The UK foreign secretary Liz Truss says that a peace deal with Russia is contingent on Vladimir Putin’s troops being pushed out of Ukraine and being held accountable for alleged war crimes. However we define ‘Ukraine’ (does it include only Donbas or Crimea too?) everyone knows this is a recipe for a war lasting years. Meanwhile UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson claims that if Putin were a woman he wouldn’t have started the war in the first place. He’s evidently not looked down the Cabinet table recently.
Johnson and Truss made these remarks at the recently completed NATO summit in Madrid, described by the BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardner as a summit ‘for hawks’. It’s true that the industrial war machine could hardly have wished for a better outcome: a billion-pound package of UK military aid, two squadrons of US F35 stealth bombers, two naval destroyers to Spain and thousands of troops to Romania, and two new countries in the NATO fold - Finland and Sweden.
It’s hard to imagine an event more designed to push the end of the war far into the distant future than this NATO summit.
Meanwhile, more and more people in the poorest countries go hungry because Ukrainian grain and Russian fertiliser can’t be exported, inflation rates in Europe are higher than they have been for 40 years, and if nothing changes in the next few months European countries are likely to be subject to energy rationing in the autumn.
Daily, about 60-100 Ukrainian soldiers are dying and 500 wounded, the UK government estimates about 15,000 Russian dead, while the UN reckons that at least 4,700 Ukrainian civilians have died since the start of the war. Put crudely, every day the war goes on another two or three hundred people die, several hundred are wounded and an uncounted number are displaced or exiled.
This is the reality that Truss, Johnson and the 30 NATO heads of government who have just wined, dined and back-slapped in Madrid have signed up to. Until Russia has been ‘pushed out of Ukraine’.
There is only one humane way out of this situation: an early ceasefire involving some ceding of territory by Ukraine and whatever guarantees and reparations can be wrung out of Putin’s reprehensible regime. The foundations for such an agreement could be laid right now, but the triumphalist NATO summit has made that impossible. Much more likely is an accommodation sometime in the autumn or winter when soaring prices and energy rationing make a ceasefire more attractive to domestic audiences than constant sabre-rattling.
By then, thousands of soldiers and civilians who are alive today will be dead. This is certain. But these numbers played no part in the decision-making in Madrid. The only ones that seem to matter are those relating to the military machine’s bottom line.