There are quite a few opinions out there who caution against unachievable war aims and urge both parties to negotiate some kind of settlement. The delivery of more and more weapons would, in this argument, lead to a prolonged conflict, and thus to more loss of life and destruction. In the end, both parties would have to negotiate anyway, so we should prioritize such a solution. This would mean, more directly, to stop supporting Ukraine, to make their defense impossible, and to force the country to the negotiation table, because Russia does not seem inclined to do so. This, in a nutshell, is the short version of similar arguments floating around in German and American media currently.
It is wrong, horribly wrong, on many levels. In lieu of a long text, let’s do this bullet point by bullet point:
- First, Russia can end the war anytime. They chose this path, have been pursuing it since 2014, and can end it. Ukraine did nothing to provoke any such Russian action.
- The stated Russian aims may shift around depending on what kinds of lies Putin and Lavrov and the other cronies are saying, but it can be described as follows:
- Ideal Russian scenario: Ukraine ceases to exist and becomes Russia. Everything Ukrainian disappears, and every Ukrainian who insists on being Ukrainian will also disappear in one way or another. Wherever Russia has conquered territory – Crimea and Donbas since 2014, and the temporarily held territories now – this plan is being executed through indiscriminate destruction, killings, deportations, extortions, sending Ukrainians to the front to be killed, etc.
- Less ideal Russian scenario: Ukraine somehow survives, but will be forced to not be in any way tied to the West, and the remaining territories will not have access to the sea or to its industrial and resource-heavy areas. If at any point Ukraine wants to take back territory, it will be destroyed even more per Russia’s wishes.
- Minimal scenario: Russia takes as much territory as possible, and will probably have to compromise at the line of contact. After that, good riddance, but they will damage as much territory and kill as many people as possible before an agreement. Whatever survives of Ukraine may sadly join the West, but Russia will make sure the West feels bad about it.
- The stated Ukrainian goals have always been clear, even though they had to be adjusted sometimes due to the situation:
- Ideal Ukrainian scenario: Ukraine keeps all its territory, joins NATO and the EU, Russia leaves and pays reparations, sanctions are ended.
- Less ideal Ukrainian scenario: Ukraine loses Crimea and originally occupied Donbas, but still joins NATO and the EU.
- Minimal scenario: Ukraine holds whatever it can hold, will have to accept some kind of deal with Russia, and hope for a better future once Putin is out of power. Then, things may be able to change, hopefully without too many Ukrainian lives lost, tortured or deported.
- Wherever Russia has exerted control, Ukrainian lives are destroyed. The more territory Russia gains, the more Ukrainians are killed.
- Russia has no chance of winning the longer the war takes. The Western sanctions are not perfect, but they will be devastating. China is playing a double game, trying to keep the West as an economic partner while also trying to undermine Western supremacy. Russia is a Chinese pawn in this game. China will respect some sanctions by the West willy-nilly, dependent on how strongly the West will enforce them.
- Putin is not all-powerful. The worse the war will go, the more his rule is in danger. There will always be parts of the Russian leadership who will see it as their patriotic duty to make sure the country will have a decent future. Ukraine is a lost cause, and eventually, it will become even clearer that it is exclusively Putin’s lost cause, and that he is the problem that needs to be solved.
- Russian civil society does not support the war – probably. All opinion polls are useless in such a climate of fear, but from my own experience growing up in a brutal dictatorship, I strongly suspect that the government is losing support by the day. Some may officially blame the West for the sanctions as they are making people’s lives more difficult, but most Russians are not stupid. They know what’s going on. At the right moment, they’ll know what to do.
- Ukraine has the full force of international law on its side. Russia is waging a war of aggression, of devastation, with genocidal determination. Everyone helping Ukraine is covered by international law. Furthermore, after Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons, the Budapest Memorandum guarantees Ukraine’s full territorial sovereignty, and the treaty powers have an obligation to defend Ukraine’s territory and sovereignty.
- Ukraine may not yet be a perfect democracy, but it is on its way. After several pro-democracy revolutions, the Maidan revolution finally succeeded, only to be punished by Russia in 2014. Russia’s aim is democracy itself, is the West itself, and Ukraine is just the first step. Russian agitators and Putin have already identified Moldova, Georgia, Poland, and other states as their next victims. Belarus was already basically taken over by Russia. If Ukraine falls, Russia will not desire to stop.
- Putin lies, so a peace treaty or cease fire could not be trusted.
- Ukraine needs to be in the strongest possible position before any bargaining will have to be conducted.
- Russia needs to lose, and it needs to understand that its imperial delusions have to come to an end – as they have ended for Europe, the United States and other Western and non-Western partners already.
- If Ukraine loses, the Budapest Memorandum is invalidated, which means that every country in the world would have to seek nuclear weapons. This would be a nightmare scenario for the entire world.
- The West has negotiated with Russia for years and even prioritized Russian needs for decades. The trope that diplomacy was not tried well enough is ridiculous and completely counterfactual.
- “Preventing loss of life” may be a noble goal of some people claiming to speak for the peace movement, but life under Russian occupation will not be worth living. Russian peace is not real peace, but the constant presence of terror. Only a Ukrainian peace, embedded within the West, can be a stable long-term answer.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, just some brief thoughts on the matter. I am certainly not someone who loves war, on the contrary – I deeply value peace, but this is about more than that. When after World War II and the Holocaust many people promised that “never again” they would allow this to happen, this did not just pertain to war, but primarily to genocide. Russia is committed to the eradication of Ukraine – and it is conducting its “special operation” by this principle. What else is this but genocide? What could possibly be the meaning of “never again” if we just let this happen?
Therefore, Ukraine must win, Putin must lose – and then, eventually, Russia can win also – but only after rejecting its own fascism and imperial desires, so that Russia will again be able to join the community of civilized nations.
Ceterum censeo Ucrainam esse defendam. Слава Україні!