Humanitarian aid in Ukraine

Haitham Nouri , Tuesday 29 Mar 2022

The Russia-Ukraine negotiations are now more focused on providing humanitarian aid than on finding a political resolution.

Humanitarian aid  in Ukraine
A refugee woman holds a baby in a bus waiting for Ukrainian police to check papers and belongings in Brovary, Ukraine (photos: AP)

Talks between Russia and Ukraine on Monday resulted in no tangible progress. Officials on both sides said there had been a relative breakthrough regarding some points of contention, but the end result does not appear to provide an applicable solution at present, especially since the talks seem to have been sidetracked into providing humanitarian for the people trapped in conflict areas.

Meanwhile, the Russian military continues to advance into Ukraine. The Russian forces sealed their grip on the Sea of Azov’s major port of Mariupol, with only a few hundred Ukrainian fighters remaining in the port. Moscow gave them an ultimatum to hand over their weapons to spare their lives, an offer Kyiv has so far rejected.

Russia has also advanced on Kyiv, taking control of some of its suburbs and one of its airports. According to a Western news agency’s reports, what is more, Lviv, Ukraine’s cultural capital, is closer than ever to the fighting. But according to Ahmed Al-Khamisi, a professor of literature and Russian studies speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, negotiations are the only way forward.

“There are no prospects for the war to expand. Any step in this direction would mean an all-out war between Russia and the US, and this is not realistic,” Al-Khamisi, who worked as a correspondent for a large number of Arab newspapers, radio stations and TV channels in Moscow from the late 1970s until early 2000s, said. “The US is prepared for the Russia war until the last Ukrainian soldier – not the first US soldier.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly criticised NATO and the European Union for not helping his army out in the war against Moscow.

“But it is unlikely Russia will back down,” Al-Khamisi says. “The majority of Russians are united behind President Vladimir Putin. They regard the current events as their third war.” Al-Khamisi is referring to the Russians defeating Napoleon in 1812 and then Hitler in World War II. “The war is driven by NATO’s repeated attempts to lay siege to Russia, as happened in Chechnya, Georgia and now Ukraine.”

Since the Napoleonic wars, when it joined the UK, Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian empire in the royal alliance against France, Russia has been an essential component of European security. The Tsarist empire was a major player in World War I and decisive factor in the Nazis’ defeat. That is not to mention Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and minerals. “There is no Europe without Russia.”

European capitals like Berlin and Paris are far less keen on a war with Moscow due to deeply rooted and intertwining relations. Russia supplies Europe with 35-40 per cent of its natural gas  needs, and together with Ukraine it provides a third of the wheat, 60 per cent of the sunflower oil and more than 25 per cent of the corn used by the world at large. According to economic reports, Chinese imports of Russian gas and oil have hiked, and dozens of African and Middle Eastern countries rely heavily on energy, food, and weapons from Moscow.

“The only way to end the war is by reaching a political agreement that answers the Russian demands, whether it is signed by the current president of Ukraine or following a change of government,” Al-Khamisi says. The way the war is headed confirms Russia’s desire to change the government in Kyiv. Moscow was able from the outset to enter the Ukrainian capital, but it has been pressuring the army in Ukraine to move to change the political leadership.

Ashraf Al-Sabbagh, a Moscow-based writer and political analyst, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “this war is one of many stages meant to ensure Moscow’s security by creating a wide range of buffer states between Moscow and the West.”

Europe was divided twice since World War II, once between NATO and Warsaw, another time after the fall of the Soviet Union. Now Moscow wants “what it thinks it deserves” of the continent. “Moscow wants to control its immediate neighbours, or what were once the USSR states, such as Belarus, Ukraine, as well as the Caucasus, such as Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia.”

Russia is putting pressure on countries such as Finland and Sweden to prevent them from joining NATO. In addition, its influence in the Islamic countries of Central Asia is undisputed. This was evident with the recent breakout of protests in Kazakhstan, when Moscow sent forces to help the authorities in Nur-Sultan to suppress demonstrations.

“Russia started the war, but it is not certain it can end it,” Al-Sabbagh said, referring to the Moscow-Kyiv negotiations.

The first round of negotiations took place on Ukraine’s border with Belarus on 28 February, four days after the start of the war, with demands set at their highest. In the second round of talks on 3 March in Brest, Belarus, on its border with Poland, negotiations took a more realistic path. The stronger party, Russia, stated five demands – that Ukraine form a “de-Nazified” government, cease military action, change its constitution to enshrine neutrality, acknowledge Crimea as Russian territory, and recognise the republics of Donetsk and Lugansk as independent states – while Ukraine insisted on full Russian withdrawal, providing solid security guarantees that Russia will not attack again, European protection, and joining the EU.

During the third round of talks on 7 March, the Russian delegation said the forces are ready for immediate withdrawal should Kyiv answer Moscow’s five demands.  Kyiv declined. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba met in Antalya, Turkey, on 17 March. The demands focused on opening humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians and the wounded in fighting zones. Until the present moment, a few humanitarian aid paths were created in some Ukrainian cities that were seized by Russia.

“If the West continues to punish Russia, Moscow could invade all of Ukraine and start negotiations on the basis of the status quo,” said Al-Sabbagh. “Imposing sanctions on Russia, nonetheless, will harm all the countries of the world that depend on Moscow’s wheat, weapons, and energy sources.” How can developing countries, which number more than 100, meet their needs of wheat, oil, weapons, and fuel without Russia, and more importantly, how can they pay for the commodities they imported now that Russian banks have been taken off the SWIFT system? “Russia is waging this war armed with the world’s need for it,” said Al-Khamisi, “and this, more than the Russian forces’ victory on the ground, is what will end the war.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

Search Keywords:
Short link: