The war in Ukraine has been going on for just over three months and there’s no end in sight. Frustrated by Ukrainian resistance, Russia is focusing its efforts on the east and south of the country and it seems to be employing tactics used in Syria, laying waste to whatever gets in the way. The enormous civilian suffering is plain to see, and the collateral damage is spreading further and wider in the form of hikes in energy prices and world food shortages (especially for the poor). Somalia and Benin source 100% of imported wheat from Russia and Ukraine, Egypt 82%, Sudan and Lebanon 75%, and Libya 50%. As Tom Stevenson writes in the London Review of Books, 'The longer the war continues, the greater the certainty of hunger'.
In addition the geopolitical stakes have risen enormously with Sweden and Finland applying to join NATO after decades of neutrality. So the downsides of the conflict are obvious: clear and increasing local, regional and global instability. You’d have thought that everyone would be trying their hardest to end the war.
Against this backdrop the decision by western countries to supply Ukraine with ever-increasing amounts of weaponry at ever-increasing levels of sophistication is hard to understand, because this does nothing but prolong the war and the suffering and instability that goes with it. The defence is that Ukraine is a sovereign nation, and nations should be free to determine their own fate rather than have it determined by force of arms. Of course, but with sovereignty comes responsibility, and we should be asking what the responsible course of action is at this juncture. How should sovereign Ukraine act, now?
The answer is: land for peace. Long touted as a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, the principle needs to be dusted off and applied to the Ukraine war. It is absolutely clear that the war will not end by one or the other of the combatants achieving total victory, so compromise is in any case inevitable. Far more will be lost than gained by putting off what is going to happen anyway - more dead and wounded, more senseless destruction, more starvation, more energy poverty. All of this could be avoided by a responsible exercise of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
I hold not the smallest candle for Vladimir Putin, but well before the Ukraine conflict the West really should have paid closer attention to Russia’s concerns regarding its southern flank. It should have been made quite clear that the exercise of Ukrainian sovereignty did not include it joining NATO. Had it done so, the conflict would likely have been avoided. However, we are where we are: Putin’s plan has blown up in his face, thousands on both sides have been killed and wounded and we are all experiencing the collateral damage caused by the conflict - the poor and vulnerable, as ever, more than anyone. And the west must take its fair share of the blame - especially leftwing cosmopolitans who have somehow misplaced their objections to overweaning conceptions of national sovereignty, and are backing to the hilt Ukraine’s conception of what it means.
So let’s focus on stopping the war rather than punishing Russia - down to the last Ukrainian. Every extra weapon given to Ukraine delays the peace talks that will inevitably take place. Every day of delay is a day of more suffering and destruction. And the only people truly rubbing their hands with glee are Western arms manufacturers.