The war in Ukraine grinds on with no end in sight. Russian military failings of both logistics and morale, determined Ukrainian resistance and Western military assistance, short of direct involvement, all suggest a long, attritional haul.
Without giving credence to Western intelligence briefings or Ukrainian government spin, it is arguable that, without escalation of an unprecedented and dangerous character, Russian is losing the war. It has not been able to occupy and subdue Ukrainian territory sufficient to end the war that way, it has not been able to terrorise or demoralise the Ukrainians so that they have had to sue for peace and it has not even yet been able to secure militarily the entire Donbass region, the most modest Russian war aim.
Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’, frequently the go-to manual for generals, armchair and otherwise, advises offering an opponent a face saving route out of conflict. In this case, autonomy of the Russian speaking regions in the east with guaranteed rights of the people living there might be something which affords all parties an acceptable outcome, with a revisiting of the Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015. However, the western powers, hoist by their own petard, namely their uncritical support for Zelenskiy, who hasn’t honoured those agreements, may see this outcome as an unacceptable climb-down.
While Russia should be seen as the aggressor, with no equivalence between Russia and Ukraine, we cannot overlook the background to this conflict: NATO’s 1991 promise to Gorbachev not to expand, only to be followed by the accession of 12 Eastern European countries. Having poked the bear, NATO may now wish to humiliate it.
Outright partition might be a further possibility with the eastern region’s autonomy crystallised as a pro-Russian puppet state. Socialists should not see this outcome as desirable. It would be seen to be rewarding, in part, aggression by a larger country against a smaller one. If NATO gets too sniffy about partition, we should remember what happened in 1999 to Russia’s ally Serbia; the British, of course, have plenty of form in partitioning a smaller, neighbouring country.
Elsewhere, the conflict casts a long shadow. As if his life wasn’t already stressful enough, Zelenskiy now has to act as a heat shield for the disgraced Boris Johnson while one of those seeking to replace him, the risibly out of her depth Liz Truss, is dangerously upping the ante to lubricate her own ambitions. The Tories are attempting a blame-shifting narrative that it’s the war, not their own policies that are causing the cost of living crisis. The sanctioning of Russian oligarchs reveals how the UK has been laundering dirty Russian money, not least in the form of donations to the Tory party while with its usual mixture of malevolence and incompetence, the Home Office is failing those fleeing from the war.
Keir Starmer seeks to use the conflict to further his poisonous feud with socialists in the Labour Party. In the excitement, it seems everyone has forgotten that it was a certain MP for Islington North, now routinely referred to as a ‘Kremlin stooge’ who raised questions about the appropriateness of Putin’s state visit and criticised the Tories’ acceptance of donations from Russia.
In these dark and dangerous times, socialists should maintain opposition to the war, oppose escalation of the conflict on either side, call for the withdrawal of Russian troops, support Russian peace activists who are opposing the war and call for a diplomatic solution which protects Ukraine’s borders and safeguards the rights of the Russian speakers in the east, while keeping Ukraine out of NATO.