A few weeks ago BAFTA gave multiple awards to All Quiet on the Western Front. This is the third film version of the novel of the same name, which describes the brutality and futility of World War I. Right now, war is raging in eastern Europe. Russia invasion of Ukraine followed on a pattern of authoritarianism, aggressive military interventions and the refusal to accept Ukraine’s independence.
There are a number of reasons why the collapse of communism has not led to democracy in Russia. Revanchism is interlinked with nationalism and authoritarianism.
The invasion of Ukraine has resulted in many casualties and devastation. Fourteen million Ukrainians have been displaced from their homes, including eight million refugees across Europe.
Support for Ukraine
Supporting Ukraine has been onerous. When military, humanitarian and financial aid is all taken into account, the EU and its member nations have pledged the equivalent of £ 45.9bn, whereas the US has pledged 42.9bn and the UK 6.3bn (New European 16 February).
The Russian aggression started in 2014 with the occupation of Crimea. Putin subsequently stoked separatism in Eastern Ukraine, where there are significant numbers of ethnic Russians, and fomented a secessionist war with arms and with large numbers of irregular Russian combatants as well as regular Russian soldiers (Donbas War 2014-15).
Across the world support for Ukraine has been limited. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit two-thirds of the world population live in countries that are neutral or Russia-leaning regarding the war in Ukraine. Many developing countries regard the cost of sanctions as too high or consider the West as being hypocritical in relation to their own track record of military interventions, such as the war in Iraq.
Will support for Ukraine in the West last? In the US some republicans have opposed financial support for Ukraine, whereas in Europe Hungary, Austria and Croatia have opposed sending more arms. If the war continues, the electorate willingness to fund Ukraine may dwindle.
However, if we provide Ukraine now with enough modern arms, the territorial losses could be reversed, possibly leading to peace talks.
Possible solutions to bring about peace
A major concern in the West has been the need to avoid escalation to a World War III or to a nuclear conflict. This is why a return to the February 2022 borders (leaving Crimea and the rebel areas of Donetsk and Luhansk under Russian control) might be a more realistic option than a full restoration of the 1991 borders.
Owen Matthews wrote sensible comments in The Spectator (4 February). Crimea has always had a pro-Russian majority, whereas Donetsk and Luhansk, as a consequence of ethnic cleansing and radicalisation, now seem to have pro-Russian majorities. If Ukraine tried to retake these territories “Instead of liberation, it will be a war of conquest”, and there would also be an increased risk of a nuclear war escalation by Putin.
We must also avoid repeating the mistake we made at the end of WW1, when, according to John Maynard Keynes, the peace treaty included “no provisions for the economic rehabilitation of Europe — nothing to make the defeated Central empires into good neighbours, nothing to stabilize the new states of Europe”. Keynes correctly predicted that peace on those terms would lead to another conflict.
After the end of WWll many across Europe felt that the response had to be different: the EEC, which then turned into the EU, became the big project for peace and collaboration.
Ukraine may accept the loss of Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk if there was some compensation in the form of security guarantees from NATO, a promise of funds for rebuilding and admission into the EU when the accession criteria are met.
Russia may eventually turn to democracy. When this happens, we should find a way to associate Russia with NATO and the EU in some way: it could be the way to finally secure peace in Europe.