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How To End the War in Ukraine?

Anti by Jean Bricmont 

Given the devastating effects of this war, first in Ukraine but also, through sanctions, on the world economy and the risks of famine that they entail, it seems obvious that the first task of any diplomat and political leader should be to end this war.

The problem is that there are at least two ways of considering how this will end and they are irreconcilable.

The first, which until recently was the view of the U.S. government, which is the view of the Ukrainian government, European Greens, and the majority of our media, is that the Russian invasion is illegitimate, unprovoked, and must simply be repelled: Ukraine must regain all of its territory, including Crimea (which has been attached to Russia since 2014).

The other, supported by individuals as different as Chomsky, the Pope, Lula in Brazil, and Kissinger, is that a negotiated solution is inevitable, which in practice means Ukraine giving up territories such as Crimea and Donbass and presumably other regions, as well as agreeing to the neutrality of that country.

The supporters of the first solution shower those of the second with insults: Putin-lovers, pro-Russians, supporters of appeasement in the face of Russian fascism etc. But we can ask at least two questions about this first solution: is it fair? And is it realistic?

The fundamental problem with the fairness of this solution is that it assumes that there is one Ukraine and one Ukrainian people under attack by Russia. But Ukraine, which became independent in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR, was not a former nation annexed by Russia in the past. Certainly, there was a historical Ukraine that had been absorbed into the Russian empire, but what became independent in 1991 was the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, created in 1922 following the October revolution and which incorporated Russian-speaking populations in the east of the present Ukraine, and to whose opinion was never asked by anybody. It included also territories in the west added to Ukraine in 1939-1945 as well as the Crimea added in 1954.………………………………

If the right to self-determination of peoples is sacrosanct in the face of the territorial integrity of states in which they are minorities, then why does the territorial integrity of republics, which were in part administrative entities in dissolving multinational states, suddenly become sacrosanct in the face of the aspirations of minorities living in those republics?

……………………….. The precedent of the Kosovo war is often recalled by the Russians: if the NATO intervention there was legitimate to support the Kosovars, why is the Russian “military operation” to protect the inhabitants of Donbass not legitimate?

There have been many other conflicts of the same kind, and much bloodier: for example, the partition of the British Empire of India in 1948 between India and Pakistan, which initially included the present Bangladesh (called at the time East Pakistan) that became independent after a fierce war in 1971.

There is no simple solution to this kind of conflict. In principle, there could be one: ask by referendum on a local basis to which state each population wants to belong. But this solution is accepted by almost no one: if a referendum in Crimea is in favor of joining Russia, of which Crimea was a part between 1783 and 1954 (and, at that time, the joining of Crimea to Ukraine was decided in a purely authoritarian way), the West declares it illegitimate. If other referendums are held in the rest of Ukraine, they will also be declared illegitimate.

What we should hope for in order to resolve these local conflicts is that foreign powers do not use them to advance their economic and strategic interests. However, the United States and Britain have done exactly the opposite since 2014 (if not before) in Ukraine, first encouraging a coup that led to the overthrow of the legally elected president, Yanukovych, who had to flee for his life. This president was seen as pro-Russian, and the United States and Britain were not prepared to accept the situation. As the new power in Kiev was not only violently anti-Russian but also hostile to the Russian-speaking part of its population, a fraction of the latter demanded more autonomy within Ukraine, which was refused. Since then, there has been a more or less low-intensity war between part of the Donbass and the Ukrainian army.

Again, in principle, a peaceful solution could have been found through negotiations with the leaders of the rebel provinces, and this is what the Minsk agreements, accepted by the Ukrainian government but never implemented by it, provided.

It is true that there are other minorities in the world who are persecuted or badly treated by their governments, but it was particularly irresponsible for the Kiev government to behave in this way towards its minority in the east of the country, knowing that it could benefit from the protection of the Russian “big brother.” And it is unlikely that this conduct would have been adopted without the encouragement and political and military support of the United States and Britain.

This is why it can be considered that it was the American-British policy that pushed Russia to intervene. One can obviously condemn this intervention as contrary to international law, but then one would have to answer the question: what should the Russians have done to protect the populations of eastern Ukraine, assuming that their demands for autonomy are accepted as legitimate (and if not, in the name of what to refuse them)? Wait? Negotiate? But that is what they have been doing for eight years, sending very clear signals at the end of 2021 that their patience had limits.

Moreover, it is difficult for the architects of the wars in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan to pose as great defenders of international law in the face of the Russians. Whatever one thinks of their military intervention in Ukraine, it is less illegitimate than the Western wars mentioned above.

…………………………………………….It is also necessary to point out the incredible hypocrisy of the discourse on the war in Ukraine, and on the accompanying sanctions, on the part of most of our journalists and intellectuals: when did we do anything similar during the US invasion of Iraq?

…………………………. In terms of interests, it is clear that the United States is using every weapon at its disposal, including espionage, to favor its businesses at the expense of ours. 

………………………………………. As for the military issue, it is difficult to make definite predictions, but for the moment the Russians are moving forward, even if much more slowly than at the beginning. No Ukrainian counter-offensive has had a lasting effect. Some hope for a reversal of the situation following the delivery of sophisticated weapons to Ukraine by the United States and its allies, but this remains to be seen, and various voices in Washington itself are considering the need for negotiation as the only solution to the crisis. 

it seems unlikely that Ukraine’s war aims of recovering the entire eastern part of the country and Crimea can be achieved. The Russians consider these territories, and especially Crimea, to be part of the “motherland” and they are far from having committed all their forces to this battle……………………………………..

In the end, it is likely that the only ones who will have defended the true interests of the Ukrainian people (as well as those of Europe) will be those who have advocated from the beginning (i.e., at least since 2014) for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

Jean Bricmont is a retired Belgian theoretical physicist. He is the co-author with Alan Sokal of Fashionable Nonsense Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (Picador, NY, 1998), of Humanitarian Imperialism; Using human rights to sell war (Monthly Review, NY, 2007), and of Quantum Sense and Nonsense (Springer, 2017).

July 13, 2022 - Posted by | Ukraine, weapons and war

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