One of the biggest difficulties surrounding the Russo-Ukrainian conflict lies in its simplification. It is true, this is the moment of condemnation, of opposition to the war, and of support for the victims. Vladimir Putin’s ordered invasion of Ukraine was the other red line that should never have been crossed.
However, the resolution of the conflict inevitably passes through dialogue, and as its premise, through a more complex understanding of what is happening.
Resolving this point does not only lie in shortening geographical distances, or in solving historical gaps. It is also important to understand the different dimensions and forces that are articulated below the Manichean media rhetoric.
In this sense, critical pacifism, as opposed to uncritical, must try to understand all the forces that are put into play today. The establishment of peace and justice is not the result of mere chance, but of understanding the nature of war and its violence.
Negotiations, dialogues and disagreements
After several weeks of invasion, a certain distancing has been necessary to understand the most important questions: when and how the war will end.
Unfortunately, in many of the analyses, ideological premises are used to reinforce only the militaristic logic. And while this might be understandable in a certain context, it is not very objective given the political-social circumstances of Ukraine and Russia, their history, NATO interventionism, the dependent role — almost absent — of Europe, Chinese opportunism, and the convenience of the business sector.
To this day, real resolution options remain on the distant horizon. After three dialogue tables, both the Kremlin’s presidential adviser, Vladimir Medinsky, and the adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office, Mikhail Podolyak, have described the meetings with caution.
Both NATO and the EU through their various representatives have been insisting that, despite the hostilities, they keep the path of dialogue open on the condition of Russia’s withdrawal. However, immediately afterwards and with a more severe tone — where certain hypocrisy is recognized — emphasis is placed on NATO’s Article 5 while at the same time reaffirming the will to continue arms shipments to Ukraine.
This without answering what many are already asking: Where are these weapons going? What are the control mechanisms over their delivery? What can the Ukrainian army do together with civilian forces against a professional army like the Russian? Isn’t there a risk that these weapons paradoxically fall into other hands? Whatever the post-war scenario, the country will also have to deal with that situation, along with another countless list of social problems that were already visible before the start of the invasion.
In addition to the above, the shipment of weapons does not seem to alter the correlation of forces either. As Iglesias thinks, this will only serve to deaden the conflict, although it sounds very humane to some. But it is very easy to foment war from the comfort of an armchair and a thousand miles away.
A conflict not convenient for anyone to escalate
Despite the pessimism that emerges from what has happened so far, if events are viewed carefully, it will be seen that there is no other way out. Dialogue and negotiation must prevail as the situation between NATO and Russia has reached a point not seen in decades.
Suffice it to recall what various analysts have been emphasizing in recent weeks: the red line that Putin explicitly claims, but that the allies and the West only tacitly acknowledge.
An interesting fact that should not be forgotten is that, despite having considerably reduced their arsenals since the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States still possess around 90% of all nuclear warheads in the world. The European giant has about 1,588 warheads deployed and 2,889 in storage (according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 2022); while the United States has about 1,800 deployed and 2,000 in reserve.
This makes a confrontation between the two powers, at the very least, unimaginable.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky faced that reality when he recently blamed his allies for failing to establish a no-fly zone. A no-fly zone — let us recall here— that would provoke the outbreak of a third world war.
“Thirteen days in which we only heard promises. Thirteen days in which they tell us that there will be help in the sky, that there will be planes, that they will deliver them to us,” Zelensky said in a video message. “The responsibility for this is also with those who have not been able to make a decision for thirteen days, somewhere in the West… an obviously necessary decision.”
In order not to think that everything is an exaggeration, it is enough to review the opinions of NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg: “NATO is not part of the conflict. NATO is a defensive Alliance. We don’t seek war, conflict with Russia.” To which the president of the United States, Joe Biden, joined by denying that his country is going to enter into an armed conflict directly with Russia and which could escalate to nuclear levels.
In a press conference in the Kremlin with Hungarian Prime Minister Víktor Orban, Putin had already warned of the dangers of a confrontation with NATO: “Let us imagine that Ukraine, as a NATO country, initiates this military operation (for control of Crimea). What do we do? Do we fight with NATO? Has anyone thought of that? It seems not.”
But here it is worth repeating that the warnings had been going on for years, and all of them, as many analysts have already indicated, were ignored.
Instead of negotiating, the Alliance consummated its expansion since the end of the 20th century, with the 1999 successive extensions (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland), 2004 (Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovakia), 2009 (Albania and Croatia), 2017 (Montenegro) and 2020 (North Macedonia).
All of the above has been nothing but a very good example of how the United States and NATO did everything possible not to prevent the conflict from reaching this point. To which Putin responded by doing exactly what was asked of him and what he knew how to do best, he gave them the necessary war.
Now then, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Russia would be willing to stop hostilities “immediately” if Kyiv complies with a list of conditions that guarantee the country’s security. These are the cessation of military actions, changing the constitution to enshrine Ukraine’s neutrality, recognizing Crimea as Russian territory, and recognizing the Donetsk and Lugansk republics as independent states.
However, as is logical to think, Ukraine will continue to defend its territorial integrity, while Europe maintains its security anchored to NATO, to the point of risking its own energy security. And the latter, and more specifically the United States, will try to sustain a war that for the moment seems convenient from a distance.
It can be concluded from all of the above that the optimal and necessary option is that of dialogue. Not only because it is the most ethically correct, but also because it is the only one that leads to an effective resolution of a conflict not convenient for anyone to escalate.
Here it is worth clarifying something essential to the general audience: we are not in the presence of a war but of a group of wars, of several fronts and dimensions of the same problem. A process that concerns a paradigm shift in contemporary political relations.
That is where many interpretations have failed, trying to understand the matter based on the Cold War schemes, or the left-right axes. In any case, what is happening today in and with Ukraine transcends old-fashioned partisanship and consequently will require a much greater effort to resolve.
From war to wars
The foregoing makes it difficult to think of a solution, especially if we continue to be anchored to the political paradigms of yesteryear.
Clausewitz said that “war is an act of force to impose our will on the adversary,” from which the violent character that politics essentially has was inferred.1
However, I can’t help but remember French philosopher and sociologist Jean Baudrillard when he argued that the Gulf War had never happened. Quite contrary to Clausewitz, Baudrillard defined this conflict as an “abstract flicker on the computer screen” where the entire drama had been “covered” by information.
I resort to him simply to point out those other wars that have emerged in the media and that narrate a conflict that is almost always convenient for the powers that have provoked it. Even more, to identify a platitude truth but that escapes us in the midst of so much news that we consume. War today is not only waged as “a duel” or as an exercise of conflicting political wills, but as a myriad of spheres that build the image we have of it. That, a friend of mine would say, is pure ideology.
Without wishing to detail something that has already been identified, there is room here for Russophobia, sanctions, the culture of cancellation and boycotts, the political performance of leaders and audience, the “collateral” financial effects, anti-globalism, the re-emergence of nationalism, among other phenomena that would deserve more attention.
But beyond this, there are also other spaces where battles are fought, perhaps as important as the real one. Here we must refer to the computer space, the economic dimension of the conflict and the technological one.
The use of the concept of “hybrid warfare” as popularized by Frank Hoffman is essential to understand the above. Regarding the latter, Ortega mentions the following in an article:
“If for Clausewitz war was the continuation of politics by other means, those means have been transformed. The digital order — for the moment (because there are other technological dimensions) — imposes other logics, or grammars, a term that the Prussian military thinker preferred to use. There is both a lot that is new, but also a lot that is old or sempiternal.”
Despite the fact that there is a historical dispute with political consequences, the stakes in Ukraine far outweigh the above and affect the areas mentioned above. Transformations and repercussions that can only be visible from a critical thought of war.
Effects of war, sanctions and oil
Following the invasion, countries around the world began imposing sanctions against Russia. Roughly speaking, the EU, the United States, the UK and Canada agreed to prevent the Russian Central Bank from deploying its €640 billion in international reserves. In addition, the EU and the United States have banned all transactions with that institution.
A number of Russian banks have been excluded from the Swift international payment system. To which are added the restrictions on the 10 main Russian financial institutions that represent around 80% of the country’s banking sector, and even Sberbank, which represents around 30% of Russian banking, has been prevented from carrying out transactions through the U.S. system.
The assets of other banks such as VTB, Bank Rossiya and Promsvyazbank have also been affected.
To these is added the closure of airspace to companies and private aircraft, and the prohibition of exports of aircraft and aviation parts to that country.
To the extensive list of sanctions, which we summarize so as not to take up space, there is also the suspension of clubs and national teams from all FIFA and UEFA competitions. The suspension by the EU of scientific cooperation; the restriction by the International Feline Federation of cats bred in Russia; and the cancellation of thematic courses on that country.
Some of the companies that have left Russia are Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen, Boeing, Airbus, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Microsoft, IBM, Amazon; but this is just a representative list, the amount is much bigger and keeps increasing by the day.
This is just a sample, but just take a look at the media to discover examples of what looks like, not a war against the Russian army or against Putin, but against the whole of Russian history and culture.
In this sense, it is valid to emphasize that the logic of the sanctions, far from fulfilling their purpose, affects not only civilians — some of them, opponents of Putin, by the way — but also reinforces the nationalist matrix of the conflict. A visible nationalism not only in Eastern Europe but also in the West.
This is where the so-called hybrid warfare faces the boomerang effect of sanctions. Effects, not only in the commercial sphere but also technological and even political in the longer term.
It is difficult to predict to what extent and how this process will occur. So far there are only isolated signs. But as some analysts have suggested, while sanctions have generally had a clear impact on the West, it hasn’t been catastrophic either.
For example, after Biden’s announcement that he would cancel oil and gas imports from Russia, oil prices rose 4%, but prices are already falling again today after it was learned that the United States had come into contact with the government of Nicolas Maduro. Apparently looking for a solution to the oil problem.
In addition, earlier the American Petroleum Institute (API) had reported that crude inventories in the country rose by 2.8 million barrels in the week ending March 4.
Therefore, beyond speculation and market sentiment, there is still a long way to go to know the effects that the sanctions will have on the energy sector.
The matter, of course, does not stop here. If the implications of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continue to spread, there will be a deeper impact on the global economy, geopolitical alliances, and energy and food flows. And this is where the most disadvantaged nations have to lose.
Even with Russia and China in a stronger alliance for global hegemony, Western supply chains would also be reconfigured.
Peace, always peace
All this panorama comes just after a pandemic and at a crucial moment for humanity from an environmental, political and social point of view.
Therefore, nothing that happens in Ukraine should be alien to us. We must keep our eyes fixed on it, because many things can change. And the worst thing is that we don’t realize it.
Far from a war, we must begin to propose the resolution of all the wars that are being waged today in that country, for our security, for life.
The demand for peace must not be an empty impulse or a passing fad. Unfortunately, this conflict has a deep history and an uncertain future. And that is precisely why peace must be assumed from an obviously anti-imperialist, critical and complex position. Assessing all the premises and the possible consequences that appear in our immediate future.
1 CLAUSEWITZ, Karl Von: ‘De la Guerra,’ Ed. Labor. Barcelona, 1994.