The way the American media has dealt with the Ukraine War brings to mind a remark credited to Mark Twain: “The researches of many commentators have already thrown much darkness on this subject, and it is probable that, if they continue, we shall soon know nothing at all about it.”
It is a more verbose expression of a better-known maxim: in war, truth is the first casualty. It is typically accompanied by a fog of official lies. And no such fog has ever been as thick as in the Ukraine war. While many hundreds of thousands of people have fought and died in Ukraine, the propaganda machines in Brussels, Kyiv, London, Moscow and Washington have worked overtime to ensure that we take passionate sides, believe what we want to believe, and condemn anyone who questions the narrative we have internalised. The consequences for all have been dire. For Ukraine, they have been catastrophic. As we enter a new year, a radical rethinking of policy by all concerned is long overdue.
This is a consequence of the fact that the war was born in and has been continued due to miscalculations by all sides. The United States calculated that Russian threats to go to war over Ukrainian neutrality were bluffs that might be deterred by outlining and denigrating Russian plans. Russia assumed that the United States would prefer negotiations to war and would wish to avoid the redivision of Europe into hostile blocs. Ukrainians counted on the West protecting their country. When Russia’s performance in the first months of the war proved lacklustre, the West concluded that Ukraine could defeat it. None of these calculations has proved correct.
Nevertheless, official propaganda, amplified by subservient mainstream and social media, has convinced most in the West that rejecting a draft peace treaty before the invasion and encouraging Ukraine to fight Russia is somehow “pro-Ukrainian”. Sympathy for the Ukrainian war effort is entirely understandable, but, as the Vietnam War should have taught us, democracies lose when cheerleading replaces objectivity in reporting and governments prefer their own propaganda to the truth of what is happening on the battleground. So, what is happening on the battleground? And how are the participants in the Ukraine War doing in terms of achieving their objectives?
Let’s start with Ukraine. From 2014 to 2022, the civil war in the Donbas took nearly 15,000 lives. How many have been killed in action since the US/Nato-Russian proxy war began in February 2022 is unknown, but is certainly in the several hundreds of thousands. Casualty numbers have been concealed by unprecedentedly intense information warfare. The only information in the West about the dead and wounded has been propaganda from Kyiv claiming vast numbers of Russian dead while revealing little about Ukrainian casualties. Yet even by last summer, it was known that 10% of Ukrainians were involved with the armed forces, while 78% had relatives or friends who had been killed or wounded. It is estimated that between 20,000 and 50,000 Ukrainians are now amputees. (For context, 41,000 Britons had to have amputations in the First World War, when the procedure was often the only one available to prevent death. Fewer than 2,000 US veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions had amputations.)
When the war began, Ukraine had a population of about 31 million. The country has since lost at least one third of its people. More than six million have taken refuge in the West. Two million more have left for Russia. Another eight million Ukrainians have been driven from their homes but remain in the country. Ukraine’s infrastructure, industries, and cities have been devastated and its economy destroyed. As is usual in wars, corruption — long a prominent feature of Ukrainian politics — has been rampant. Ukraine’s nascent democracy is no more, with opposition parties, uncontrolled media outlets, and dissent outlawed. On the other hand, Russian aggression has united Ukrainians, including many who are Russian-speaking, to an extent never seen before. Moscow has thereby inadvertently reinforced the separate Ukrainian identity that both Russian mythology and President Putin have sought to deny. What Ukraine has lost in territory it has gained in patriotic cohesion based on passionate opposition to Moscow.
The flipside of this is that Ukraine’s Russian-speaking separatists have also had their Russian identity reinforced. There is now little to no possibility of Russian speakers accepting a status in a united Ukraine, as would have been the case under the Minsk Accords. And, with the failure of Ukraine’s “counteroffensive”, it is very unlikely that Donbas or Crimea will ever return to Ukrainian sovereignty. As the war continues, Ukraine may well lose still more territory, including its access to the Black Sea. What has been lost on the battlefield and in the hearts of the people cannot be regained at the negotiating table. Ukraine will emerge from this war maimed, crippled, and much reduced in both territory and population.
Moreover, there is now no realistic prospect of Ukrainian membership of Nato. As NSC Advisor Jake Sullivan has said, everyone “needs to look squarely at the fact” that allowing Ukraine to join Nato at this point “means war with Russia”. For his part, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has stated that the prerequisite for Ukrainian membership in Nato is a peace treaty between it and Russia. But no such treaty is in sight. In continuing to insist that Ukraine will become a Nato member once the war is concluded, the West has perversely incentivised Russia not to agree to end the war. In the end, Ukraine will have to make its peace with Russia, almost certainly largely on Russian terms.
Whatever else the war may be achieving, then, it has not been good for Ukraine. Its bargaining position vis-à-vis Russia has been greatly weakened. But then, Kyiv’s fate has always been an afterthought in US policy circles. Washington has instead sought to exploit Ukrainian courage to thrash Russia, reinvigorate Nato, and reinforce US primacy in Europe. And it has not spent any time at all thinking about how to restore peace to Europe.
However, neither has Russia, as per its war objectives, succeeded in expelling American influence from Ukraine, forced Kyiv to declare neutrality, or reinstated the rights of Russian speakers in Ukraine. Indeed, whatever the outcome of the war, mutual animosity has erased the Russian myth of Russian-Ukrainian brotherhood based on a common origin in Kyivan Rus. Russia has had to abandon three centuries of efforts to identify with Europe and instead pivot to China, India, the Islamic world and Africa. Reconciliation with a seriously alienated European Union will not come easily, if at all. Russia may not have lost on the battlefield or been weakened or strategically isolated, but it has incurred huge opportunity costs.
But even if the war has disadvantaged Russia, it’s far from clear that it has benefited the United States. In 2022 alone, the US approved $113 billion in aid to Ukraine. The Russian defence budget was then around half of that, and it has since roughly doubled. Russian defence industries have been revitalised, helping the country to recently overtake Germany to become the fifth-wealthiest economy in the world and the largest in Europe in terms of purchasing power parity. Despite repeated Western claims that Russia was running out of ammunition and losing the war of attrition in Ukraine, it has not. Meanwhile, the alleged Russian threat to the West, once a powerful argument for Nato unity, has lost credibility. Russia’s armed forces have proven unable to conquer Ukraine, still less the rest of Europe.
The war has also exposed obvious fissures among Nato’s members. As last year’s summit in Vilnius showed, member countries differ on the desirability of admitting Ukraine. This current fragile unity seems unlikely to outlast the war. These realities also help explain why most of America’s European partners want to end the war as soon as possible. The Ukraine War has clearly put paid to the post-Soviet era in Europe, but it has not made Europe more secure. It has not enhanced America’s international reputation or consolidated US primacy. The war has instead accelerated the emergence of a post-American multipolar world order. One feature of this is an anti-American axis between Russia and China.
To weaken Russia, the United States has been actively blocking trade between countries that have nothing to do with Ukraine or the war there because they won’t jump on the US bandwagon. This use of political and economic pressure to compel other countries to conform to its anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies has clearly backfired. It has encouraged even former US client states to search for ways to avoid entanglement in future American conflicts and proxy wars they do not support, like that in Ukraine. Far from isolating Russia or China, America’s coercive diplomacy has helped both Moscow and Beijing to enhance relationships in Africa, Asia, and Latin America that reduce US influence in favour of their own.
In short, US policy has resulted in great suffering in Ukraine and escalating defence budgets here and in Europe, but has failed to weaken or isolate Russia. More of the same will not accomplish either of these oft-stated American objectives. Russia, in the meantime, has been educated in how to combat American weapons systems and has developed effective counters to them. It has been militarily strengthened, not weakened.
If the purpose of war is to establish a better peace, this war is not doing that. Ukraine is being eviscerated on the altar of Russophobia. At this point, no one can confidently predict how much of Ukraine or how many Ukrainians will be left when the fighting stops or when and how to stop it. Kyiv is already struggling to meet its recruitment goals. Combating Russia to the last Ukrainian was always an odious strategy. But when Nato is about to run out of Ukrainians, it is not just cynical; it is no longer a viable option.
This year, it is time to prioritise saving as much as possible of Ukraine, for whom this war has become existential. Ukraine needs diplomatic backing to craft a peace with Russia if its military sacrifices are not to have been in vain. It is being destroyed. It must be rebuilt. The key to preserving what’s left is to empower and back Kyiv to end the war on the best terms it can obtain, to facilitate the return of its refugees, and to use the EU accession process to advance liberal reforms and institute clean government in a neutral Ukraine.
Unfortunately, as things stand, both Moscow and Washington seem determined to persist in Ukraine’s ongoing destruction. But whatever the outcome of the war, Kyiv and Moscow will eventually have to find a basis for coexistence. Washington needs to support Kyiv in challenging Russia to recognise both the wisdom and the necessity of respect for Ukrainian neutrality and territorial integrity.
Finally, this war should provoke some sober rethinking in both Washington and Moscow about the consequences of diplomacy-free, militarised foreign policy. Had the United States agreed to talk with Moscow, even if it had continued to reject much of what Moscow demanded, Russia would not have invaded Ukraine as it did. Had the West not intervened to prevent Ukraine from ratifying the treaty others helped it agree with Russia at the outset of the war, Ukraine would now be intact and at peace. This war did not need to take place. And every party to it has lost far more than it has gained.
This is an edited extract of a speech Chas Freeman gave to the East Bay Citizens for Peace.
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Source: UnHerd Read the original article here: https://unherd.com/