Final crunch time
Eight months after the start of the war, with winter looming, what are the ways out of a possible apocalyptic scenario? To stop the madness as Pope Francis has repeatedly pleaded would require looking to the present and the future rather than the past. Although unlikely, a victory by one of two sides can only guarantee permanent divisions. Instead, we should throw off hypocritical masks and put on the table what we really want.
We are now at the end of the eighth month of Russia’s war in Ukraine, and the final crunch seems to be getting closer and closer with the arrival of “General Winter”, a time when Russian wars traditionally halt, lapse or split, whether offensive or defensive, invasions or encirclements, from the times of the ancient Tatar hordes to the more recent prongs of Nazi divisions, from the conquest of Siberia to the wreckage in Afghanistan.
Putin laid out broad conditions for solving the conflict after a month of tragic and inconclusive mobilisation. Calling on the people to take up arms, he signed a national emergency decree described on Runet, Russia’s shambolic version of the Internet, as "semi-military semi-position", (Rus. полувоенное полуположение, poluvoennoe polupoloženie).
The grotesque and inarticulate new head of Russia’s front-line troops, General Sergey Surovikin, spoke on live television, threatening mayhem and looking everywhere except into the camera, overshadowing Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu, "scapegoated" for Russia’s military mistakes (and never serving in the military). Sacrificed on the altar of reviving the war every week, he formally remains at his post as Putin's doormat.
Meanwhile, the civilian population of Ukraine’s Russian-occupied and annexed regions are being evacuated over a possible Ukrainian counteroffensive, perhaps to prepare the ground for a showcase nuclear wipeout of both countries so that they can finally be united as a single desert, de-Nazified from the roots up.
Waiting for the same fate, the rest of Ukraine is getting ready for blackouts and the winter frost, which are casting their shadows over the whole of Europe. What are the ways out of a possible apocalyptic scenario?
Stop the war
The first solution, certainly the most desirable, is to stop the destruction of cities, monuments, lives, and families on both sides. “Stop the madness,” Pope Francis has been relentlessly pleading. This is the desire of the people forced underground by Iranian suicide drones, those who see their sons and husbands die in a senseless cause, the countries and peoples involved in the war, as well as those who are apparently sheltered from it.
Yet, this is the least likely solution.
To stop the war, peace proposals must be made and negotiated, compromises accepted.
As notes Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, a former negotiator in Mozambique, this means dissatisfying both sides who see mediators as traitors. Not only popes and cardinals, but presidents like Turkey’s Recep Erdogan and France Emmanuel Macron offer and then withdraw their services, or, like America’s Joe Biden and China’s Chinese Xi Jinping, who watch from high above impossible negotiations, concerned about keeping steady on their pedestals.
Who will be able to convince Vladimir Putin and Volodymir Zelensky to meet, and with what arguments? In a month's time, a G-20 summit will be held in Bali, where the stalemate will still appear unbreakable.
Any possible concession by either side is condemned by large swathes of public opinion in every country, as doubts grow and proposals are slammed as radically pro-Putin or a show of indefectible Atlantic loyalty, with no chance of meeting.
Either Putin or the West is absolute evil, forgetting that for thirty years these absolute evils fed and fattened each other. No one can be said to be exempt from responsibility. Did NATO provoke Russia, did Russia reject universal harmony, did Ukraine persecute Russian speakers, did China inspire those who want to destroy America, all this is true and false at the same time.
If we want peace, however, we must look to the present and the future. Time will come to discuss the past, recent and remote.
Win the war
The second solution, the one currently prevailing, is to destroy the opponent, even before victory is announced.
Russia wants to erase Ukraine rather than annex all its territories. The West wants to reduce Russia to a backwater, no longer a source of aggravation to markets and financial capitals even more than to peoples and social institutions.
The arms race involves all the countries in the world capable of producing weapons, filling up the wallets of those who supply them, like in all wars, one of the main generators of wealth.
Victory is not only the hoped-for outcome of the Kremlin's war efforts, but also the ideological foundation of its entire history, to show how much Russia is needed by the whole world to save it from all evil.
In its leaders’ distorted interpretation, starting with the 70-year-old adolescent dictator, Russia’s victory is cloaked in apocalyptic meanings, and can happen only when the whole world is defeated, not just the adversary of the moment.
Being alone against the whole world fills victory with meaning, and if the world is shattered this makes the sense of this war even more evident and triumphant.
In the Western vision, victory is instead an inalienable asset. Every country and every people that attacks the Great Globalisation is defeated from the start, whether Russia, Afghanistan, Syria, or Venezuela, and loses the right to exist.
Even this interpretation ends up revealing an immature psychology, a self-esteem unsuited to social relations, and the best example of this endemic fragility is precisely the noble and presumptuous Europe, the greatest source of wars over the centuries, always divided over every decision and position.
It is not a question of retaking the occupied territories, including Crimea, or adding colonies on the Moon and Mars to NATO, but of realising that the search for victory, in addition to being the greatest bonus to those seeking easy money, is also the best guarantee of perennial divisions and defeat of every ideal, be it progressive or traditionalist, homophobic or civil libertarian, secular or religious.
Continue the war
What nobody wants will probably be the real solution, an endless war. The same war strategies – although continuously defined and redefined, not to mention analysed by the world’s ever-expanding army of experts – seem to show no definitive scenarios on either side, whether for war or peace.
Indeed, Russia and Ukraine have been at war since the birth of primaeval Kievan Rus', the two sides of one people, or an assemblage of ethnic groups, always seesawing between East and West.
Russia appears unable to conquer Ukraine, overthrow its government, and annex it as a "southern region”, the Little Russia (Rus. Малороссия, Malorossiya) that it once was. That objective failed in February, and the longer the war goes on, the weaker and more insignificant Russia’s aims appear to become, annexing devastated and worthless lands.
Mobilisation, the permanent state of war, and the nuclear threat seem more than anything else justifications for never stopping, for refusing to admit defeat, for pumping out more of the same propaganda, i.e. Russia’s universal mission of salvation. In a sense Russia has already won, as it has forced the world to look and focus on its side.
The overthrow of the Putin regime seems very unlikely, both because of the strength of the dictatorship but also because of the total absence of alternatives and potential replacement to the Kremlin's ruling clique, whether in Russia’s political centre or its regions.
For ordinary Russians, life will get more and more difficult, especially in the more remote regions and among non-Russian ethnic groups, but this too appears to be a process without start or finish.
Ukraine has achieved much more than it could ever dream in the last, ever-changing 30 years since the end of the Soviet Union. It has finally asserted its self-consciousness as a nation, and has become a symbol of Europe and the West in the defence of freedom and democracy, supported and protected by NATO and stronger armies.
It will have to rebuild destroyed cities, thanks to the large, already promised aid, and it will continue to press Russia in every disputed village, even in the face of local nuclear destructions. But it will not be able to retake Donbass and Crimea, at least not any time soon.
The war will continue, locally and globally, and we are all in it, longing for peace while dreaming of victory. We must learn to live with war, with the weapons that correspond to what we really desire, throwing off hypocritical masks and admitting faults and virtues.
War is life. It asks us to take sides and commit ourselves every day and in every situation, imploring the Lord of armies to come among us again as the Light of nations, accepting the Cross in order to announce the Resurrection.
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