The War Must End

Before it becomes just background noise

Photo by Fran Jacquier on Unsplash

You might have noticed that the Ukraine war coverage has been steadily slipping into the background lately. The war seems to be turning into a slow march of Russia to take Donetsk and Luhansk, and that doesn’t make for compelling news. Is Putin going to declare his “victory” if that happens? It’s anyone’s guess, but it’s quite likely, all things considered.

The focus right now seems to be the city of Sievierodonetsk, which is the key to total control of Luhansk by the Russian army. The ultimatum issued by Russia for the surrender of the city expires today, and the Ukrainians seem unwilling to comply. Most of Sievierodonetsk is controlled by the Russians, while civilians and defenders are holed up in the Azot chemical plant for almost ten days, in what looks like a replay of the Azovstal plant of the Mariupol siege.

In the meantime, NATO defence ministers are engaged in discussions in Brussels about sending more heavy weapons to Ukraine. Weapons that seem to be in short supply, while the Russian side claims to have destroyed an ammunition warehouse that was allegedly housing M777 howitzer shells. But the weapons are needed right now. It could be weeks from the time these discussions end to the time that the actual weapons cross the border from Poland and are transported to the front lines.

Weeks that Donbas probably doesn’t have.

The problem is that it’s going to be an uphill struggle for Ukraine to reclaim these territories once they are lost. And President Zelenskyy has ruled out recapturing the Crimea via military means. All of this means that sooner or later there will have to be peace talks to end this destructive war. But if Donbas is lost, the best Ukraine could hope for is probably some kind of limited autonomy agreement for Donetsk and Luhansk, with guarantees offered from their side regarding ensuring language and other rights for the Russian-speaking populations.

The narrative is clearly shifting. Even President Biden was forced to admit that the war would have to end with a negotiated settlement. That’s a far cry from the previous (spontaneous or not) assertion that Putin could not remain in power. Indeed, even the advanced weapon systems promised to Ukraine, as per Biden himself, could not allow it to strike into Russia. One wonders, then, if victory against Russia, which military advisor Oleksiy Arestovych claimed in 2019 was the ticket needed to get Ukraine accepted into NATO, is even possible.

And even if it is possible, I have to ask again: is it worth it? Yes, the fierce Ukrainian resistance is admirable, but the cost of war, as opposed to the cost of neutrality for Ukraine, which Arestovych so readily dismissed as impossible for his country, is staggering. About 4400 civilians dead, thousands more injured, an unknown number of soldier casualties, more than 10.5 million displaced internally and externally, and over an estimated 600 billion dollars lost.

Ukrainians believe they can win if they get the weapons they need, but there is a very real possibility that the war will turn into a long stalemate, eventually fading into the kind of background noise, such as the wars we’ve been used to all these years in countries like Afghanistan. Or disappear completely, such as what occurred in Yemen. Or, for that matter, like the conflict in the Donbas region, which has been silently harvesting people from 2014 until this February.

But perhaps the most telling statement came from Pope Francis himself, when he said that although Putin’s invasion was cruel and senseless, it was a result of provocation from the West. In other words, he joined the ranks of us who have been claiming the same thing: that NATO’s reckless expansion despite the clear and forceful objections of the entire Russian leadership for the past three decades is what led us to the current tragedy. According to Pope Francis, a head of state told him, months before the invasion started, that NATO was “barking at the gates of Russia,” something which the West knew that Russia would never tolerate.

By no means am I trying to justify this war or to absolve Putin of the weight of his terrible decision. The point is that he should have never been put in a position to take it in the first place. If this war is murder, then the West handed him the gun, and Putin pulled the trigger.

The Pope is only the most recent addition to the most unlikely group of people to ever agree on something, from respected international relations scholars, such as George Kennan and John J. Mearsheimer, to controversial figures such as Henry Kissinger and Donald Trump, to revered leftist intellectuals such as Noah Chomsky. Or you might change the wording to fit your views. You might feel that Trump is revered and Chomsky controversial. It matters little.

The bottom line is that this war is a result of terrible mistakes from all sides and the people who are paying the price have nothing to do with the string of decisions that led to this point.

And it must end as soon as possible. Before more people die. Before whole countries go hungry.

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Nikos Papakonstantinou

Nikos Papakonstantinou

It’s time to ponder the reality of our situation and the situation of our reality.