It is next to impossible to predict what the situation in Ukraine will look like in terms of military operations by the time this article appears on 3 March.
As I write it on 27 February, fighting is raging in Ukraine between Ukrainian and
Russian forces in a war that broke out as a “special military operation,” according to the order given by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Russian army, or as an “invasion,” as the West led by the US and Ukraine have called the advance of the Russian forces into Ukrainian territory.
This afternoon, Russian television showed a meeting between Putin and the Russian top brass in which he ordered them to ready the nuclear deterrence capacities of Russia for possible combat, an order that some saw as an implied threat of crossing the nuclear threshold in the current conflict in Ukraine.
The meeting came in the wake of the escalation by the different parties in this unnecessary war, one that could have been avoided if the world has paid attention to the messages emanating from Moscow about its security concerns.
I am not implying that the lack of an unequivocal response from the US and NATO members to these concerns justifies the use of force. The point I want to make is that security is indivisible and that excluding Russia from the architecture of European security is a non-starter for the simple historical reason that Russia is a European power.
In the first two weeks of February, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Moscow and met with Putin. They stressed that Russian security is part of the security of Europe.
In the last 24 hours the US and European countries, whether members of NATO or not, have increased dramatically their military assistance to Ukraine, while widening their sanctions regimes targeting Russia.
Among the sanctions decreed on 26-27 February have been closing their airspace to Russian planes and banning certain Russian banks from the SWIFT international payments system. Other sanctions included freezing the personal assets of Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov abroad.
As far as military assistance to Ukraine is concerned, the US decided on additional assistance yesterday that brought the total to almost $1 billion in a year. According to official US military sources, the weapons sent to Ukraine are “lethal”.
In the meantime, Russian forces have been laying siege to two Ukrainian cities in the south of the country, Kherson and Berdyansk, and heading towards the capital Kyiv.
It has been said that it is easy to start wars but difficult to end them. Undoubtedly, this applies to the Ukrainian war that broke out on 24 February. Following developments in the conflict, we must try to look for the best possible outcome. Otherwise, this could become a war without end and where it would be difficult, if not impossible, to determine a winner.
I am afraid that the Ukrainian conflict could become a proxy war between Russia and the US. The spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry has said that relations between her country and the West are nearing the point of no return. That’s a very significant position.
If this is the case, how will NATO and the EU deal with elaborating a new security architecture for Europe, including Russia? It may seem ironical to say that this new security setup would include Ukraine short of NATO membership.
Some governments in the West believe that every country is free in the context of its sovereignty and independence to choose the alliances that seem capable of protecting it from its adversaries.
No one would dispute this. However, in some instances mutual security is paramount in order to keep the peace. Probably this is the case with Russia and Ukraine.
If negotiations between the two countries reach an understanding and seal an agreement on the neutrality of Ukraine, this will not impinge in any way on Ukraine’s sovereignty or independence, and such a step would go a long way towards maintaining security and peace in Europe.
In the meantime, the war in the Ukraine must stop. Let the guns fall silent and diplomacy take over.
The best possible outcome is the end of the war without winners or losers. One thing is certain, though, regardless of how the most dangerous challenge to international peace and security since World War II would come to an end, and that is, the world we have known won’t be the same after military operations cease for good in Ukraine.
Some people say that they miss the Merkel diplomacy. I think they are right. I would claim that if the former German chancellor were still in power, she would have made a great difference in disuading President Putin from ordering his “special military operations” in Ukraine.
* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.