Hopes for peace in Ukraine have been shattered mercilessly. Sadly the world watches with bated breath as a country of 45 million is slowly and systematically reduced to rubble. Nobody wants another war and yet this one is unfolding in front of our eyes and we cannot wish it away. What we might have taken for granted barely a few weeks ago has dissipated in clouds of belching smoke. Some of that smoke dangerously close to a nuclear power station reputedly six times larger than Chernobyl. Our sense of peace and security has been roughly shaken and no one really knows what the outcome of this military occupation of Ukraine by its powerful neighbour will be.
What we do know and can see is a humanitarian crisis unfolding as thousands of ordinary folk are ousted from their homes by shelling and missile attacks. They are now refugees struggling to find new homes elsewhere. Outside the country in which they were born and at the mercy of humanitarian aid, potentially millions of displaced Ukrainians will face poverty hunger and cold as well as the great sadness of being made homeless by a ruthless war which was not of their making.
Did NATO military strategists factor in these dire consequences when they were helping Ukraine, taking into account the country’s aspirations of joining the Alliance and how that might affect future relations with their Soviet neighbour? I doubt that anyone foresaw Putin mounting an invasion of Ukraine. As the world wide sanctions start to bite, the ordinary people of Russia who have had no say and carry no blame for the invasion of their neighbour, will suffer needlessly but much less than the Ukrainians who have been invaded, and it remains to be seen whether the plight of the lower Russian classes will move the Kremlin elite anywhere near a negotiated settlement for a peaceful future in the region. The war seems to have stalled as peace talks continue but no one really knows when and how a settlement might end the conflict.
There is a maxim which says ‘the first victim of war is truth’ and there is little chance of discovering what that might be in the midst of the propaganda and political grandstanding emanating from all sides East and West. No war before this one has ever been conducted ‘online’ with the instant communication now available at our fingertips and the probability of countless keyboard warriors waging their own misinformation wars is quite high. Where will this lead when we already know that in war nobody wins? Throwing questions up in the air throws up more questions and the as news changes by the hour so does our perception of it too. As I revise this text (I write on 18th March) I have a feeling that only a negotiated settlement between Russia and Ukraine will bring lasting peace. Continued fighting will only bring more death and destruction to a beautiful country and I am sure that no one wants that.
Looking back at history now might help us understand the past but it doesn’t prepare us for the present or the future because since the dawn of man we have been fighting each other for dominance. In the natural world this territorial streak in animals somehow manages to keep the animal kingdom in balance because no species is strategising to wipe out all opposition and control all the food supplies. When man learned to trade he unlocked the door to greed and as ‘progress’ dictates that as we must move forward, the speed at which we move is relative to how our trading partners are dependent on what we have to sell and how much of it they can afford.
It’s a precarious balance at best and historically conflicts play out in a way out that invariably sees the poor working for the rich and the rich getting richer until there is a revolution and the balance of power changes. As the people start a new journey which always promises freedom and progress at first, there follows a period relative peace and prosperity, however that too will be tainted by greed and the hunger for power. The circle of life is not a happy one and as stewards of this planet we have not yet learnt how to look after it in a cohesive and structured way that might benefit all of us and not just some of the privileged nations.
This is where we are today and we don’t like it but we have to steady ourselves and bear it. The question is what is Russia’s end game in this war and can the West help to find a way to broker a peace agreement that will stabilise the region? Will sanctions alone stop this conflict – as the Russian invaders will have also factored sanctions into their plan? Sanctions and counter sanctions will bite back and unsettle progress at a time when we might have just started to understand ourselves a little bit better. Global cooperation has been possible recently as seen in the last three years through the efforts to fight and overcome the Covid pandemic. Let us hope that the same spirit of cooperation still pervades and brings with it a renewed chance for world peace which we sorely need in order to survive in a free world.