The case for peace in Ukraine

We are being told the USA needs to send another $40 billion in aid to Ukraine pronto and to completely disrupt world trade in grain, oil and gas.  Otherwise Russia may win.   Even so, some of our military leaders are saying the war will go on for years.

The independent military analyst Scott Ritter says the last is a real possibility.  Although he had been predicting a Russian victory, he now says that if the Ukrainian army can train in Poland and Germany, and receive potentially unlimited numbers of U.S. and other NATO arms, there is no telling how long they can hold out.

I consider Ritter an authority on the Russian military and on military science in general.  What his reassessments tell me is that war is, by its nature, unpredictable.  If the outcomes of wars could be foreseen with certainty, no nation would go to war in the first place.

Biden’s stated war aim is not just to save Ukraine.  It is to weaken Russia to the point where it is no longer capable of waging war.  Also, to pressure Russians into replacing Putin with a leader wiling to beg for mercy.   

Putin’s stated war aim is not just to save the Russians in the Donbas.  It is to roll back NATO so that it is no longer capable of threatening Russia.

If neither of them gives in, it is very possible the result will be the bankruptcy or near-bankruptcy of the USA, Russia and many other countries, including some neutral countries, with Ukraine, including its Donbas region, left as a blood-soaked wasteland.  That is not the worst-case scenario.  The worst case would be a nuclear holocaust of most of Russia, Europe and the USA..

The best possible outcome would be a truce and a ratification of the previous status quo—neutrality for Ukraine, autonomy for Donbas, continuing Russian control of strategically vital Crimea.

My readings of the Russian Dissent substack, Meduza news service and Alexey Navalny videos also make me aware of the authoritarianism, corruption and cronyism of the Putin administration, and of misgivings about the war by ordinary Russians.

Russia and Ukraine may be separate countries, but many Russians and Ukrainians are related by friendship, lineage and marriage.  They don’t want war with each other.

Both Russia and Ukraine are cracking down on dissent, so it is impossible for outsiders to know how much potential opposition there is to the war on either side.

All the Democrats I would have hoped might stand up for peace—Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ihan Omar, etc.—supported the $40 billion appropriation for the war.

It is strange that the progressives in Congress can be pressured to give in at key points, while Senators Manchin and Sinema have free rein to block the whole Democratic program.

Are the progressives so weak?  Or is it that the Biden Administration only applies pressure when its war policy is concerned?

Post-Communist Ukraine, like Russia, has long been known for corruption.  There is a real possibility of American weapons winding up on the black market or in the hands of Banderite white nationalist terrorists.

I’ve started reading a biography of their hero, Stepan Bandera, who really was a kind of little junior Hitler.  

The main difference between him and Hitler, apart from the enormously greater scale of Hitler’s crimes, was that Hitler thought of the Germans as a master race and Bandera thought of the Ukrainians as a victim race.  He would have been happy to see Ukraine as a German client state, provided it was cleansed of Russians, Poles and Jews.

The Banderites are much more influential in Ukraine than their voting strength or the size of the Azov Battalion would indicate.  

They’ve threatened to kill any Ukrainian to fails to resist the Russian army.  Circumstantial evidence indicates they may have been the ones responsible for the Bucha massacre.  They have threatened to kill Zelensky if he gives in.

If Zelensky negotiated a peace such as I suggested, he probably would have to wage a civil war in his own country to get it accepted.

The top 0.1 percent of income earners and the Washington elite glory in ignoring pandemic restrictions and holding possible super spreader events, such as the recent Washington Correspondents Dinner.

Many people at these events report getting covid, which means they could be suffering from long-term organ damage, including brain fog.

I seriously wonder whether Joe Biden, Anthony Blinken, Donald Trump and others suffer from covid-induced brain fog.  I am not being sarcastic (well,  not completely sarcastic).  But then again, if they were, how could you tell?

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11 Responses to “The case for peace in Ukraine”

  1. Alex Says:

    What could Ukrainian neutrality mean, in practice? If it means that the word “Ukraine” never appears on NATO letterhead or various other joint agreements, that’s easy enough. Ukraine can sign a treaty promising never to obtain a membership card in NATO or various other organizations.

    But NATO countries are already giving tons of military aid to Ukraine without Ukraine having any sort of membership card. As long as Russia threatens Ukraine, Ukraine will seek Western aid. And Western countries will give it as long as they have an interest in Russia not extending its authority to the western edge of Ukraine.

    Everyone could sign a treaty agreeing that the West will not give military aid to Ukraine, and then everyone would immediately start cheating. They’d find ways to sell equipment via intermediaries, provide training, share information, etc. Everyone knows this. The only way around this would be monitoring and enforcement mechanisms that would amount to Ukraine surrendering sovereignty to Russia.

    Finland was able to go neutral because everyone was exhausted after WW2, and because Finland had managed to defend much (not all) of their territory and play on both sides. They were a credible third party. Everyone agreed to Austrian neutrality because they’re largely in the mountains and it’s easier for everyone to agree to not fight each other in land-locked mountains. Not when there are so many better places to fight each other. And Austria was deeply aware of just how shitty it is to get militarist.

    Ukraine is the western edge of the steppe. Good luck getting people to agree to draw and adhere to a line through the middle of flat ground adjacent to a strategic body of water. Especially when the people living there have a preference between the two neighboring geopolitical groupings, a preference that has only grown stronger in the face of repeated attacks from one side.

    Ukraine can be on one side or the other, but I don’t see a world where Ukraine is neutral in any meaningful way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    Russia is trapped in a past it refuses to give up. NATO hasn’t been an offensive threat at any point in its entire existence. For practical purposes, NATO was defunct until this latest act of stupidity frightened them into action.

    My perspective is that Putin did not respond to any external threat. He saw NATO as weak and Ukraine as vulnerable. It was an opportunity to expand Russia’s hegemony, using the same techniques he used on Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. He thought he could pull off regime change with little effort. Once that failed he was stuck in a real war he was ill-prepared for and is now scrambling to salvage something.

    The fault in the war lies squarely on Vladimir Putin. He did not have to attack. There was no existential threat to Russia and he’d already gotten the most important part of Ukraine to him, Crimea, back in 2014.

    The WWII generation has faded and the Cold War generation has the helm in Russia. Russia refuses to be “just” a big country in Europe despite the fact that that’s all it is. Except for nukes, they lost their superpower status back in 1991 and will never get it back. It will be another generation before they figure it out.

    It is far too late for anyone to “win” this war. With a little bit of luck and continued support from the west, Ukraine will continue to be an independent country and maybe Russia will gain a little bit of territory. Instead of NATO splintering, it will be stronger. Ukraine’s infrastructure will be in shambles and Russia’s economy will be in the toilet. Maybe the dead on both sides will number under a hundred thousand. Both countries’ militaries will be burnt out and exhausted. The EU economy will also suffer but not so badly.

    Everyone loses except NATO. Putin has caused the very thing he feared most.


  3. philebersole Says:

    I agree that peace in Ukraine is unlikely. It would have to be part of a larger agreement, including NATO missiles in Rumania and Poland. There would have to be a will to peace on both sides, as in the days of Reagan and Gorbachev.

    Putin’s stated goals in Ukraine were (1) keep the Russian naval base in Crimea, (2) sovereignty for the Russian minority in Donbas and (3) no NATO membership for Ukraine.

    The first two have been achieved and are unlikely to be rolled back. So maybe a basis of agreement could be that Ukraine gets to keep its army and NATO promises to aid Ukraine if it is attacked again, but there are no NATO bases on Ukrainian soil and no joint military exercises with NATO are held.

    An independent Ukrainian, Finnish or Swedish army with up-to-date weapons furnished by the USA and other NATO powers would not be not an existential threat to Russia.

    An integrated NATO force under American command that includes Ukrainian, Finnish or Swedish elements would such a threat.

    A neutral Ukraine would be best. A more likely possibility would be a truce, such as the one that settled the Korean Conflict, leaving each army controlling the territory it now occupies.

    There would be an East Ukraine, taking in all or most of the Russian-speakers, and a West Ukraine, aligned with NATO. That would be a tragedy for Ukraine, but better than a long drawn-out war.

    Peace is possible, if there is a desire for peace.


  4. Alex Says:

    Do you take Putin at his word regarding protection of Russian speakers? A very large percentage of people in Ukraine grew up speaking Russian as their primary language. Putin’s policies over the past eight years have frankly made the Ukrainian language more popular in the country. The only Russian words that most Ukrainians wish to utter these days are “idi nahui.”

    And most of the Ukrainian civilian casualties have been Russian speakers.

    The onus for compromise isn’t just on Ukraine and NATO. The guy who started the shooting bears a considerable portion of the blame. He could start by not bombing residential areas full of Russian speakers.


  5. Alex Says:

    Oh, and taking the areas with lots of Russian speakers means taking Kyiv, the capitol. It means taking multicultural cities like Odessa, which has been a hub of trade and commerce for many peoples throughout history. It means taking a hell of a lot of people because of an accident of birth, i.e. being born to families that learned Russian under Tsarist or Soviet rule.

    It’s not clear how much of a Ukraine remains at that point, all based on some claim that whatever language your parents spoke at home makes you a subject of whatever potentate uses that language in his distant capitol.

    On the plus side, it means that the dysfunctional American government can be replaced with a Westminster system. God save the Queen!


  6. philebersole Says:

    Alex, I think there are two separate questions here that are important to not confused.

    One is the question of what a possible peace settlement in Ukraine might be.

    The other is the question of who is to blame, or mostly to blame, for the war.

    When I wrote that a truce based on present battle lines would leave most Russian-speakers in the Russian-controlled part of Ukraine, that was just an observation. I did not mean to imply that Russia is entitled to control the Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine. All I said was that this is a possible outcome if the war ends not with a peace settlement, but a truce, as in the Korean Conflict.

    There are a certain number of Russians in the Donbas and Luhansk area who were and are willing to fight for independence, and have stood up years of bombardment.

    I have no reason to doubt Vladimir Putin’s sincerity in saying that he felt an obligation to protect his compatriots. If he wanted this as an excuse to annex the Donbas, he could have done so in 2014, rather than urging the Russians there to seek cultural autonomy and home rule within Ukraine. Of course I could be wrong.

    I have no way of knowing how many Russian-speakers in Ukraine think of themselves as Russian. I have no way of knowing how many of them care one way or other to the extent of being willing to go to war over it. My guess is that sizable numbers fall into both categories.

    Vladimir Putin bears ultimate responsibility for the suffering of Ukraine, because he ordered the invasion, and he had other options. But I question some of the specific atrocity stories., partly because of my memory of falling for atrocity stories that justified previous wars.

    The Ukrainian forces reportedly empty out shopping malls, apartment buildings and even hospitals, and use them as fortresses for shooing at Russian soldiers. Circumstantial evidence indicates the Buchi massacres were carried out by the Azov fighters against alleged collaborators. Of course I could be wrong about that, also

    Suppose everything that has happened is a result of Putin’s megalomania and viciousness. Suppose Zelensky, Biden and the people behind them are innocent of any responsibility for what has transpired..

    What action follows from that? Do you think it is realistic to crush Russia and bring Putin before the International Criminal Court (whose jurisdiction, by the way, is not recognized by the USA)?

    If not, are you okay with this war going on for years, and maybe ending on terms that could have been negotiated at the beginning? Or are you willing for the USA and UK to send their young men to engage in actual fighting.

    There is a joke about two drivers, headed full speed for a collision at an intersection. One of the drivers says to himself, “The onus isn’t on me to hit the brakes. I have the right of way.”


  7. Alex Says:

    Of course I don’t want the war to go on. And there’s one very simple reason to oppose military aid to Ukraine: Principled opposition to use of violence.

    But if we go to the question “Is there a peaceful equilibrium with Russia controlling a big chunk of Eastern Ukraine?” I’m not convinced.

    First, there’s no indication that Western Ukraine would or could accept that. They’d lose too much. You can’t have peace if one side sees the cost as unacceptable.

    Second, Ukrainians twice rose up against Russian-backed leaders.

    Third, in 2014 Russia got control of Crimea, a big prize, but didn’t deem it enough. Why should anyone think Russia would be content with their side of whatever deal?

    Fourth, some facts that the war has revealed about sentiment in Ukraine: I’ve been hearing for years that Ukraine’s government was chock full of Russian informants. To some extent you can dismiss that as American media propaganda on the magnitude of the Russian threat, but at the same time that’s hardly a pro-Ukraine statement. It implies that the Ukrainian government doesn’t have buy-in from a lot of people in a lot of key jobs. That should give the West pause in supporting Ukraine.

    A government stuffed with Russian moles shouldn’t be able to stand against invasion. Forget about the military and intelligence services, the boring on-the-ground people responsible for infrastructure and social services and dull administrative tasks are tied to a lot of things that matter for moving through territory quickly, or getting files on potential threats.

    And what we’ve seen is that the Ukrainian government didn’t fold. That speaks to a lot of on-the-ground buy-in from a lot of people. There may well be a bunch of petty bureaucrats who would happily accept a few rubles to fast-track some paperwork for a Russian businessman, or pass on a bit of gossip from Kyiv, but apparently a critical mass of people did not help Russia when it mattered.

    This tells me that a Russian-occupied Ukraine would not be a place at peace, without any uprisings. It would be a place of turmoil. And even if the US stopped supplying arms, Ukraine’s nervous neighbors would find ways to aid opposition fighters in Russian-controlled territory.

    So if you oppose war on principle, I have tremendous sympathy. But if you think there’s a compromise on the horizon that will bring about peace, I’m skeptical. Sometimes peace only happens when one guy realizes that the other guy isn’t worth fighting.


  8. philebersole Says:

    What I think would be a possible basis for peace in Ukraine would be withdrawal of Russian troops, except from their base in Crimea and the statelets in Donetsk and Luhansk, which they’ve occupied for eight years, in return for an agreement of no NATO bases in Ukraine.

    That is what I advocate.

    It doesn’t seem to be out of line with what Zelensky has advocated, whenever he gets away from his handlers, or what Putin was talking about last December.

    If the war goes on for years, I think the likely outcome would be a partition of Ukraine, resembling the partition of Korea, along whatever battle lines are in place. There would be an East Ukraine and a West Ukraine, like East and West Germany.

    This would be a tragedy for Ukraine, as I wrote many years ago. It would, however, be a lesser evil than escalating a conflict against a nation with hypersonic nuclear weapons capable of bringing down the house on all of us.

    I am not a pacifist. I have served my country in uniform. Although I never was in combat, I know enough not to think of war as a spectator sport, where you root for victory of your favorite team, but never get out of the grandstands yourself.


  9. Alex Says:

    Why would either side accept that? Ukraine yields territory and trusts that this time it’s enough for Russia? Russia’s 2014 gains weren’t enough but this is?

    As far as the promise of no NATO bases, Ukraine was never going to have NATO bases before this, but the war has increased pro-NATO sentiment in the population. (Especially in the portion of the population that will be able to vote in the next Ukrainian election.) That makes it harder for Russia to believe that the promise will last. And even if there’s never a base with a sign saying “Base of [INSERT NATO COUNTRY HERE]” there will be very, very close working relationships between Ukraine and Western militaries for the foreseeable future. That makes it harder for Russia to feel secure.

    I’m not cheering from stands so much as doubting that there’s a compromise that either side can accept. At best, they agree to temporarily stop shooting while building up forces. The temporary cessation of violence is great, but I’m just not seeing how it’s sustained. There’s no basis for trust.

    I don’t know what the solution is, but I think it’s a much more fundamental reworking of understandings between Russia and the West. Compromises involving parcels of Ukrainian land are not going to bring anyone to a point where peace is sustainable.


  10. Alex Says:

    I read you as proposing a deal where Russia keeps Crimea and the Donbas statelets and Ukraine agrees not to host Western bases. Personally, from the sidelines, I see nothing wrong with that as far as my own interests and preferences go, but I’m thousands of miles away. It doesn’t seem like that arrangement really makes either side satisfied enough to keep the peace moving forward. If we take everyone at face value, sure, maybe they’ll take it, but I don’t see how it eases the underlying concerns that led to the conflict.


  11. philebersole Says:

    I’m going to continue this discussion with a new post.


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