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Growing chants that all wars come to an end and negotiations must begin feeds Putin’s hopes the West will crumble

Do they think that after Putin has demonstrated what a great leader he is and how he defeated the mighty Nato, he’s going to stop there?

Does anyone ever give a full-throated “yes” to war? What person of empathy and sound mind says, “Yes, let’s condemn hundreds of thousands of young men to the meat grinders and mass graves of the frontlines?” What monster says, “Hell yes, let’s consign women and children, the old and the vulnerable to subterranean hellholes to be terrorised, raped, tortured or exiled thousands of miles from home?”

This is the problem with simple calls to stop the war. They contain the implicit suggestion that those not calling for peace right now are bloodthirsty armchair generals, or stooges of the military-industrial complex, or too dim and ill-informed to worry about Putin’s hints of nuclear weapons, and therefore miss the big picture of escalation and global catastrophe.

So let’s see who might be the targets of those calls. The UN Security Council, which has conducted 40 debates on this war in a year and whose 11th emergency special session last week came on the heels of the General Assembly’s new demand that Russia leave Ukraine? The same Assembly where a slew of democracies declined to condemn Putin’s invasion of a sovereign state?

Or might it be Nato? Nato, whose obsolescence was almost assured before Putin’s attack but which now has liberal old Finland and Sweden peppering for accession, and with Germany performing slow-motion political somersaults that were unthinkable only a year ago. Nato is reborn, swinging into the most radical upgrade in its 74-year history, aiming to build an alliance so formidable that no Putin-style imperialist would dare to challenge it.


Or might it be a Ukrainian, someone like the Nobel peace laureate Oleksandra Matviichuk, whose Centre for Civil Liberties has been working with Russian human rights defenders for years?

Human rights activists are facing unprecedented persecution in their native Russia, blamed by their own society, labelled as foreign agents, jailed and beaten, says Matviichuk. Among those is journalist Maria Ponomarenko , a mother of two children, sentenced to six years in jail last month for reporting on a Russian attack on a theatre in Mariupol that killed hundred of civilians.

Eight years ago this week Boris Nemtsov, a Russian physicist, liberal politician, outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s finest hope, was assassinated within yards of the Kremlin, just hours after appealing to the public to support a march against Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Alexei Navalny, Russia’s leading dissident and opposition leader, who ran for president until he was blocked, has been poisoned and brutalised and now lies ailing in a isolation cell, still mocking Putin and his Ukrainian invasion.

When Matviichuk asks Russian activists how she can help, their answer is always the same: they beg for Ukraine to be successful in resisting Putin, because the democratic success of Ukraine will have a huge impact on Russia’s chances of any democratic future.

Westerners who call for peace and negotiations now must explain to people like Oleksandra Matviichuk or Maria Ponomarenko what concessions they have in mind and what sacrifices Ukraine should make?

Hein Goemans, a Dutch-born US war historian and specialist in war termination theory who is no fan of war, is deeply scathing about those calling for negotiations and peace deals now. Do they think that after Putin has demonstrated what a great leader he is and how he defeated the mighty Nato, that he’s going to stop there, that he’s not going to come back and ask for more, he asks? We know appeasement doesn’t work.

Ukraine by contrast has a simple demand: it wants its 1991 borders back. It will not fight to the gates of Moscow because there is no belief, need or sanity in beating Russia inside Russia. So there is a deal available; the problem is that Putin cannot agree to it for domestic reasons. He seized Crimea and returning it could cost him his life or liberty. That’s on him.

Ultimately in negotiations, both sides’ aims have to be compatible. You must believe at minimum that any deal you have to swallow will stick. It’s called “the credible commitment problem”. The idea that Putin never intended to implement the 2014 Minsk agreement to end the war in Donbas is not some western propaganda. It comes from the mouth of a former aide of his, Vladislav Surkov.

Still the growing chorus chants that time lies on Russia’s side, that all wars come to an end and negotiations must begin. But it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Far from fuelling a desire for peace, it feeds Putin’s hopes and motivates him to keep fighting because given time, he thinks the West will crumble. The louder the chorus, the greater Putin’s hope that a squabbling, hopeless West will abandon Ukraine.

And without the West, as Ukraine’s many imploring emissaries have said, the country could not sustain its heroic stand.

Yet for all the relentless, powerful western rhetoric about the vast amounts of support, hard cash and kit being poured into Ukraine, the economic numbers tell a different story, according to historian Adam Tooze. The US has spent 0.21 per cent of GDP on military support for Ukraine, slightly less than it spent in an average year in Afghanistan. Germany gave three times more to supporting the US-led operation to oust Saddam Hussein from the Kuwaiti oilfields than it is offering to Ukraine in bilateral aid. The result, says Tooze, is hypocrisy and self-inflicted impotence on a historic scale.

Time perhaps to raise all our sights.