The bloodletting in Ukraine is remorseless, continuing for the second year running. We are on the threshold of a new escalation in the military confrontation fraught with further countless losses of life. I am convinced that the majority of people in Russia and in Ukraine, and also in the world as a whole, want this conflict to end. Photo: Oleg Petrasyuk // EPA
Absurd as it may sound, however, calls for a ceasefire, let alone peace — in other words, to put a stop to this senseless loss of life — are unpopular today. In Russia against the backdrop of the special military operation, any promotion of peace is de facto illegal. At the same time, opposition-leaning analysts commenting from the comfort of their sofas (primarily from outside Russia) portray any position advocating an end to the bloody confrontation as “pro-Kremlin agitprop”. Meanwhile high-ranking politicians in the West declare in public that any ceasefire in Ukraine is inadmissible. At the same time, when discussing at all levels political, geopolitical and military tactical issues, nobody (except perhaps for Pope Francis1 Pope says Vatican involved in secret Ukraine peace mission // Reuters. 1 May 2023. Access (checked on 7 May 2023).) even mentions the price of the hostilities that is already being paid at present and, moreover, the price to be paid any day now — new aggressive clashes which will inevitably lead to widespread casualties. In view of the above approach of politicians and prevailing public opinion, further developments will engender the loss of countless thousands of lives.
Photo: Oleg Petrasyuk // EPA
ARE YOU PREPARED FOR MORE VICTIMS?
How can it be that the issue of saving human lives, bringing an end to the bloodshed and preventing daily “prearranged” deaths, is not becoming a material factor either in politics or in public discourse of the biggest war in Europe since World War II?
The military actions have already lasted 15 months and the readiness to sacrifice life is being transformed into a marathon of blood. However, even the most veracious display of the horrors of war in this political paradigm is “working”, not in the sense of inducing people to advocate the need for a ceasefire, but instead in the context of encouraging a resoluteness to continue fighting, regardless of the new victims.
However, the overriding issue is clear to everyone:
- people have been dying every day;
- nobody is forecasting a resolution of the conflict on the battlefield; on the contrary, people are already saying that the conflict could last for years and even decades2 Zelensky to Yle: War in Ukraine cannot end like WWII did for Finland // Yle.fi. 28 April 2023. Access (last checked on 4 May 2023).;
- a serious escalation is anticipated soon — both in terms of the intensity of the military actions, and from the perspective of the weapons being deployed.
One either has to take this on board or deliberately turn a blind eye. However, you cannot claim to be unaware. Nevertheless, today a preference to feign not to notice the countless casualties is taking hold, which literally shoehorns any substantive conversation on the matter to a dead end where there are no alternatives: if you don’t support “victory to the bitter end on the battle field”, effectively you are supporting the “other” side in the conflict.
So it transpires that the politicians adopting decisions and commentators on developments from a safe distance do not perceive a level of losses where they become unacceptable? This is what is being stated explicitly on TV channels: no, there is no limit! If that is the case, then what will happen?
Russian military academies are fond of frequently citing the Prussian military theorist of the first half of the 19th century, General Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz, who asserted that war was the continuation of politics with other means3 Von Clausewitz C. On War // Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1989. page 87..
That is why the examples, analogies and behavioural models discussed these days in social networks frequently originate from there as well. Such a paradigm does not stipulate any other outcome than military victory or capitulation. At the same time, everyone is fully cognisant that neither is possible in today’s realities. That is the very reason why in the West you can hear people saying, for the time being very cautiously, as if in passing, but more and more often, that negotiations will all the same take place. Then they immediately qualify such statements, adding that they don’t mean right now, but instead later at some point — for example, in the autumn — and that in the meantime the military actions should continue in order to ensure the “best negotiating positions”. As in the past they do not raise the issue of the price to be paid for such a hypothetical “improvement”: the number of human lives that will be lost to achieve this goal.
NEW REALITIES, OLD TEMPLATES
The developments in Ukraine and all concomitant events may attest to the onset of a qualitatively new era. If one takes into account the number of states involved in some way or other in the confrontation, then the military actions in Ukraine could be considered the first conflict of global proportions in the nuclear era. The new realities demand fundamentally different approaches and decisions, but politics continue to be conducted globally based on approaches redolent of the past.
For example, prioritising honour and human dignity is understood first and foremost, as in the 19th century, not to mean the attainment of a fundamentally new future for our children and grandchildren, the preservation and development of national culture and the appearance in the mid 21st century of a new modern European state, but instead the sacrifice of an unlimited number of lives for the sake of the immediate liberation/conquering/retention of various territories.
Moreover, the problem is far more profound and serious than simply the short-term attitudes of specific high-ranking individuals. The rejection of a ceasefire and accordingly the adoption of a decision not to save lives is no accident. This is proof positive of the material deformation of political thinking, which was the direct result of the processes of political entropy4 G. Yavlinsky. Political Entropy // Medium Publishing House, Moscow. 2021. Access (last checked on 7 May 2023). which evolved over decades and gathered momentum together with the development of digital technologies. Military actions accompanied by endless losses of life, even with any “victories on the battle field”, will not resolve any political problems in the modern world.
The West’s political consolidation around Ukraine merely serves to create the illusion of change. In actual fact, globally democracy continues to cede ground to authoritarianism. The brutal military dictatorship in Myanmar, the central focus of international mass media only a year ago, simply disappeared from news headlines, but the situation in this South-Asian country has hardly improved. Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime holds sway in Belarus, Ukraine’s neighbour. China is taking a stronger and stronger grip of Hong Kong and continues its repression of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Let us not forget other black holes on the map of the desired democratic world order where the United States and its allies have foundered in their attempts to counter military dictatorships, authoritarian regimes or rebel groups, frequently merely exacerbating the situation in the regions. Everyone can see that these developments are indicative of the failure of Western politicians to comprehend history and the new age that we are living in. Is it really unclear what happened to the USA in Iraq and Afghanistan?5 G. Yavlinsky. Fiasco // Official website of Grigory Yavlinsky. 11 September 2021. Access (last checked on 7 May 2023). If we consider America’s continuing leading role in the global economy and politics and understand the illusory nature of the multipolar world order, then we are witnessing geopolitical gridlock.
If we consider the situation from a global development perspective, moreover in the context of several decades, it becomes clear that the premise of “victory on the battle field”, the outright rejection of the idea of putting a stop to the military actions and the absurdist reduction of the question “What should be done?” to “Should we supply Leopard or Abrams tanks?” attests not only to the situational consolidation of the Western world around Ukraine, but also to the inability of politicians to contemplate the long term, to engage in diplomacy, to assume liability and adopt decisions based on fundamental overriding values.
These days it is impossible to utter the phrase “Let’s just stop” publicly without the risk of being treated as an outcast. Politicians cannot say this to their electorates, journalists to their readers, people in the public eye to each other. And all because in the current populist environment of modern politics they will be bombarded by charges of betrayal, weakness and vested interests.
Let me repeat here: the issue is not so much about the atomisation of the political class, as a change to the substance of politics per se. In modern politics, issues of leadership and civil responsibility no longer play a decisive role: that is accorded instead to algorithms and technologies guaranteeing not so much the acquisition or retention even of power, but rather one’s office.
THE CHOICE THAT REJECTS WAR
Supplanting diplomacy and politics with purely military decisions on the “battlefield” will have far-reaching consequences. The rise in militarism will trigger even more nationalism. The European Union as a concept will be put at risk. All the problems which have been tearing apart and weakening the European Union persist, while the military conflict on the territory of one of the biggest European states will only exacerbate them all in the long term.
The European idea was from the outset based on integrationist expansion, devoid of imperialist ambitions. It is specifically this approach in the global dimension that is capable of countering a contrived multipolar world order and split of the world agreed by the superpowers at the time in the “post-Yalta” world. These are not aspirations for a global empire: this is a value-based alternative to empire.
However, there is also another diametrically opposing vision of Europe — a quasi-state cordoned off on the east by a wall or iron curtain from the dangerous “Tartary”6Tartary was a blanket term used in Western European literature and cartography for a vast part of Asia bounded by the Caspian Sea, the Ural Mountains, the Pacific Ocean, and the northern borders of China, India and Persia, at a time when this region was largely unknown to European geographers. The active use of the toponym (place name) can be traced from the 13th to the 19th centuries. In European sources, Tartary became the most common name for Central Asia that had no connection with the real polities or ethnic groups of the region; until the 19th century, European knowledge of the area remained extremely scarce and fragmentary. In modern English-speaking tradition, the region formerly known as Tartary is usually called Inner or Central Eurasia. // Wikipedia. Access (last checked on 7 May 2023), and in actual fact on the defensive from the entire world from all angles, safeguarding itself with the help of NATO, in other words, to all intents and purposes, the United States.
It is only by applying a value-based approach that war can be prevented in Europe, as demonstrated by the history of the 20th century. And irrespective of how events develop today, the prospects for peace in European countries are contingent on a new European architecture — political, economic and military.
There is no real global alternative to the values of European civilisation. The crisis is not due to the need to replace European values with some other values. On the contrary, the values proclaimed in idealistic slogans should be transferred into an integral and fundamental component of real life and politics.
MAN AND THE STATE
How can we ensure that the politics of war, the doctrine of “limited sovereignty” and a multipolar world order are countered by a true value-based alternative? There is an answer: focus the policy of the 21st century on man and his development.
True qualitative and significant progress in our time is only achieved through the preservation of man, his life, creative freedom and equal opportunities. Everything else is resolved by technologies.
Modern politics should be built around human development based on equal opportunities. When the current conflict comes to an end today end and we have to create a new Russia, we will have to build the country in such a way that man is the focal point of the construction, that the goal is to ensure equal opportunities for everyone, guarantee the inviolability of private property and separate it from power, create a real burgeoning middle class, reject the resource curse, break up monopolies and root out once and for all state racketeering and blackmailing of business. Otherwise people will continue complaining, stealing and fighting in Russia.
The point is that the 21st century is expected to become the century of soul-searching and good will, human values, and not only technologies. Mankind has been progressing towards this goal for more than one millennium. However, it transpires that we are still travelling along this path. The exclusion of mankind from the definition of current and future objectives renders self-sacrifice, patience and great deeds pointless. As we can see, even the most astute and apparently wisest concepts implemented with no input or concern for the individual, are aimed in the final analysis at manipulation and destruction, and not at creation.
This approach must counter firmly and uncompromisingly any view of mankind as an object to be manipulated by propaganda against the backdrop of mounting terror, or as a resource for the attainment of goals which have nothing in common with human development and life. The sacrifice of people in the service of political and geopolitical ambitions represents the complete opposite.
Until a state system has been created in Russia focused on man and his development, a system which enables a truly independent, strong and responsible civil society to exist in the country – all talk about patriotism and general national ideas will remain a screen for autocrats and their lackeys pilfering national wealth and ready to do anything for its sake.
P. S. One more comment on the most important issue today. Right now there are only bad and even worse development scenarios — there are no good options. That is why we need an immediate ceasefire. Even if one discusses imminent events from a military and technical point of view, in the opinion of many experts, the situation is such that nothing will change radically on the frontline in a month or in half a year. This means that people will die in large numbers, but everything will to all intents and purposes remain the same. And even though this is blindingly obvious, nobody actually wants to talk about it. The people advocating in this situation for a continuation of the military actions will be responsible for the vast number of victims from every new day of the bloodletting.