The political entanglements and miscalculations which create the conditions for war are many faceted, nuanced and complex. But once war breaks out there are only two elements, depending which side you are on. The Good and the Bad. This is certainly the case in Ukraine right now. But if the suffering of the innocent is to be brought to an end, which surely is the priority, everybody has to come into the real world, not the distorted reality of the propaganda campaigns awash in the media.
Ukraine has for several hundred years been always a part of something bigger. It has been a sovereign country for less than three decades in total. It was a founding member at the creation of the USSR. So this current conflict is not just a fight between neighbours. It has many of the characteristics of a civil war. Putin believes that Ukraine is really part of Russia. The western half of Ukraine wants to be part of the West and its institutions. The eastern, Russian speaking Donbas looks to Moscow. Before the Russian invasion Ukraine was not a united sovereign country. While the ordinary people were and are as honest and genuine as any, Ukraine was bitterly divided and significantly corrupt in its governance. Political parties were constantly regrouping and appeared able to survive only one election cycle. A frightening far right element prospered.
Ukraine’s policy from the start of the conflict was to drag NATO into a war with Russia. which mistakenly it supposed would bring it independence. In truth millions would die and Ukraine would be erased from the map. NATO and the West have stood firm. Moral support, defensive and humanitarian aid, but no military engagement. No membership of NATO. So Ukraine, having fought Russia to something of a standstill in a conflict much tougher than the invader expected, now needs to strike a deal. Unrealistic demands, like full Russian withdrawal even from the east, or silly conditions like a referendum, will only lead to breakdown and breakdown will be bad. Very bad for the ordinary citizens of Ukraine.
What is there as a realistic objective, is a smaller, neutral, demilitarised Ukraine, recognised as an independent country, to which the millions of refugees can return in peace to rebuild their lives and their homes. The world will be generous in its aid and support. Russia will celebrate its de facto acceptance as a power at the table, not to be excluded with its interests ignored. It will also have leaned that a war of attrition on civilians in Europe is no longer acceptable to public opinion in the wider world. The FSB vision of Russia’s interests is not reliable outside Russia.
A lot of learning for everybody and victory for nobody. But a compromise for the benefit of all. Because the point has been reached when the killing on both sides has to stop. From now on it is not war but murder. Time to get real. And NATO must broaden its doctrine of measured response to tension to include analysis of its cause.