A familiar argument is raising its head again – one we will increasingly hear in coming weeks and months, as the war in Ukraine drags on, and people become tired of hearing about it. But in my view it’s a dangerous argument.
Earlier this week, in an interview with a TV channel based in Lebanon, the former Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said the West should stop arming Ukraine.
Corbyn said: “Pouring arms in [to Ukraine] isn’t going to bring about a solution, it’s only going to prolong and exaggerate this war…. I think the UN ought to be centre-stage in this, and if the UN cannot negotiate a ceasefire of some sort, then bring in somebody else who can, the African Union, League of Arab States…”
Last night his former staffer Matt Zarb-Cousin defended that stance on LBC radio, adding that: “It’s not a war that I think Ukraine can win, in which case the more weapons you throw in the more you perpetuate that war…I don’t think that’s really been discussed – how we can end the war…”
The argument is deceptively simple. By supplying arms to Ukraine, the West is prolonging the conflict, and should instead call for peace.
But let’s try an analogy. Say someone invades your home and threatens to kill your partner. Do you: fight back and call for help; or let them do what they want as long as no one else is killed and the conflict ends immediately?
I think most people would take the first option. I know I would. But let’s say you take the second option and give in immediately. Do you think your invader will walk away and keep their side of the bargain, or are they more likely to take advantage of having the upper hand? Are you willing to be at their mercy? I pose these questions because this is the situation that Ukraine faces today.
Sending arms to Ukraine will prolong the conflict. We should freely admit that. But it’s also the right thing to do – morally and militarily. Ask Ukrainians: would they rather fight for their freedom or live under Putin’s dictatorship? I think we already know the answer. If they wanted to live under Putin’s rule they would have willingly surrendered already.
In response to Corbyn’s interview, one Ukrainian said: “A lot of people in the West are denying Ukraine any sort of agency by claiming we’re constantly being manipulated by Nato or saying it’s a US proxy war and the West is forcing us to fight. None of these people are actually paying attention to what we’re actually saying. It’s sad and annoying.”
The idea of a “brokered peace” in Ukraine comes from the fantasy notion that Putin doesn’t want this war, and was only pushed into it by Nato. It is a fantasy because Putin himself has given speeches implying that Ukraine had always belonged to Russia and he wanted it back.
Russian elites have long harboured a desire to reclaim back the territory controlled by the old Soviet Union, including in Eurasia and eastern Europe. This thirst for territory didn’t start now – Putin invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014, remember? Russia has also invaded or exerted military control over Georgia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Chechnya and numerous other territories over the last two decades.
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Moreover, Ukraine has consistently been calling for peace, even going for negotiations, and they’ve come to nothing. Why? The only negotiation Putin will accept is one where he controls Ukraine. Anything else would be a huge setback and would be widely seen as an embarrassing defeat at home. It might even lead to him being ousted by his enemies.
What about the notion that by ending this war, even if it’s in Putin’s favour, we might save more lives? That too ignores reality and realpolitik. We would be like giving carte blanche to a home invader and letting them do what they want. Russia would first exact revenge over Ukraine, and crush any opposition, for decades. An emboldened Putin would then wonder what other territory he could strike at next, and force the West into the same situation. After all, a successful home invader may not see any reason to stop after the first break-in.
In 2014 ,I wrote that one day we will look back and regret not intervening in Syria earlier. At that time, tens of thousands had been killed by Bashar al-Assad, and many argued an intervention would take more lives. Since then, the number of Syrian deaths has risen to over 350,00 and it became the source of the world’s worst refugee crisis. Things can get worse if we sit by and watch, too.
We should want an end to the conflict in Ukraine, but we should also listen to the people of Ukraine. They want freedom and democracy, not enslavement and dictatorship. Any notion of a “brokered peace” that condemns Ukrainians to tyranny is not worth the paper it’s written on.