03/25/2023, 10.00
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The 'eternal truce' of the war in Ukraine

by Stefano Caprio

We are incapable of learning from history, otherwise there would be wars. But while one wonders how to finally succeed in bringing the fires to an end, one can still find inspiration in a distant date, when in 1686 the war between the reign of the Czar of Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom of Reczpospolita was ended.

A month has passed since the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the apocalyptic scenarios associated with it, conjured up in the bombastic rallies at Lužniki Stadium and all other Moscow venues by Putin and Medvedev, do not seem to be coming true, despite the ever-present showers of missiles and the constant proclamations of the final conquest of Bakhmut.

On the other side are the imobile American and European stances on the supply of ultra-modern and ultra-powerful weapons to finally begin the overwhelming reconquest of the Donbass, Crimea and perhaps even Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg, only to remain mired in the slow thaw of Bakhmut.

The receding hypersonic and nuclear showdown has timidly begun to refresh hopes for a way out of the wartime tragedy, if not with peace, at least with some agreement for a truce. After Chinese leader Xi Jinping's paternal caresses to what now appears to be his Moscow vassal, whom he has advised not to go overboard with bombs, the question from East to West is how to finally succeed in bringing about a cease-fire, not least because the burgeoning arms industries now seem to be less interested in a conflict that is creating more expense than profit.

History certainly teaches nothing, otherwise there would be no more wars for many centuries; but one can still find inspiration in a distant date, when in 1686 an end was put to the war between the Czar of Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom of Reczpospolita.

The conflict had begun in 1654, and ended with the agreement that passed into the chronicles of the time as the "Eternal Peace," in Russian the Večnyj Mir, to shape the russkij mir, the European face of the empire.

It was precisely a truce, which turned into the "final" agreement between the two major contenders over the eastern part of Europe, signed in Moscow by the Polish voevoda Poznansky and the Russian prince Golitsyn, with an extensive preamble and 33 articles.

The negotiation then confirmed the results of an earlier truce, that of Andriusovo (a Bakhmut-style village on the Russian-Polish border) in 1667, when Moscow had bought back Kiev for the then thunderous sum of 146,000 rubles, securing the mother-city of ancient Rus' to the czar's possession, lost only in 1991 at the end of the USSR.

Following this cession, the patriarchate of Constantinople also assigned to the patriarchate of Moscow the right to appoint the metropolitan of Kiev, who would then remain a member of the Synod of the Russian Church.

It was precisely this ecclesiastical aspect of the agreement that was later challenged in 2018, when Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople granted the Tomos of autocephaly to the Church of Kiev, claiming that Moscow's seventeenth-century rights were intended as a "temporary guardianship" that had now lapsed.

The Eternal Peace handed over to Russia the territories of present-day Ukraine and Belarus, and especially the Etmanate (semi-nomadic kingdom) of the Zaporožskaya Seč Cossacks, what is now roughly the Donbass, the land where even then the most violent and decisive clashes had taken place.

It was precisely the Cossacks who had started the uprisings against the Reczpospolita, invoking the protection of the first tsars of the Romanov dynasty, Mikhail and Aleksej, thus beginning the history of Ukraine.

Their territories were in fact defined by the Russians as ukrainy, free and "border" areas, because they lay outside the lands owned by the boyars and the Church, where the peasants were forced into serfdom.

Poland thus recognized Russia's protectorate of Levoberežnaja Ukraina, the area west of the Dnepr, keeping for itself the territories of Galicia and Volynia, the Ukrainian regions that had remained tied to the kingdoms of Western Europe ever since.

Freedom was also recognized to belong to any of the ecclesiastical jurisdictions, both Orthodox (already then quite varied) and Catholic, divided between Latin-rite faithful and Greek Catholics, hostile to each other even more than to the Orthodox themselves.

Russia pledged to cancel its previous agreements with the Ottoman Empire and the Tatars of the Crimean Khanate; indeed, it joined the "Holy League" just inaugurated by Pope Innocent XI with Germans, Poles and Venetians to defeat the Turks, a war between Christians and Muslims that ended in turn with a "final truce" in 1699.

The Russians meanwhile poured in on the Tatars with the Crimean campaigns of 1687-89, failing to conquer the peninsula, which only Empress Catherine II managed to subdue a century later.

The outcome of these alliances was then the Crimean War of 1853, in which the Russian empire succeeded in antagonizing the whole of Europe, only to end ruefully in the revolutionary phase that led to the "eternal opposition" of the Cold War after the world wars in the last century, and Putin's self proclaimed "new world order."

The Russians assure that they are ready at any time to sit down at a negotiating table, to reaffirm the rights of the seventeenth-century Eternal Peace, even if only by settling for the Pravoberežnaja part, the Ukraine east of the Dnepr, already annexed by the referendums of Crimea and the four Donbass regions.

In reality, the Kremlin warns that pressure is feared in Russia from "nationalists," as the more radical and belligerent sectors are called, who would also like the western part with Kiev, on whose throne to install the Cook Prigožin, heir of the Cossack atamans.

Eitherway, according to Moscow's version, if peace talks do not begin, the blame always lies with the Anglosaksy, who do not want to cede their dominance over the American and European empire and the rest of the world.

If it were not for Biden, the Russians argue, Zelenskyj would have already submitted, and Washington will not allow any negotiations, either to the Ukrainians or to the Europeans, at least until the presidential elections in November 2024, when the Russians will be rooting hard for Trump, or anyone who can replace the hated Democrats, who in the very name of their political line-up express all the depravity of the West.

Meanwhile, support for Ukraine, or alternatively initiatives for peace, distinguish the political alignments of the countries concerned, especially in Europe, using the ideological dimensions implied by the terms "Atlanticism," "Europeanism," "pacifism," and "Putinism"; not to really care for what Pope Francis calls the "martyred Ukraine," but to secure votes and support in their own home-grown diatribes.

International bodies are latent, starting with the UN, now a lavish and wasteful 20th-century relic, no more credible than the English or Spanish royal house. In the ecclesiastical field, another institution that has evidently had its day, the Ecumenical Council of Churches (Wcc), is trying to propose itself, which has proposed to Francis that he support a "round table" with representatives of the Ukrainian Churches and the Moscow Patriarchate, at least to resolve the thorny issue of the Kiev Cave Lavra.

The meeting should be held in Geneva, one of the religiously neutral locations as well, where the young Bishop Kirill, the current Patriarch of Moscow, developed "Soviet" ecumenism during the Brezhnev years, and where the operational offices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople are also located.

Patriarch Bartholomew actually does not seem very much in tune with the Wcc members, having made fiery statements against the Russian Church in recent days, and calling on the bodies of interreligious dialogue to unite to marginalize the Moscow Patriarchate, "co-responsible for war crimes" along with the Kremlin, especially the deportation of Ukrainian children.

In fact, Russian Orthodox parishes and monasteries themselves immediately made themselves available to take in and "re-educate" the orphans; but beyond this aspect that led to international condemnation by the Hague tribunal (another body now very little impacted), the question remains: where to start building peace?

The pope offers himself as a mediator, and his personality remains one of the few truly authoritative ones internationally, not only in the ecclesiastical field. The truce will certainly not be decided by clerics, and perhaps not even by generals or politicians: much will depend on economic potentates, and on the accounts between the masters of arms and those of energy sources.

It seems increasingly likely that history will end up repeating itself: it will again be an "eternal truce," in which both sides will hold firmly to their territorial and geopolitical convictions and definitions, as many similar situations in various parts of the world also teach, starting with Israel and Palestine, where war and truce have alternated since the time of Abraham.

When the guns go silent, the real negotiations will begin, not over the kilometers to be shared around the banks of the Dnepr-Dnipro, but over the authentic "traditional spiritual and moral values," which Russia claims as its own, but which in reality are common to all Christians and followers of other religions, in Europe and America, in Russia and China, in the world of human beings at every latitude. And they will indeed be eternal negotiations.



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Wars, world order, synodality: Putin's friends and the 'just multipolarity'
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The de-colonisation of Russia
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