FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

The global consensus on what humanity ought to do about the invasion of Ukraine might not hold on for very long.

Some think the West’s strategy of sending Ukraine arms while punishing Russia with economic sanctions is ultimately ineffectual. Others think the timid bureaucratic disposition to prevent things from “escalating” will eventually present the world with an awesome humanitarian tragedy.

In summary, the strategy adopted by the EU and the NATO calls for rapid deliveries of vital military supplies to the beleaguered government in Kyiv. Military support for Ukraine is supplemented by unprecedented economic sanctions that are supposed to bring Russia to its knees.

It is a “safe” strategy. It keeps the western powers from having to send their own soldiers to the frontlines where some level of casualties might have to be accepted. It is a strategy that is easy to sell to the domestic constituencies of the western powers who prefer to get through this episode with the least disruption to their lives. It takes some of the wind out of Putin’s “madman” strategy of threatening the use of nuclear weapons if the rest of humanity interferes in what he sees as a domestic squabble among fellow Slavs.

But the West’s preferred strategy of war by proxy is not delivering immediate results.

True, the gallant Ukrainian army has put the military assistance to excellent use. Drones and portable missiles bloodied the noses of Russia’s invading force. The Russian army had to withdraw from northern Ukraine to reconsolidate in the east.

Each day, however, war crimes are being committed against the Ukrainian people. Mass graves are being dug up. Evidence has been collected showing orders being given Russian troops to murder civilians and execute captured Ukrainian troops. Ukraine’s cities are being bombed to rubble. In one bizarre incident, zookeepers in one Ukrainian city who stayed behind to tend to the animals were massacred by Russian troops.

We have it all on tape, so to speak. Women raped and killed. Hospitals bombed. Civilians tortured randomly then executed. Each day the fighting goes on, terrible war crimes mount.

Six million Ukrainians have fled a country. Nearly half the population has been displaced. Hospitals are spilling over. Famine stalks the land.

By every indication, the fighting will go on and on. The brave Ukrainian army has been resupplied. The Russians will not retreat. Casualties will continue to mount into the foreseeable future.

The economist Jeffrey Sachs put out an op-ed last Tuesday calling for a “negotiated peace” in Ukraine.

He points out that economic sanctions hardly worked in the past. It did not work against North Korea or Iran or Venezuela. No compelling evidence could be found saying sanctions would work against the despot Putin who has been shrinking his echo chamber and now presents himself as engaged in some sort of holy war blessed by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Sachs points out that the developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America representing 76 percent of humanity have not been enthusiastic about the sanctions and fear food shortages and unaffordable energy prices arising out of them.

Sachs suggests the belief sanctions will end the war (or even cause regime change in Moscow) is wishful thinking, the result of a powerful echo chamber between the western Europeans and North Americans. What the sanctions could do, however, is to goad the Putin regime to seek a negotiated peace in Ukraine.

Fine. Spoken like an economist. Both the sanctions and the military engagements on the ground will soon have diminishing returns. With everyone eventually in distress because of the situation, all sides should want to sue for peace.

What Sachs does not tell us, however, is who will broker the peace. From the first day of this invasion, Israel, Turkey and France had independently offered their good offices to negotiate a mutually acceptable peace. Pope Francis had made the appropriate sounds, suggesting an Easter ceasefire. The UN, to be sure, had covered all diplomatic tracks to open an avenue for negotiations.

As each day passes, what economists might brush under the rug as plain “imponderables” become increasingly more vital to any negotiated peace formula.

For Putin, anything short of a decisive battlefield victory will result in too much loss of face. Mariupol, the only major city his invasion force might soon completely occupy, is 98 percent damaged or destroyed. It is hardly a shining trophy for a costly expedition. It hardly compensates for Russia’s loss of the flagship of its Black Sea fleet.

For Zelensky, all the brutality already suffered by his people militates against any compromise with the Kremlin. Some justice must be sought for the industrial scale murder of innocents. Not one meter of Ukrainian land, he declared, will be yielded to the Russians.

Who will bring them to the negotiating table to shake hands?

Sachs offers no suggestions. That is, itself, the problem. We face the specter of a world without effective institutions capable of ending a war.

Over the next few days, Ukrainian and Russian ground commanders will try to outwit each other on the battlefield. The western powers will continue the flow of weapons to support a mangled country that has effectively become their proxy in facing up to Putin. Russia will continue calling up reserves to replace their dead soldiers. This war will simply follow its own logic.

It is for the rest of the world to contemplate the future of the international order, having found the institutions we invested so much in incompetent at ending conflict.


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