Absent mediation

IT has been six months since Russia launched its unprovoked and brutal aggression against Ukraine. On its part, Ukraine has fought back with grit and will which has won admiration the world over. How far can Ukraine resist? When the war began Ukraine plaintively, desperately sought help. After some tardiness, the Nato allies pitched in.

What has happened as Ukraine and Russia fought on is the complete militarisation of the conflict to the neglect of diplomacy. One is aware of the Russia-Ukraine talks in Turkey. But they have made little progress. What is afoot is in reality an American-Russian war by proxy.

It may be recalled that in the initial stages of the conflict, US President Joe Biden urged recourse to diplomacy. Indeed, President Biden offered his own good offices. More, he directly appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to hold talks. These were tepid efforts bereft of urgency and stress.

All that is over. What has been steadily afoot is militarisation. This is no longer a Russia-Ukraine war. Ukraine is now a pawn in the conflict which has been transformed into a Russian-American war with the rest of the Nato members in tow. To Boris Johnson, it presented a fine opportunity to try to rehabilitate himself. He failed. Germany was more restrained and courteous. But the net result has been the rise of militarism. Ukraine suffers even as it continues to emphasise the military factor.

Does the US plan to fight the war to the last Ukrainian?

But beneath the clash of arms lie genuine disputes. A couple of years ago, the highly respected journal Le Monde Diplomatique published a detailed documented analysis of the disputes between Russia and Ukraine besides those relating to the Russian-majority areas of eastern Ukraine. To repeat, none of this justifies Russia’s attack on Ukraine last February.

Six months is a long time for the comparatively smaller Ukraine to fight a war which its powerful neighbour has forced on it. Nobody now cares to recall the two Minsk accords — except Putin. Biden’s early pleas for talks were weak and and indicated a desire to keep out. He has since sensed a good opportunity to humiliate the Russian leader.

This is a prominent feature of the debased diplomacy of today. Abuse the top leaders of the country with which there is a dispute; more so, with a country with which one is almost on the verge of armed conflict. Recall America’s leaders’ abuse of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and North Korea’s leaders. Putin is only the latest target.

Does the US plan to fight the war in Ukraine to the finish in order simply to humiliate Russia’s leader whom the Americans never tire of abusing?

Who else will support this mad conflict but the victim of Putin’s war — Ukraine? Force unrelated to a diplomatically achievable objective is sterile and destructive. Whatever prevented Biden from inviting Putin to talks, say, in Geneva on Ukraine in the very early stages of the war? Where else does the world stand today but at the brink of a wider most destructive armed conflict? Is it the West’s law to fight the war in Ukraine to the last Ukrainian?

Last February, Putin embarked on a dangerous game in which bluff was combined with obduracy. Biden would have risen in international esteem if he had pressed the Russian president for talks; if need be at a summit between them with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky nearby.

Where there is a will there is a way. The issue of format was deftly resolved in the negotiation that led to a settlement on Afghanistan after two decades of bitter conflict. Human ingenuity can devise in informal talks a format of negotiations that is acceptable to all. The war in Ukraine must be ended if Ukraine is to be saved.

Unfortunately, so far there have been no signs of the US or Russia coming to grips with the issues underlying the conflict. On his part, President Zelensky has repeatedly offered to negotiate but President Putin has ignored the offer. What is saddening is the absence of any mediatory efforts by any of the neighbouring countries. The non-aligned movement, never very powerful or constructive in its day, has sunk without a trace. As of now, neither the Asians nor the Africans have shown any interest in intervening to stop this dangerous war which is becoming ever more destructive by the day.

It is difficult for anyone to predict how this war will end. The Europeans show no interest in tackling the issues that underlie the old conflict which is Ukraine and Russia. Meanwhile, the bombings continue to kill, with millions of Ukrainians fleeing their country to safety. Without serious diplomacy and mediation efforts, the debilitating fallout of the conflict will continue to manifest itself across the world.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

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