I allow myself to believe in a miracle or rather in the force of reason that urges Russia and the US to end the war in Ukraine. But for those who do not believe in political reason, let me add that elementary interests are at play. Vladimir Putin must have realized that he can no longer win his war against the „Ukrainian brothers“, because contrary to what he thought at the beginning, the Ukrainians have by now turned into Russia’s bitter enemies though once they were among its best friends. Vladimir Putin has managed to turn the Ukrainians into what they had long wanted to be, but never really were: a nation that is aware of its own uniqueness and insists on its independence. In the face of so much stubborn resistance land gains are no longer possible; rather, a prolonged war would bring further losses. The only option Russian air superiority still offers is to destroy the entire Ukrainian infrastructure until the country becomes uninhabitable, and the population reverts to the Stone Age. This aim may still be achieved, but it is meeting growing resistance around the world – not just in the West. Putin’s closest allies, China and India, have already lodged their protests.
Due to the support of the United States the Ukrainians’ will to survive and strive for independence could withstand their mighty neighbor’s desire for conquest. Without their determined assistance, the Russians would already be standing on the Polish border. But the war didn’t leave the United States unharmed. I am not talking about the billions in armaments but about the effects of the sanctions and the worldwide destruction of economic balance. Joe Biden must expect the Midterm Election of November 8 to be a disaster for his party and for him personally. Inflation is destroying the savings of common people in the US as much as in Europe; it has made their lives so staggeringly expensive that they are more than likely to teach the government a very harsh lesson. Biden would indeed be lucky if a disastrous election defeat did not force him to resign.
So what could be more natural than to believe in reason? Under the circumstances its Solomonic judgment would even be quite easy to draft. The war must end, and the borders will be restored as they were before February 24, that is before it began. Ukraine definitively renounces Crimea, which had been granted to it anyway by a mere vodka whim of Khrushchev in the times of the Soviet Union. It also renounces the Donbass, where a majority was and probably still is not only Russian-speaking but also pro-Russian. In addition, Ukraine renounces joining NATO, but receives a contractual assurance on NATO’s behalf that those borders will be inviolable from then on. As to the sanctions, they will be largely cancelled, but the confiscated assets of the Russian Federation will be used in whole or in part to rebuild Zelensky’s devastated country.
For Joe Biden, such an agreement would be a brilliant success, to which he would most likely owe a clear confirmation in office. Moreover, it would dispel the suspicion – also on the part of his allies – that America is profiting from this war because it is exporting its gas to Europe at unfair prices and, incidentally, damaging the economy there so profoundly that it will no longer be a world market competitor for American companies. With such a move, Biden would prove to the world that the U.S. really is what it always claims to be, a peacemaking hegemon that exercises its power for the good of a stable world order. The United States would give in to Putin’s demand that sanctions be lifted because they know that Europe will anyway limit its energy dependence on Russia. If the American president actually takes this step in Bali on November 15 or 16, he will go down in history as a peacemaker. America would – after a long time – finally achieve a resounding moral success. There is only one obvious catch: the timing. The mid-term elections take place on November 8, the G 20 summit a week after that. For Biden to reap any success, the behind-the-scenes negotiations must go on now, and their outcome must be announced before November 8.
And what benefits would the Russian president reap from a peace agreement? For him, nothing has gone „as planned“ in his invasion of a neighboring nation – even though all state-controlled media have been ordered to spread precisely this illusion. The Ukrainian brethren by no means threw themselves into his arms when in the first days of the war he unleashed his blitzkrieg against the entire country, including the capital Kiev. The West, which in his opinion had long since degenerated morally, did not look on as if paralyzed by fear, as it had at the time of the Crimean invasion, but resolutely took the side of the invaders. Moreover, NATO expansion has not been curbed at all but two new members, Sweden and Finland, have hastily joined it, making the Baltic Sea now an internal sea under NATO control. Similarly, Europe’s dependence on Russian resources, deliberately pursued by Russia and blue-eyedly endorsed by Europeans until recently because – as was carelessly imagined – the economic nexus would also bring political peace, benefited Russia less than it hoped. The widespread cutoff of gas and oil supplies albeit severely shaking Europe has not brought the Union to its knees. While Russia has suffered less from Western sanctions than predicted, its population has certainly suffered. Overall, the country is bleeding economically and militarily. Its missile stockpiles are likely to have thinned out considerably by now, and in addition, partial mobilization is turning more and more Russians against their own government. The much-vaunted success of the „special military operation“ has turned out to be a resounding failure; Russia’s victory, hitherto thought to be completely unquestionable, now appears to be no more than an empty promise. For Putin, nothing less than his hitherto unchallenged position as president of the Russian Federation is at stake.
Under these circumstances, there is a reasonable prospect that he might be as interested in peace as his American counterpart. While a tough renunciation will be required of him – he will have to return the territory from Kherson to Mariupol to Ukraine – Russian rule over the Donbass and Crimea will be entrenched. And most importantly for him, because Russian propaganda has made this a non-negotiable demand: Ukraine will not be able to join NATO. This concession to Putin is crucial because it allows him to present peace as a victory and thus save his face. He will lose much of his reputation in the eyes of the hotheads and part of the Russian population, but as president he will survive peace more easily than the continuation of an unsuccessful war. At least there is already a hint, albeit a single one only, that behind-the-scenes negotiations between Russians and Americans may already be underway. At an Oct. 14 press conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, Vladimir Putin surprisingly announced that he was not planning any further heavy strikes against the Ukrainian infra-structure – two days after bombing it to an unprecedented extent. This is the reason why I am writing this optimistic article.
And Ukraine? President Zelensky is a rare example of wisdom and prudence. Who would have guessed it back then when the jokester strayed into politics? Of course, once the war began, he had to insist that Ukraine would not surrender even a single inch of its own territory. Crimea and the Donbass, everything she would and will take back – that is the politically prescribed refrain to this day. Had Zelensky dared to doubt this demand as unrealistic, his comrades-in-arms would long ago have hounded him out of office as a (Jewish!) traitor. But if Joe Biden puts his foot down, then everyone is off the hook – including Zelensky. The population and its president will still continue their protest – but all do of course know perfectly well that Ukraine can lead the war only as long as the Americans support it with weapons. So, basically, everyone – despite the verbal protests – will be overjoyed that this murderous war finally comes to an end. As soon as the Russians stop bombing, and the USA stops sending himars missile launchers, peace will be assured.
Why should we not believe in a miracle, in reason, or at least in very tangible, undeniable interests? If, as I believe, negotiations are actually under way, their outcome must however be announced before November eighth – only then will they make sense to the American president.