When Olaf Scholz and Emmanuel Macron talk to Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky on the phone, it’s not pointless, but its effect is limited. Europe is not a superpower, at least in the military sense.
The presidents of Russia and Ukraine, on the other hand, are fixated on the United States. Putin thinks in terms of power structures that date back to the Cold War era. And he knows that the American president is considered the most powerful man in the world and also sets the tone within NATO.
Ukraine, on the other hand, would hardly be able to survive without weapons, funds and intelligence information from the USA. That’s why a report from last night makes you sit up and take notice: For the first time in a long time, the highest-ranking military officials in Washington and Moscow have spoken to each other.
At American initiative, US Chief of Staff Mark Milley and his Russian colleague Valeri Gerasimov phoned each other “about security-related issues of mutual interest,” as the diplomatic cloak put it. Details were not known.
The signal that came from the call is important nonetheless. In any case, the conditions and possibilities for a diplomatic solution to the conflict are discussed much more intensively in the US media than in Germany.
In “The Atlantic” magazine, foreign and security expert Charles A. Kupchan, under the headline “Ukraine’s Way Out,” deals with the arguments for and against an imminent ceasefire. His summary: it is both unnecessary and unnecessarily risky to keep pushing Putin back.
In “The National Interest”, the geopolitician Leon Hadar draws a parallel to the end of the Yom Kippur War and sums it up: Even now the US government would have to use the looming military stalemate for a diplomatic offensive.
André Haertel, an expert on Russia, Eastern Europe, security and defense policy at the Science and Politics Foundation, comes to a similar conclusion. “The looming military stalemate at high costs for both sides could make serious peace negotiations more likely,” he wrote in early May.
Has now come the moment for a reassessment, first at the highest military level, of the conditions under which diplomacy has a chance? The following must be considered: There are many good reasons why Ukraine should continue its defensive war against the Russian aggressor.
First, there are morals and the law. Ukrainians fight to live in a sovereign state. This includes territorial integrity. They deserve the support of the West for this. Freedom, self-determination, security: these values must be defended.
The motive of wanting to weaken the Russian army in such a way that it cannot lead a comparable invasion in the foreseeable future is also serious. After all, people also want to feel safe in Georgia, Moldova and the Baltic States.
The third persuasive objection is that Putin must be denied success lest he see the outcome of his war as an encouragement to further attempts at conquest. That in turn could tempt China’s rulers to imitate actions, keyword Taiwan. However, in an interim assessment, almost three months after the start of the Russian attack, the time factor must be examined more closely.
Both sides say they are preparing for a very long conflict. But that would hit Ukraine harder than Russia. Ukrainian towns and villages are being shelled, not Russian ones. Ukrainians are on the run, not Russians; Ukrainian civilians are being killed, not Russian ones; the Ukrainian infrastructure is being bombed, not the Russian one.
Global collateral damage also increases as the war progresses. First and foremost, there is a risk of severe famine due to a lack of grain exports. Rising food prices have often sparked rebellions and led to upheavals.
Political systems that are already unstable, for example in the Middle East and Africa, could become even more fragile. Nato will not risk messing with the Russian Black Sea Fleet, writes The Economist, and exaggerates the alternative: “The choice between war and famine is real.”
The global consequences also include the rapidly increasing inflation caused by energy costs, supply bottlenecks and speculation. This exacerbates social tensions, which in rich countries can only be mitigated somewhat financially through government aid packages.
Here, in addition to the war in Ukraine, the drastic measures taken by the Chinese government in the fight against the corona virus are also accelerating.
It must also be borne in mind that the hitherto amazing unity of the West, including the EU and NATO, may have an expiry date. There are already initial frictions. Viktor Orban blocks oil and Recep Tayyip Erdogan blocks Sweden and Finland from joining NATO.
In the US, on the other hand, high inflation, according to polls, is driving many voters to the Republicans. The midterms are coming up in November, and an American president who does not have a majority in Congress quickly becomes a “lame duck” in terms of foreign policy.
In the end, every additional day of fighting carries incalculable risks. This includes misguided rockets as well as escalation dynamics. In retrospect, it will be said: Nobody wanted that. But that is no consolation for those affected.
Cost-benefit analyzes have an emotionally cold effect, especially in brutal wars. Nevertheless, everything must be considered, evaluated and weighted so that morality and law, reason and realism are in balance.
So far the West has prevailed. Putin’s troops have taken neither Kyiv nor Odessa, the Ukrainian government has not been overthrown, NATO soldiers have not been withdrawn from Eastern European NATO member countries, instead a northern expansion of the alliance by Finland and Sweden is imminent, the conventional Russian army has been significantly decimated, the sanctions technologically throw Russia far behind.
Should what has been achieved be secured and work towards an early ceasefire? Or do morality and the law dictate, after weighing all the costs and risks, that the war be continued until all areas controlled by Russian units have been recaptured?
The decision will be made – in consultation with the US government – by the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. At the end of March he said: “We understand that it is impossible to completely liberate Donbass.”
A reconquest would trigger “World War III”. The question of the neutrality of his country demanded by Russia is being “thoroughly” examined. Since then, his war goals may have become more ambitious.
No one in the West should want to dictate to Ukraine what its soldiers fight for and for how long. Recommending surrender from the comfort of your own home is just as presumptuous as cheering you on not to compromise. But identifying the factors that should be considered is essential to open debate.