War and Peace in Ukraine

War and Peace in Ukraine

De-escalation and negotiation remain the only way out of this crisis.


War is a tragedy, a crime, and a defeat. The Nation condemns the decision of Russian President Vladimir Putin to abandon the path of diplomacy by brutally attacking and invading Ukraine, a blatant violation of international law.

We urge Russia to agree to an immediate cease-fire and all parties to seek a diplomatic solution to avert the risk of an unthinkable direct conflict between the world’s two largest nuclear powers—a peril made worse by Putin’s move to place Russia’s nuclear forces on alert.

The Nation has consistently called for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine that respects international law and international borders. While Putin’s actions are indefensible, responsibility for this conflict is widely shared. This magazine has warned repeatedly that extending NATO to Russia’s borders would inevitably produce a dangerous reaction. We have criticized NATO’s wholesale rejection of Russia’s security proposals.

However unpopular it may be to point this out, the expansion of NATO provided the context for this crisis—a history too often ignored by our media. Offering future NATO membership to Ukraine—when successive US presidents and our NATO allies have demonstrated that they do not have the slightest intention of fighting to defend the country—was deeply irresponsible. Instead, Putin’s demand that Ukraine remain outside of NATO—essentially that the status quo be codified—was scorned as violating NATO’s “principle” of admitting anyone it wanted.

One result was to encourage parallel irresponsibility by Ukraine. In 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky promised voters he would end the war in the Donbas. Upon taking office, however, his government refused to implement essential provisions of the 2015 Minsk Protocols (signed by Russia, Ukraine, the Russian-backed separatist leaders, and the OSCE) that would have guaranteed sovereignty and territorial integrity for Ukraine in exchange for its neutrality—a status similar to that of Austria, Norway, and Finland.

Sadly, Russia’s illegal actions will only embolden the hawks and armament-mongers. Western armchair strategists are calling for further increases to the already bloated US military budget, while pushing the Europeans to build up their forces and seizing the chance to bleed Putin in Ukraine. The moral obscenity of viewing the loss of Ukrainian and Russian lives as a “strategic opportunity” should be obvious.

Because amid the drums of war, we must not lose sight of the human horror that will follow: from the war, the massive displacement, and the impact of sanctions.

Ukrainians are already suffering. Even if Russia succeeds militarily, prolonged occupation might trigger a guerrilla war far more costly than the Soviet debacle in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the “punitive” sanctions imposed so far will hurt not only Russia—oligarchs and ordinary citizens alike—but also Europe, the US, and the global economy’s bystanders. Oil prices—already soaring past $100 a barrel—are a harbinger of that. A revived Cold War will ravage domestic budgets here and in Europe—and sap the resources and attention needed to address pandemics, the climate crisis, nuclear instability, and debilitating inequality.

What is needed now is not a rush to arms or to hawkish bluster, but a return to intense negotiations—and a recognition of the facts of geography and history. Ukrainians have demonstrated beyond doubt that they are indeed a nation. But that their fate is linked with their powerful neighbor—which will always have much more at stake in Ukraine’s future than the United States—remains true.

As we go to press, Ukraine and Russia continue talks. The work already done by the UN, the OSCE, and the signatories to the Minsk Protocols provides options that, if pursued in good faith, can bring the crisis to a peaceful conclusion. We have also been heartened by the brave stand for peace within Russian civil society.

Though the situation is extremely perilous, we believe the crisis can still be resolved by the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine—including the Donbas—alongside a declaration of Ukrainian neutrality. We also believe the best way for countries far from the battle line to help is by welcoming and supporting refugees from the fighting.

We urge President Biden and his administration to encourage the latest talks and, if need be, to help facilitate the hard but necessary work of diplomacy.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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