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And Still, Ukraine

Photograph Source: Daniel Capilla – CC BY-SA 4.0

Israel’s seven-week campaign of retribution for the October 7 massacre has killed untold thousands of Palestinian women and children in Gaza. It has also diverted world attention from Ukraine, where the 22-month trench war drags on into stalemate with no end in sight. The common denominator between the two wars is President Joe Biden, who stokes both conflicts with taxpayer-funded offensive weapons.

Now that Israel’s war presents a competing claim for U.S. military support, will America be able to sustain arms shipments to Ukraine for the promised “as long as it takes?” How can Biden satisfy both Zelensky and Netanyahu when both conflicts could last many more months, if not years? The rising number of casualties in both conflicts calls out for ceasefire, in both Israel and Ukraine. .

When Putin sent his tanks toward Kiev in February 2022, Ukraine faced an existential threat. U.S./NATO arms aid for Ukraine supported justifiable self-defense to prevent a Russian government take-over. That defense succeeded.

When Russia shifted the battleground to Ukraine’s southern and eastern border regions, the conflict changed from a war of national survival to an ongoing battle for long-disputed territory. In the contested regions, languages and national allegiances are mixed. This “second war” has brought the number of Ukrainian war dead to over 70,000 (as of August 31). A recent New York Times article cited increasing Ukrainian losses. Is it morally just for the U.S. to keep fighting a proxy war with Putin’s Russia when it’s the Ukrainian soldiers who are dying?

Only President Zelensky will decide when to accept mediation of a ceasefire, a first step toward the negotiation of a long-term peace agreement. To date however, he seems unwilling to modify his top war goals of expelling Russian troops from disputed territory and recovering Crimea. An end to the flow of weapons and ammunition might prompt the Ukraine leader to accept that a David and Goliath battle is unwinnable over time.

Zelensky is unlikely (and may be politically unable) to stop the fighting as long as the U.S. and others continue to supply him with the guns and bullets his troops desperately need. Continuing reliance on long-range artillery and the rapid depletion of missile stock, have forced him to fundraise Western leaders repeatedly for more (and more sophisticated) weaponry. How long will Ukraine’s friends keep supplying arms?

An international peace coalition (300 people from 32 countries) met in Vienna last June. It called for a ceasefire, negotiations, and days of international actions. As the global peace movement gains support it will be harder for Western leaders to maintain the public support necessary for the funding of Ukraine weapons.

It’s time to question the conventional wisdom of our weapons supply policy. Democracy may be under threat in Ukraine, but not more so than in today’s America and other places (including Israel). So far, the only winner in the Ukraine war is the military-industrial complex, now reaping billions from defense contracts.

CIA Director William Burns and other experts on Russia have warned that Putin may resort to the deployment of nuclear missiles should he begin to feel threatened, especially in Crimea. Recalling Germany’s treaty humiliation in 1919, it seems unwise to demonize a whole nation for the evil acts of its leader.

With both Russia and Ukraine running short of weapons, Biden could already claim some success in degrading the Russian military. Now could be an opportune time for him to launch a global diplomatic effort to end the war. Russia has reportedly signaled an interest in a mediated ceasefire as a prelude to long-term peace talks. Turkey and the U.N. managed to negotiate grain deals with Russia during the war. Now China and other BRIC countries have the leverage to pressure Russia to remove its troops from at least some of the areas it holds.

As a major investor in the Ukraine war, the U.S. should encourage Zelensky to relent from his maximalist war goals. Neither Ukraine nor Russia has much to gain from territorial victories since most of the lands in conflict will be uninhabitable for generations due to the omnipresence of land mines and cluster bombs.

America should stop funding Ukraine’s war. Rather, it should help its suffering people with more humanitarian and economic assistance. It should call for international mediation to achieve a ceasefire and peace talks. For only diplomacy, not more war, will bring peace to Ukraine. The same could be true for Israel in its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.