This article was originally submitted on the 30th March 2022
President Joe Biden, on a recent visit to Warsaw, shared his thoughts on the war in Ukraine: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” This statement followed his calling Vladimir Putin a “butcher.” The invasion of Ukraine was unacceptable, brutal, and heartbreaking. But this sort of response sends shivers down my spine because of its implications. Comments like these are nothing new towards authoritarian regimes of the past. On the contrary, I would imagine that it sends a wave of euphoria through the heart of the military-industrial complex.
The United States does not exactly have a sparkling record when it comes to regime change. Just look at the CIA-backed coup d’êtat against Salvador Allende in Chile, the attempted assassiation attempts of Fidel Castro, as well as other shady foreign dealings. The goal here should not be to extend this war, but to resolve it as peacefully as possible. Not to call for the enforcement of no-fly zones, but to initiate peace talks.
As General William Tecumseh Sherman said in 1879, “War is hell.” That is to say, it should be avoided at all costs. I think author Aldous Huxley would have shared a similar sentiment. In 1946, he wrote:
“The unimaginable horrors of the Thirty Years War actually taught men a lesson, […] the politicians and generals of Europe consciously resisted the temptation to use their military resources to the limits of destructiveness […] They were aggressors, of course, greedy for profit and glory; but they were also conservatives, determined at all costs to keep their world intact, […]”
This is not meant, in any way, to trivialise the suffering of the Ukranians. Nor am I saying that no action can be taken to alleviate the turmoil felt by the victims of this war. Putin is the aggressor in this scenario and his actions were disproportionate to his growing uneasiness regarding the tense situation in Ukraine.
Returning to the topic of regime change, this reminds me of a joke concerning a time traveller wondering what age he has stumbled into. He asks a passerby who the leader of Russia is. Upon hearing “Putin”, he realises that he has gained no more knowledge than what he had to begin with. Putin has been in power for over twenty years and, over those twenty years he has consistently been edging closer and closer to a point of no return with Ukraine. Assassination or removing him from office in some way would not work. This would likely spread political turmoil throughout the country, and would likely cause excessive strife for the Russian citizenry. Besides, he would probably be replaced by one of the numerous Russian politicians that activists such as Alexei Navalny have been campaigning against for years. Russia simply can’t retreat now without a deep sense of humiliation (not something Putin is too keen on based on his infamous photoshoots).
Peace talks are the only way to end this without excessive loss of life on either side. That means compromise. And that means both sides will need to make concessions. These concessions would most likely entail a promise of Russia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, and a deal stating that Ukraine will not join NATO, the organisation which – rightfully or not – led Russia to grow overly defensive. Western over-reliance on Russian oil and gas also played a role, giving Putin plenty of leeway to act on his growing fears of NATO’s encroachment in Ukraine. The West’s reluctance to shift towards energy independence, as well as towards greener and more renewable energy sources, gave Putin a power he otherwise wouldn’t have.
This conflict was caused by Russian aggression, exacerbated by NATO, and given breathing space by oil. But it’s too late for a reversal of these actions to actualise a lasting peace immediately. We must strongly advocate for the implementation of the sensibilities of Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy to rationally pursue the path of least destruction which paves the way for a more prosperous Ukraine and Russia.
Image courtesy of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine on Flickr