Above photo: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during peace talks in Istanbul between delegations from Russia and Ukraine. Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.
For most people worldwide, the most obvious aspect of the new crisis that has gripped our already deeply troubled planet is that the war should end immediately.
Such a strong feeling is based on concerns of world peace as well on reducing the distress of people of Ukraine.
At the same time the wider and longer-term aspects of the crisis cannot be ignored. Eminent academic Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University has suggested very rightly that the Ukraine crisis should be seen to be consisting of not one but three wars at three levels— Russia-Ukraine war, USA-Russia war and Western Ukraine—Donbass region war. Lasting peace will come if all three wars end.
Ordinary people want peace, mothers want peace, children want peace, but to what extent these strong feelings of peace are reflected in the actions of the actual decision takers or of powerful forces which influence decision makers is unfortunately another matter altogether.
In real life decisions are taken more by narrower strategic considerations and perceptions of self-interest. So it is important to examine also the self-interest of the USA and the Russian Federation.
Of course it is clear even to Russian authorities that from the perspective of peace and distress of people of Ukraine the invasion is a disaster. But what about the narrow strategic and economic interests of the Russian Federation? It should have become clearer to Russian decision makers by now that the invasion cannot succeed even in these narrow terms of serving the self-interests of Russia. Quite apart from the direct and indirect impacts of sanctions, it is the loss of support of many friends and growing isolation in world community that should worry Russia. This cannot be made up by whatever greater support from China that Russia can receive, although even here it appears that this may not be ‘unlimited’ and China too will be guided ultimately by its self-interest. Getting increasingly dependent on China in a weaker, isolated state with very limited options available to it can hardly be an exciting prospect for Russia.
Hence the writing on the wall is clear for Russian decision makers— end the invasion as early as possible. On a longer-term and at a wider level, Russia must rethink its attitude towards former constituents of the Soviet Union, now neighboring independent countries. There are two models to choose from. The Lenin model is based more on respecting the democratic aspirations of people. On the other hand the Stalin model is authoritarian and was the cause of much distress. Clearly Russia should embrace the democratic model while protecting its legitimate security concerns.
Looking at the other side, it is equally clear that the USA has not at all been guided by considerations of world peace in its policies towards the Russian Federation. Instead of trying to negotiate and where possible accommodate the legitimate security and other concerns of the Russian Federation, the USA and the NATO have chosen the course of creating maximum problems for the Russian Federation, never missing a chance to squeeze, pinch or push, to use mild words. The overwhelming drift of the USA policy towards Russia appears to be—you either have our cronies as rulers, like Yeltsin was, serving our interests, or else we will continue to harass you endlessly.
Clearly the relentless pursuit of such a policy towards a major power, armed with a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons, can only have most dangerous implications for world peace, apart from causing enormous distress to the people of Russia. The Yeltsin years under western watch saw the impoverishment of a very large number of Russian households, resulting even in unprecedented reduction in longevity.
What about the self-interest of the USA? Endlessly troubling a major military power will ignite big flames from which the USA and its close allies cannot remain unaffected. Constant troubling by the USA will push the Russian people towards more aggressive leadership.
US diplomacy has generally aimed to create a gulf between Russia and China, while its more recent policies have brought Russia closer to China. If China receives much cheaper fuel from Russia in huge quantities, this will only improve its competitiveness towards the west. In addition China will have access to better weapons technology.
So both in the interests of world peace and for self-interest, the USA should be more accommodative towards the legitimate security interests of the Russian Federation, and should be seen to be friendly rather than a troublemaker. In the present phase, if Russia tries now to find a way out of its mistaken invasion, the USA and its close allies should make it known that they will be accommodative and helpful towards such an effort.
The rest of the world should welcome such initiatives for peace and help to reduce the distress of the people of Ukraine.
The biggest concern is for world peace with justice. Nevertheless the self-interest perspective has been examined here as at a practical level we cannot forget that decisions are being taken on the basis of self-interests.
Hence such arguments also need to be taken forward by diplomats and foreign/security policy experts on both sides to try to ensure a speedy end to this war. The longer it lasts, the greater the risk of escalation to the level of weapons of mass destruction or at least accidental use of such weapons. This can even have third world war implications, unleashing unprecedented destruction.
In such conditions any chances of mutual cooperation for checking climate change and other related serious environmental problems will be entirely lost. The worst case possibilities cannot be ignored and hence the foremost concern just now should be to stop the war and then to work for lasting peace with justice. Hence all rational arguments lead to a strong case for immediately ending the war.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Man over Machine.