Only negotiated settlement can stop Ukraine war from engulfing the world
People receive medical treatment at the scene of Russian shelling, in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. / AP

The following is a slightly edited version of an editorial which appeared in Morning Star, Britain’s daily socialist newspaper.

The attack on Russia’s main bridge to Crimea has prompted the most intense bombardment of Ukrainian cities since the early weeks of the war.

While fighting across the Donbass and southern Ukraine has been fierce for months, the events of recent days are certainly an escalation: Both the Crimea bridge attack and the Russian bombing of Kiev and the western city of Lviv strike way beyond the front lines of the conflict.

This is a dangerous development, and the armchair warriors hailing recent Ukrainian battlefield advances as evidence that the NATO policy of arming Ukraine is paying off need to be countered.

Moscow’s response to reverses has so far been to escalate. Measures such as the hurried incorporation of four Ukrainian territories into Russia serve an immediate practical purpose (Russian military doctrine prohibits the deployment of conscripted soldiers abroad, so reclassifying territory as Russian allows the army to move more troops to the front) but make a negotiated peace more difficult.

Early in the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed a willingness to see the status of the Donetsk and Lugansk “people’s republics” settled by international negotiation.

There is no such compromise on offer from Kiev now. And abandoning claims to territories now formally part of Russia would be a humiliation for Vladimir Putin.

It becomes increasingly difficult to see on what terms peace could be agreed barring total victory for one side or the other—something equally hard to imagine, given the scale of U.S. assistance to Ukraine on the one hand and Russia’s huge resources and massive nuclear arsenal on the other.

Difficult or not, though, it must be attempted. The blasé attitude of Western politicians to the very real prospect of nuclear war is appallingly irresponsible.

Few high-profile figures are raising the alarm over how quickly and devastatingly this war could escalate, meaning there is no mass movement for peace, though the threat of a conflict that could see Europe reduced to a radioactive wasteland is as high as it was during the Cold War.

We must raise pressure for a foreign policy aimed at ending the fighting and negotiating a settlement. Russia cannot escape responsibility for this war, but the responsibility of NATO powers which refused to consider Russian offers of de-escalation last year—a commitment by both Moscow and Washington not to station nuclear warheads outside their borders, for example—is also clear.

Similarly, Russian ethno-nationalistic claims to territory based on factors like language should cut no ice with socialists. Russian-speaking Ukrainians are not necessarily any less Ukrainian for it, witness Zelensky himself.

But no resolution is possible without acknowledging the role of institutional hostility to sizeable Russian minorities (which exist not just in Ukraine, but in Latvia and Estonia, too, with significant numbers still denied citizenship of the countries in which they live) in creating a constituency for Russian nationalism.

This will intensify now the Baltic states have pushed for bans on visits by Russian citizens—when hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens already live there.

Carving up territory on ethnic lines is no recipe for stability. As we still see in Kosovo, where a Serb minority now demands independence, it tends towards endless conflict. But the demand will remain as long as national minorities face discrimination.

Resolving these questions will not be quick or straightforward, nor should the hunt for a lasting resolution delay the urgency of a halt to the fighting.

But we are unlikely to see stability return to Europe unless the long-term causes of this war are understood—which means recognizing the role of NATO expansion and of eastern European anti-Russian nationalism in encouraging their mirror image to develop over the border.


Morning Star
Morning Star

Morning Star is the socialist daily newspaper published in Great Britain. Morning Star es el diario socialista publicado en Gran Bretaña.