I managed to annoy a number of people with my previous post about Ukraine, suggesting that we want peace in Ukraine, and any peace was likely to involve Ukraine giving up some territory - Putin is unlikely to be able to claim victory without that.  A number of others have come to the same conclusion.

This informed article from Foreign Affairs contains a helpful analysis of the background, and recognizes that the most likely peace agreement will give Russia control over the Donetsk and Luhansk, and maybe other parts of Ukraine, and will satisfy neither Russia nor Ukraine: What If Russia Makes a Deal? How to End a War That No One Is Likely to Win.

Much of the feedback is understandable moral outrage: it's not right!  It's not just!  It's not fair!  Why should Putin get to invade Ukraine for no justifiable reason, and walk away with control over new territory as a result. He ought to be punished!  These are all valid moral points, but they don't change the basic reality of the situation: the simple reason why he gets to do this is because he is a dictator who controls the world's 5th largest army.

The moral outrage is entirely understandable, but I suspect it is slightly short-sighted.  Let's assume that Ukraine achieves peace by allowing the Eastern regions to become 'independent' and under Russian control. Remember: Ukraine has been fighting pro-Russian separatists in these regions since 2014.  One of the reasons why Ukraine's troops have been so effective is because they have been fighting a war for 7 years. (Another, of course, is that they are fighting for their homeland.)

It is very hard for any country to fight rebel guerrillas at home, as the UK discovered in Northern Ireland.  The state's troops wear uniforms and live in barracks, you know who they are and where to find them.  The rebels look like ordinary civilians until they fire at you, and they hardly ever need to do that openly.  It is a complete nightmare for the people in charge.

And once Russia gains control of these newly 'independent' regions, the boot is on the other foot.  Russia's man (it's unlikely to be a woman) is now in power, and the people who are unhappy with the status quo are those - probably the vast majority - who want to be Ukrainian.  There are plenty of guns in the area, and no doubt more would be smuggled across the new border on a regular basis.  Russia would be fighting the rebel guerrillas, in a country where the majority of the population are implacably opposed to the government and refuse to recognize its legitimacy.  Russia will be pouring in military and other resources to prop up their puppet regime, the costs will continue to mount, and their people in the region will see for themselves the destruction, and take the truth back to their homes and families.

This would, of course, be a tragedy for the people of that region.  But they had a war on their doorstep anyway - this does not justify their additional suffering, but this is a war, and innocent people suffer and die in wars.  (Which is why we must struggle to create a just world in which people do not feel the need to seek justice through war.)

I am suggesting that we should negotiate to give Russia the territory it is demanding, not because I believe Russia should be rewarded for starting this war, but because allowing them to succeed would be the greatest punishment we can inflict on them. 

 

[See also Ukraine, Ukraine: Our Goal]

 

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