I, for one, never thought deeply enough about the Ukraine/Russia war to think about the simple issue posed by this Quillette piece (no, it’s not a right wing rant). Click on the screenshot to read it:
The dilemma is expressed in the title and in this paragraph by Lloyd, a contributing editor at the Financial Times and co-founder of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism:
An existential choice faces Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine. It is perhaps the worst choice facing any head of state in the world—between capitulation before Russian President Vladimir Putin and continued resistance to the Russian invasion. If Zelensky chooses the former, there is no guarantee—or even a realistic hope—that any agreement to end hostilities will be honoured a minute longer than Putin finds convenient. On the other hand, continued resistance guarantees that many more Ukrainians—military and civilian—will die and many more cities and towns will be reduced to rubble, even if victory (whatever that looks like) is achieved eventually.
Although I thought the war would be over quickly, with Russia the victor, I still think Russia has the upper hand. As the NYT reports today, Russia is firing more missiles at Kyiv, and Putin has threatened to stat firing at new targets if the West supplies Ukraine with longer-range missiles. The Donbas region is well on its way to complete control by Russia, and reports of Ukrainian advances are rare. This makes the “existential choice” more likely. Is there anyone who still thinks that Ukraine will expel Russia entirely?
The West, too, is starting to pressure Ukraine to settle. Germany has failed to come through with promised weapons, probably because it stands to lose the most in terms of Russian gas. France is waffling too; from the NYT:
President Emmanuel Macron of France’s assertion that Ukraine and its allies should refrain from humiliating Moscow to improve the possibility of a negotiated settlement touched off a fiery response from Kyiv. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said that such statements “can only humiliate France and every other country that would call for it.”
Refrain from humiliating Moscow? They conducted a brutal invasion, killing thousands of civilians, and committing numerous war crimes, and we shouldn’t “humiliate” them?? There’s only so far you can go with Realpolitik, and giving in to Putin doesn’t include that. But what’s the alternative?
Lloyd gives two reasons why Putin invaded:
So, why did Putin do it? For two reasons, above all. First, he was tormented by the prospect of Ukraine becoming wholly democratic and pro-Western—an example he feared would inspire the very many Russians who wish to see their own country develop an active civil society. Second, were this to happen, it would thwart Putin’s clearly expressed aim to merge the three Slav states of the former Soviet Union into a partial reconstruction of the Russian empire—Belarus is already in Putin’s pocket; Ukraine is now fighting to stay out of it; and Russia has allotted itself the role of imperial master. In a 5,000-word essay published in July last year and titled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” Putin denied that Ukraine is a separate state, and warned that Russia could not permit it to drift into the West’s orbit.
He suggests, giving a link, that Putin may be seriously ill, and thus trying to cement his legacy:
He has come to see the reconstitution of the most important part of the Russian empire as his legacy. If rumours of Putin’s failing health are true, that legacy may soon become operative, which has led observers to speculate that the precipitate invasion was the decision of a sick man in a hurry. Putin’s imperial ambitions and iron determination make him an impossible interlocutor—a man determined, as Emmanuel Macron has discovered, not to give an inch.
The more I watch this war (and remember, I’m no pundit), the more I think Lloyd is right. Every day 100 Ukrainian soldiers die—and there’s a finite number of them—the more I think that Zelensky will have to cut some kind of deal with Putin. The problem, of course, is that Putin is a liar and a cheat, and his promises are worth nothing,
It’s a bad business all around, but I don’t think Ukraine will do anything more than survive as a smaller portion of itself (and without NATO membership). But let’s take a poll, and explain your opinion below.