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Ukrainian lives pay the price of blind Western leadership


IF Volodymyr Zelensky didn’t know it before this war began, he must realise now that the West will do nothing to save his country from certain defeat and partial dismemberment by Russia.

Nato’s aim in this conflict is not to save Ukraine but to contain the war within Ukraine’s borders and protect its own implantation in central and eastern Europe – fighting to the last Ukrainian if necessary. Meanwhile, every day of the war costs more lives, more destruction, more refugees in flight and more territory occupied.

Despite sanctions on Russia, nothing that Nato does halts the agony of the multiplying victims of a hopeless cause. The Western commentariat mock the slow advance of the Russian army, the inability of Vladimir Putin’s navy to gain control of the length of the Black Sea coast and the failure of his air force to achieve superiority in Ukraine’s skies.

This reassures Western strategists that Putin’s armed forces are no match for Nato (read: the United States) but the knowledge is relatively meaningless when dealing with the unique threat posed by a nuclear power. In any event, the Russians, whatever their level of competence, are still a match for Ukraine despite its brave resistance.

Supplying Zelensky with anti-tank weapons, however deadly they are against individual tanks, only delays the inevitable because Putin has plenty of tanks to lose.

Is Zelensky going to wait for the fall of Odessa, the port for Ukraine’s crucial wheat exports, before he admits he is effectively on his own and cannot win? If it happens, Ukraine will be landlocked and there is no guarantee Putin will give it back during the eventual peace negotiations that decide the country’s future; better not to lose it in the first place.

The logic of the war at this stage is that Zelensky should seek a ceasefire and talks to save what is left of his people and his country. Joe Biden and other Western leaders should be pushing him hard in that direction.

This is not what we are reading in the media, obsessed with the war porn that feeds the embarrassing anti-Russianism which led to the cancellation of concerts by individuals such as the singer Anna Netrebko and pianist Alexander Malofeev, who are no more responsible for what their government does than we are for our own government’s grandstanding.

The media want to fight on because what could be more exciting than a ringside seat at a David-defying-Goliath contest from the safety of New York, London and Paris? It’s precisely because of the hopeless mismatch that the war needs to be stopped, and a change of tack by Zelensky in the direction of realism can make that happen.

Some even want the West’s stringent sanctions to stay in place until Putin is ousted from the Kremlin. That helps.

The latest fear is that Putin will use tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) – nuclear artillery shells – to hurry things along. UK defence minister Ben Wallace has promised a robust response if he does.

I don’t know whether Putin would use TNWs or not but bluster from Wallace will not be a factor in his decision because the Kremlin has known from the start that Nato is not going to intervene militarily. It will not because it cannot, owing to the huge risk of an escalation out of control.

Wallace and Boris Johnson are covering themselves in unearned glory with their meaningless belligerence about a conflict in which we have no national interest and over which they have no control. If they really wanted to help, they would stop egging Zelensky on and urge him to negotiate to save as many lives and as much of independent Ukraine as possible.

Zelensky has adroitly won the propaganda war, directly addressing the US congress, British MPs and the French national assembly in broadcasts from his desk in Kiev, each tailored to appeal to national sensibilities. But propaganda is no more than smoke and mirrors, obscuring the reality on the ground.

Zelensky cannot win, never could win and daily loses more territory which Putin will use as leverage when the war is over. Ukraine is certain to lose more now than it would have if it had disavowed any intention to join Nato.

By invading Ukraine, Putin trampled on the sovereignty of an independent country, flouted international law and exposed himself as a ruthless bully careless of the lives of both innocent Ukrainians and his own conscript army. In the eyes of the West he is a war criminal who should be tried by the International Criminal Court.

But it is impossible to absolve the West from its share of guilt. Inviting Ukraine to join Nato as part of its eastward expansion was considered an existential threat to Russia. Putin has warned for 15 years that it would not be tolerated indefinitely. His army spent three months on the Ukrainian border before the invasion to alert the West that his patience had run out.

Withdrawing the invitation would have kept the peace and will be on the table, along with Nato’s place in the region, when peace talks happen.

The fact is that Putin does not believe Nato to be the defensive alliance its charter claims it to be but is really an instrument through which the US contains Russia as it did the Soviet Union. Ukrainians are paying a terrible price for the failures of blind Western leadership.

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Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes is a retired Anglo-Scottish journalist now living in France who during a 40-year career worked in eastern Europe before and after communism.

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