There have been several calls for Ukraine to give up territory to Russia and get a quick peace in the last week, starting with French President Emmanuel Macron, then an op-ed in the NYT “The War in Ukraine Is Getting Complicated, and America Isn’t Ready”, published on May 19, and now Henry Kissinger speaking at Davos.
This is a tricky topic. These are all arguing from the assumption that Ukraine will probably lose the war and so it's better to cut your losses to save lives. Kissinger went on to argue that the longer the fighting goes on the more likely it is to turn into a general war, and took the long-term view that as Russia is a major European power the rest of Europe needs to finally find a compromise and live with its big neighbour, as a new Cold War should be avoided at all costs. The business lobby (especially the Germans and Italians) will be very sympathetic to this view.
On the other side of the debate is that Ukraine is not being “overoptimistic” about its chances of winning, just that it has no other choice.
“Ukraine winning the war with Russia isn’t “unrealistic” or even “[un]likely”. If we want the world to be anything like what we know it to be, then Ukraine winning is the only option,” the Kyiv Independent said in an editorial.
And it is a good point. European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen gave a speech in Davos too, and she clearly is of this opinion: “Our entire world view is being challenged.” She is right, of course, and so if we really do want to build a new values-based world order it is important that Russia is defeated.
Basically it boils down to a row between the pragmatists and the idealists.
The West has decided to support Ukraine with all it can to uphold its value-ideals, and that was behind Washington’s decision in January to refuse to agree to a no-Nato deal on Ukraine with Russia.
But at the same time, it has made the very pragmatic decision not to commit any Nato troops to the fight, as the West doesn't want to see any of its people killed or any of its cities destroyed, if Russia were to respond in kind.
As a result, the Western position is fundamentally compromised. It is happy to let Ukrainian cities get pounded into rubble and for tens of thousands of innocent Ukrainian be blown to bits for its principles – as long as that doesn't interfere with the West’s comfortable life.
Von der Leyen made this point explicitly in her speech: this is Ukraine’s war against Russia, but they are fighting for “our” values.
To rub it in, in a truly shocking clip from former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, blithely admitted amidst peals of laughter in a talk that the West had lied to Ukraine over its chances of joining Nato. “Come on! That’s how the real world works!” he exclaimed.
But if that is the case, and assuming Washington was perfectly aware that Russia really could invade Ukraine, which it said over and over again from the start of November onwards, then the US cynically allowed this war to happen. Of course this is not to condone Russia's despicable act in any way, but it does suggest the world is still run by the likes of pragmatic thinkers, like Kissinger and Macron, using cost/benefit analyses, as oppose to idealists like von der Leyen, who want to do what is “right”.
The bottom line is that given the West is not prepared to commit troops to this fight the decision to continue or give up is entirely with Kyiv. And the Ukrainians have taken the heroic decision to fight to the death. A poll out yesterday found that 84% of Ukrainians don’t want to give up any territory to Russia. Kyiv is bitterly disappointed that its Nato ambitions were rebuffed and hugely frustrated with the slow pace and half-hearted commitment to sending in bigger and better weapons, but despite all this they have committed themselves to battle and are fighting like lions. All the West can do now is support Kyiv, as although I’m a pragmatist, I think von der Leyen is right and this is a defining battle for the future of global democracy. Ukraine is an example to us all, as that people are showing they are more committed to our values than we are.
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