that Putin’s ambitions for restoring the Russian empire will never be thwarted by negotiating peace, Rice and Gates call for more, “dramatically” more, weapons shipments to Ukraine. Ukraine, they acknowledge, is America’s and NATO’s proxy for defending the West. Yet they also acknowledge the terrible destruction war has wreaked on Ukraine, making it totally dependent on outside aid. Their solution is frankly unconscionable: Let Ukraine’s people suffer even more so that the country can defeat Russia and reclaim all Ukrainian territory. Morally and logically, that is no solution at all.

Supporters of a negotiated peace in Ukraine need to do a much better job of promoting the idea. It is not enough to keep calling for peace when one of the warring parties is an aggressor state. What would be the parameters of negotiations? How would a cease-fire preliminary to talks be supervised? And what are the substantive issues to negotiate given that neither the Russians nor the Ukrainians are willing to yield territory or accept arms control? These are among the reasons I keep reminding people, unhappily, that not all wars end in peace settlements. Some wars are interminable, and only “end” when one party is exhausted or, hopefully for Russia, changes course when the regime changes. That is not a near-term solution, but peace through war is worse still.

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7 Comments

  1. Good treatment of the unhappy subtleties regarding “peace”.

    The only important matter that is missing, I think, is the question of reparations.

    The cost of the war to Ukraine, sofar, is $100 billion, according to the Ukraine Govt, the World Bank, and

    the EC. (Not sure what is included). “The predicted cost of the war to the global economy in terms of

    lost output by the end of 2023, according to the OECD, is $2.8 trillion. (Guardian Weekly, 23 Dec, pp. 26-27).

    Mike

    1. Agreed; reparations are another complicating factor–and one that the Russians would probably consider a deal breaker. My guess is that in any Ukraine-Russia negotiations, Ukraine’s economic losses would have to be made up by a global consortium, meaning mainly the EU and US.

      1. Agree that reparations would probably be a deal breaker with Russia, but this should be mentioned!

  2. Dear Mel:

    Sadly, I must agree with your conclusions: peace, by any means possible, is virtually non-existent; so long as old Vlad is head of the Russian state. And President Zelensky has some baggage of his own: he advocates non-negotiation of ALL of Russian-occupied Ukraine; including (especially so) the Crimean peninsula.

    Or “we” are at a standstill pending some sort of the two sides (or both) so militarily exhausted that they can or will no longer continue the fight; OR that Putin dies or otherwise displaced.

    Sorry ’bout all this crap.

    Mike Peterson

    1. This is an all or nothing situation for Ukraine as it should be. A negotiated peace deal right now would require Ukraine to give up its territory. Ask yourself, if the US was in the same position would it give up California for a peace deal?

  3. I dont see a plan for peace other than Russia’s complete withdrawal from Ukranian territories. The Ukrainians will not accept any other outcome. What the West doesnt seem to acknowledge is that peace talks would mean Ukraine allowing Russia to keep Ukrainian terrority. I think of it this way, would we allow a foreign power to keep California in exchange for peace if this was happening in the US? I don’t think so. Putin needs to know there are consequences for his actions. Total defeat of Russian forces in Ukraine will do that. In US politcs we have seen that trump and the republicans can outright lie, steal and cheat without consequences. Thats why we have a current House which is like a rabid dog focusing on revenge and not governing. Bottom line, send huge amounts of military equipment to Ukraine and remove the Russians from Ukrainian terroritory. Only then will peace talks with Russia to prevent further aggression be fruitful.

    1. Agreed. BUT The Soviet Union, at the time of WWII, was willing to shed the blood of millions of Russian troops to accomplish their goal of destroying Nazi Germany (and I don’t blame them for all the destruction the Nazis had brought to Russia). And don’t forget the line from Dr. Zhivago: “Even Comrade Lenin underestimated our accursed capacity of Russians to suffer.”

      You have to ask yourself: will the U.S. be capable of anywhere near the same? And that is just money for the cause, in order to compensate for the lives of those potentially millions of Russian soldiers to Ukraine before they are willing, ultimately, let go and call it a day?

      Think, also, of the Rethuglican party and their willingness to limit funds for the Ukranians, even now: and they have “the power of the purse.”

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