Terina Hine: Calls for peace are growing, while the leaders insist on continuing this disastrous war

President Joe Biden and President Volodymyr Zelensky in the Oval Office of the White House

War propaganda went into overdrive this week. The war will soon be one-year old, and its bloody anniversary has been marked with duelling speeches by Presidents Biden and Putin.

Neither leader helped bring the war closer to a conclusion. There was no talk of peace, instead their narratives were in sharp contrast about who was to blame for the war. The only point of agreement: there is no end in sight.

In advance of his address at Warsaw’s Royal Castle, Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv. With air-raid sirens wailing in the background, the well-choreographed visit to the Ukrainian capital was Act One of the US’s show of support for the war.

In Act Two, Biden spoke to a crowd of 30,000 in Poland, where he pledged the United States’ ‘unwavering and unflagging commitment’ to Ukraine. His message: the US is in it for the long haul, the Nato alliance is united, and the role of the United States is to defend freedom and democracy. This war is ‘a war of democracy against autocracy,’ he said, repeating the same old pronouncements made whenever the US engages in foreign wars.

Faced with low poll ratings and about to start a re-election campaign, Biden is keen to perform on the global stage. The cheering crowds in Poland will have done him no harm in his bid to prove America is back as a global force to reckon with, and with Biden as the freedom fighter in chief.

Once again, America claims to be supporting freedom and democracy against the evils of the tyrant-dictator. This time the tyrant is Putin. Twenty years ago, it was Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Before that, the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, this time the tyrant is armed with nuclear weapons. A fact made clear by Moscow but seemingly ignored in both Washington and London.

Only a few hours earlier, and a short 700 miles away, President Putin gave his address to the nation. He also alluded to the long-term nature of the war. Spending much of his 100-minute speech preparing the Russian population by announcing changes to the education system, support for veterans and service personnel, and moves to counter the impact of sanctions. Clearly, he has no plans to retreat.

The most significant moment came at the end of the speech, when Putin announced that Russia would no longer participate in the nuclear treaty New Start, the last remaining nuclear treaty between Moscow and Washington. An indication, if one were needed, that nuclear deployment could become part of the equation.

Western politicians and the media have been quick to downplay the shredding of the New Start treaty, as if convinced by Boris Johnson’s remarks that Putin would never resort to using his nuclear arsenal. The loss of this treaty, which limited the number of nuclear warheads the world’s two biggest nuclear powers can deploy, along with references to nuclear testing, is a very worrying escalation. The danger is clear for those willing to look.

Calls for Peace

Biden’s visit to Eastern Europe antd Ukraine comes at a pivotal moment for the war effort. There has been increasing pressure on the US to press for peace, both globally and within the United States itself. There are more and more calls for peace from across Europe as well as from the global south, which are easy to miss in the British media.

In Germany, 500,000 have signed a petition urging Chancellor Olaf Scholz to lead efforts for peace negotiations and imploring him to refuse to supply any more weapons. In the US, Republicans have demanded an end to the ‘blank cheque’ for the war, and popular support for the war is flagging. Biden’s pledging of another $460 million of ‘aid’ to Ukraine (on top of more than $50 billion already provided) during his visit to Kyiv may prove to be the last as budget troubles loom in Congress.

The US along with its Nato allies seem to believe Ukraine will be victorious and will not become another Afghanistan. But there is little evidence to support this view. Russia will not backdown and is not on the brink of collapse. Biden may have described the Russian economy as a ‘backwater’ and the country ‘isolated and struggling’ but neither assertion is true.

The US and Europe have imposed tough sanctions on Russia, attempting to isolate the ‘rogue state’. But Russia is not Iran, it is one of the world’s biggest economies, a nuclear power and major energy supplier.

Sanctions were supposed to hit the heart of Putin’s power. The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said last year that sanctions should ‘cripple Putin’s ability to finance his war machine.’ But this has not come to pass. For most of 2022, Russia continued exporting energy to Europe, and when the European market closed, India and China stepped up their demand. After the initial shock following the invasion, within only a few months the rouble stabilised.

Russia’s economy contracted by only 2.1% last year in response to the war and sanctions, much less than expected, and is forecast by the IMF to grow in 2023 by 0.3%. That’s more than the UK economy.

Russia is not about to collapse, regime change is not on the cards, and in the absence of a nuclear catastrophe, the war is set to be long and drawn out. So far almost 20,000 civilian casualties have been recorded and hundreds of thousands of troops on both sides have been killed or wounded. The longer the carnage continues, the more lives will be lost, and more and more of Ukraine reduced to rubble.

The 24 February will the first anniversary of the war. Rather than marking the anniversary with more fighting talk, let’s mark it with a push to peace.

22 Feb 2023 by Terina Hine

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