European war is the next huge threat to global human health, shoving COVID19 and the far more threatening climate change, temporarily, off the front pages in our multi-crisis world.
Politicians and diplomats have failed to prevent war, but how might they now seek its end with the least loss of life and damage?
Winning the war?
Peace experts seem thin on the ground and little is being discussed about how the war might reach an agreed conclusion. Indeed, there is increasing talk about winning the war and driving the Russians from Ukraine, including Crimea. Simultaneously, we are being prepared for the ‘long haul’.
There is bluster aplenty, particularly from the UK. Liz Truss, our Foreign secretary – presumably with the backing of her colleagues – is giving the nod to the Ukrainians bombing Russian territory using weaponry supplied by the UK, representing a significant escalation. From the Ukrainian point of view, with all they have been through, revenge, however transient, might seem sweet, but it is surely one step further from peace.
According to Liz Truss and Ben Wallace, who seem to be competing for bellicose headlines, it’s become a war to ‘win’. They hope for such a depletion of Russian military that they will never wage war again, despite that meaning a huge amount of bombs have yet to be dropped and hints of using Ukraine’s suffering to achieve NATO strategic aims. Truss’s bizarre demand that Russia pays for the rebuilding of the damage it has caused has desperate echoes of the 1918 Versailles treaty, the revenge driven harshness of which paved the way for German destitution, Fascism and World War 2.
The long haul
While our leaders demand victory, NATO is also advising that we are in for the ‘long haul’, whatever that might mean. Again they fail to suggest any route to an end to the war, seemingly aloof from more widespread destruction. I just wonder what is being discussed at the peace talks at all?
The US is extending its huge overdraft to do what they so so prolifically, make weapons. The military-industrial complex which so concerned Eisenhower and which has grown beyond his worst nightmares, is flexing its vast muscles. Biden needs to look strong for the mid-terms in November. Trump, emerging from the wings, does what he does; takes opportunities to appeal to his ever more extreme base, saying whatever seems convenient at the time regardless of veracity or usefulness. How might a Trump presidency manage the situation? His only suggestion so far is to expand fossil fuel extraction, to so reduce the price of oil that Russia will be bankrupt, seemingly unaware of sanctions – or climate change. The USA has its oligarchs too and it looks like they are busy.
We rely on the Russians accepting this grinding scenario without using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons at their disposal. I can’t imagine Putin embracing that outcome without pressing bigger buttons. He seems a man who want his place in eternal Russian history; a saviour of the Russian nation. The question is, will he die trying, or give way to wider humanitarian issues? The latter is out of the question, as proven in Chechnya. No-one seems to be suggesting his departure from power, despite this being one way out for Russia.
On the ground the suffering is intense with 10 million Ukrainians forced from their homes, about half having left the country. Who knows how many have died and been injured – all counts will be underestimates.
The 5 million who have been forced from their homes are now called IDP’s, a term familiar to all wars but not heard in Europe since the grim aftermath of WW2 – Internally Displaced Persons. It is hard to imagine just collecting a few things and leaving everything you have even known, perhaps for ever. Goodbye to everything familiar, sometimes to see your home literally vanish. This thought of return raises the issue of how the hell is this war going to end?
How will it end?
Perhaps the Russians are in big trouble, running out of the resources needed to wage a protracted war. Even so, what will be the outcome? They are not likely to simply leave the Ukraine with their hands in the air, and indeed have had a major presence in disputed areas for years. Humiliation, in the nuclear age, is too dangerous a way to end to a war.
Then there is Russian victory. Simply invading and taking over the country didn’t work, although did the Russians really think it would? A Russian victory would be a land bridge from the Crimea to Russia in the East and worst case to an also ‘liberated’ Transnistria in the West, destroying Odessa, the New Orleans of the region and effectively land-locking the Ukraine who would seek economic salvation in the EU, fomenting further conflict. This would be intolerable for the west.
Maybe it’s all bluster. Russians must know that a simple victory will not be tolerated, in that sense it is a war between NATO, who are supplying the weaponry for use by Ukrainians, and the Russians. A Hot War. This is knife edge stuff and much depends on how Putin, who has demonstrated his indifference to vast human suffering elsewhere, reacts to failure of his ‘Special Military Operation’. It seems that no-one is discussing a negotiated end to it all. Zelensky has demanded withdrawal to all areas invaded, an unlikely scenario but perhaps an opening gambit. Putins imminent May day celebrations would be a humiliation he is unlikely to suffer without some announcement of achievement of his military aims.
A friend wondered if had a Ukrainian referendum was held in January, asking people if they wanted a protracted war on their land, lasting years or decades between Ukrainians using NATO hardware and Russia which would kill vast numbers of people, create millions of refugees and impoverish all, or ceding of the Donbas to Russia, I wonder how they would have voted?
Sure, Russia might not have stopped there, but a well armed “Western” Ukraine might have inhibited their aims. One cannot but pity them for having that choice forced upon them by geography and history, but the stalemate in the East of Ukraine since 2014 clearly begged that question and could the un-negotiated outcome now be worse?
It seems that a land bridge between Donbas and the Crimea ‘only’ would be a concession from Russia who might well be looking to land lock Ukraine and who have an eye to ‘liberating’ Russian speakers in Moldova’s Transnistria region. This method to excuse invasion was chillingly used by Hitler to ‘liberate persecuted Germans” from what he called Danzig, a part of his greater Germany then in Poland, and lit the fuse of his Polish invasion which started WW2. Danzig became Gdansk, the centre of Polish revolution in the post war border changes.
How will this turn out? Who knows. One thing is for sure, the planet and its inhabitants simply cannot afford WW3.
My angle has always been human health and in those terms boy what a mess we are in! Having recently had investigations and treatment for my own health issues, where even a struggling NHS served me well, I had to give a thought to the billions for whom such management would be impossible and who have to simply accept that help is not available.
The pandemic highlighted what can be achieved with global co-operation when it comes to science, but the commitment of our miserable politicians came up utterly lacking.
Failures to tell the truth, co-operate and to aim for anything that moves us way from the cliff edge we are rapidly approaching, and towards the global cooperation we need to address the real physical challenges which will change the lives of all but the most ancient reader, seemed to slip and now slide away with global divisions ground in by Putins war. China, most of Africa, India and much of Asia are not ‘siding’ with the West.
Meanwhile, here in the UK we are breaking spring records for climate change driven lack of rain. An recent shower forecast lifted my spirits, but does little to take my mind away from the fragility of our civilisation and the oncoming potential of food shortages, which, despite the reassurance of overflowing supermarket shelves, is only a dry season away from us all.
Meanwhile, a well fed, vibrant magpie struts around outside, feeding on a wide range of stuff which is invisible to my eyes. Perhaps their versatility will lead to them surviving us self destructive humans and in the fullness of geological time evolving into something larger, more diverse.