Pawtucket Times

It’s time to use diplomacy and end the war in Ukraine

- Katrina vanden Heuvel

It might be time to give diplomacy a chance in the Ukraine war.

“When there’s an opportunit­y to negotiate, when peace can be achieved, seize the moment.” The author of that statement wasn’t a peace activist or a squishy liberal. It was Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has reportedly been pushing the Biden administra­tion to press Ukraine to seek a diplomatic end to the war.

According to news reports, Milley’s view faces opposition in the White House. When Russian troops recently retreated from Kherson, national security adviser Jake Sullivan called it a “big moment” for Ukraine and reiterated that the administra­tion would not push for a diplomatic end to the war. “If Ukraine chose to stop fighting and give up, it would be the end of Ukraine,” he said, bizarrely equating diplomacy with surrender.

But in fact, exercising diplomacy is just common sense – and there are signs that the White House might be slowly coming around to the possibilit­y.

Russia has in effect already lost the war. President Vladimir Putin’s dreams of annexing Ukraine are shattered. His military weakness has been exposed, his economy damaged, his country isolated, his support weakened. His troops have suffered horrendous casualties; their morale is broken, their ammunition short.

Ukraine’s advances on the battlefiel­d have likewise come at a horrible cost. Milley estimates that each side has suffered at least 100,000 casualties. Totally dependent on aid from the West, Ukraine’s forces are also short on soldiers, guns, air support and artillery. Millions of Ukrainians have been displaced. Russia has savaged Ukraine’s electrical grid. Liberated Kherson, like much of the country, faces a “humanitari­an catastroph­e.” And as Putin mobilizes more troops, there is little chance that Russia can be dislodged from much of the Russian-speaking east, much less from Crimea.

Meanwhile, though the United States and NATO have rallied to Ukraine’s side, continued support is not unlimited. Sanctions imposed against Russia have contribute­d to what looks to be a cruel recession in Europe. Angry demonstrat­ions across the continent over the rising cost of living reveal growing popular opposition. Here at home, President Biden has enjoyed bipartisan support, but wannabe speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) provided the classic shot across the bow when he warned that there would be no “blank check” for Ukraine if Republican­s take the House.

When members of the Congressio­nal Progressiv­e Caucus released a letter in late October urging diplomacy, the fierce blowback panicked members into withdrawin­g it overnight. In fact, however, Milley and the caucus had it right – as the administra­tion’s stealth maneuverin­g reveals.

Despite public disavowals, the White House has tentativel­y been opening the door to negotiatio­ns. As journalist Aaron Maté has carefully detailed, the administra­tion has orchestrat­ed a number of leaks: that discussion­s with the Russians about the use of nuclear weapons had “lowered the temperatur­e,” that the White House was encouragin­g Ukrainian leaders to “signal an openness” to negotiatio­ns, that Sullivan had engaged in confidenti­al discussion with Putin’s aides about Ukraine, and that he had been “testing the waters” while in Kyiv on “how the conflict can end and whether it could have a diplomatic solution.”

The administra­tion is tiptoeing on a tightrope, as it doesn’t want to undermine Ukrainian resistance, allied unity or domestic support. Yet the West’s interests clearly differ from the Ukrainians’. On the battlefiel­d, NATO unity was forged around limits: not putting troops on the ground and exercising caution as to which arms go to Ukraine. Interests similarly diverge on negotiatio­ns. Given the horrendous damage done to his country, Zelensky will find compromise with the Russians repugnant, and ceding territory – even returning to the status quo ante – difficult to swallow. His best chance would be to drag the United States and NATO into the war as active combatants, but neither wants to go there.

The bellicose will seek to squelch the calls for peace or negotiatio­n. But the stakes are too high for us to sit idly by as the catastroph­e spreads and the costs – and the risks – keep growing.


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