While analyzing the Ukraine crisis recently, Richard A. Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Princeton University, stated that to understand its complexity we should be discussing not one but three Ukraine wars. The first is obviously the Russian invasion of Ukraine starting on 24 February. The second is the USA-Russia war of about three decades starting after the disintegration of the USSR. The third is the war between broadly Western Ukraine and Eastern Ukraine, particularly since 2014.
While the focus has been more on the first war, it cannot be understood properly without understanding the second and the third wars. The first of the three wars were caused by the second and the third wars. Hence stopping the second war also involves the peaceful resolution to a significant extent of the second and third wars.
To take up the second war first, several senior academics, as well as former senior diplomats within the USA, have been pointing to the sheer irrationality of the USA’s persistent hostility towards Russia. If peaceful and enlightened pursuit of self-interest by the USA within a broader framework of maintaining world peace is to be the basis of Washington’s Russia policy, as it should be, then the policy choices it has made during the last three decades make no sense at all.
American policy has been based on the ill-justified basic premise that Russia should be weakened more and more. First, the USA promoted the prospects of politicians like Boris Yeltsin whom they expected to do their bidding. To a large extent they did, stripping and selling Russia’s valuable public sector assets in ways that would harm the country and its people while enriching the oligarchs who in turn took their massive wealth to the West in various ways.
When Vladimir Putin took over, he was extended patronage for some time, but when it became clear that he was determined to strengthen his country and not weaken it, Russia and Putin became much more clearly the declared enemies of the USA.
This also started the process of demonizing Putin in particular which has few parallels in recent history. Despite all the propaganda, however, there is hardly any evidence to establish the identity of Putin as a demon. Like most world leaders of our times, Putin has his plus and minus points. There are good and bad entries in his record, but he is far from being the devil many American politicians insist he is. Check just one point. What was the state of the Russia economy before he took over and what was the state till 2021? Clearly, Russia during the Putin years has done much to check the decline set in motion by the plunder of the Yeltsin years which pushed the economy and common people of Russia into great difficulty.
Unfortunately, the irrational demonization of Russia and Putin has now become almost the most important plank of US foreign policy sup- ported by both its main political parties. If US democracy is still capable of correcting serious policy mistakes, it must hasten to correct this most serious one. The USA must instead seek to advance its interests within a more reason-based paradigm of respecting the
genuine concerns of Russia and engaging with Russia and Putin on this basis, giving due respect to both the country and its leader.
Coming now to the third war, Western Ukraine can certainly live peacefully with Eastern Ukraine; it is only a small minority of aggressive people, armed and supported from abroad, who have messed up the situation badly. The situation could have been resolved more easily some years ago, but now with years of suffering of Russian-speaking people of the eastern parts and the subsequent Russian intervention, the situation is more complex but certainly the issues can still be settled along with other aspects of the peace process.
These two ongoing wars created a tense situation which increased the chances of the first war and when provocations were increased towards the beginning of this year, the much-discussed Russian invasion finally started on February 24 and is turning out now to be more prolonged than was expected by many at the start of the invasion.
Here a question arises: given the reality of the second and third wars, could Russia really have avoided the invasion and for how long? This writer feels that despite all the terrible provocations, Russia should not have invaded, given the mass distress and very high risks associated with it, and should have explored other options.
What can be done now? As war is harmful to most countries and risks are very high, most people want peace. They and the United Nations should make all possible efforts to bring peace on all three fronts.
The path ahead for Ukraine is to firmly choose a future free of big power rivalries, a future of a truly free, non-aligned and neutral country. To pave the way for this, it must directly negotiate with Russia for ending the invasion and then call for a huge reconstruction effort to which the United Nations and the entire international community should contribute.
Russia should end the invasion as soon as possible following negotiations with Ukraine.
The US should change its hostility-based policy towards Russia and enter a meaningful dialogue with Russia and Putin to pursue an enlightened, mutually beneficial path.
(The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth NOW. His recent books include A Day in 2071, Planet in Peril and Earth Without Borders.)