In his dystopian masterpiece, Brave New World, Aldus Huxley says that the last great statesman was Lord Lansdowne who called for a negotiated peace between Britain and Germany in 1917. Lansdowne’s letter was received with scorn and virulent opposition and The Times refused to print it. He was called a mutineer for expressing the following thoughts:
“We are not going to lose this war, but its prolongation will spell ruin for the civilised world, and an infinite addition to the load of human suffering which already weighs upon it…We do not desire the annihilation of Germany as a great power … We do not seek to impose upon her people any form of government other than that of their own choice… We have no desire to deny Germany her place among the great commercial communities of the world.”
When Lord Lansdowne said “we”, he was perhaps being too generous.
The War hawks of the day had the opposite ambitions. Punishing Germany, and keeping Germany down amongst the nations of the earth, and adding to the suffering of the German people, were all desires of a powerful clique of the establishment. Some see their equivalent of the current elite deeply beholden to the extraordinarily lucrative “military industrial complex”.
Churchill later said that the wars of democracies are so much worse than the wars of kings because they mobilise entire populations to extreme hatred of the enemy and call for their utter vanquish. When the justification for such a war is hyped to this level, fanaticism can make it impossible to back down and alter course. This holds even when it is clear and apparent that a retreat may be the wiser course, and a complete submission of the enemy is not possible.
In The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman talks about all of the things that could have arrested the development of the First World War; but which were made so much more difficult for all of the little lies and grand lies that meant that to back out was impossible. All of the propaganda which blackens the humanity and objectives of the enemy, and gin up enthusiasm for compete war make rational thinking, negotiation, and talk impossible. Each war is primarily a war of a million small lies.
As we survey what happened in Ukraine over the past three months and the previous eight years, the thing that is most striking is the abundance of small lies. All these lies, seemingly insignificant, pile into a mountain of lies which makes determining the truth nigh impossible. What is certain though is that the truth of war will be revealed in the end, but not before the cost of the lies are paid for in human suffering.
We are not talking about the big stories here. Russia did invade Ukraine and it is a horror to the people of Ukraine, and we condemn that utterly. But the small lies, the ridiculous lies. The “Ghost of Kiev” lies; the “Snake Island” lies; the lies that told us the Russian army is about to crumble – “they are drunk”, “they are demoralised”, “they are deserting” – the “Russian tanks are falling apart and running out of fuel” lies.
What is the purpose for these lies, other than to engender an enthusiasm for more war? The truth of the matter is that the insistence and belief in these stories only prolongs a war in which, whatever the West may prefer, Russia are not about to lose; not soon and probably not at all.
People who have been plugged into the western press might be surprised to hear this claim, but close analysis of the arena of war can lead to no other likely conclusion. The western press reports back stories of brave Ukrainian resistance in minor skirmishes, but ignores (with occasional surprising exceptions which we will look at later) where the real fighting is happening in Eastern Ukraine.
In this theatre of war, Russia, though also suffering many casualties, is winning with greater supplies, greater artillery, greater technology, and greater air superiority. Even though the Ukrainian Army is dug in and is defending, they are still steadily losing ground and suffering massive casualties. The much vaunted re-supplies from the West are making no significant difference. As the Americans say, ‘It’s a dollar too short and a day too late’.
The suffering of civilians is all too real, and is appalling. Homes reduced to rubble, families fleeing cities, so many dead and wounded.
But there is an element of the profiteer at the centre of policy making in Washington and Strasbourg – driven by those who will benefit from the prolongation of the Ukrainian war. War funding from the Biden administration was passed as a matter of bipartisan urgency without any real detail regarding how the $40Bn would be spent.
Commentator Alexander Mercouris of ‘the Duran’, after looking at the proposal, estimates that just $6Bn of military equipment and training would make its way to the Ukraine. Of the rest of the money, he said $14Bn would be spent on replenishing the Ukraine-war-depleted stores of the US – and some $20Bn would be spent on administration and NGO services etc.
Ten days ago, we were told that the Russians were suffering ‘huge casualties’ and that this was reversing the advance in Severodonetsk. Now the media says that it is, in fact, the Ukrainian casualties, between 600 and 1000 now each day, that may force a tipping point in a conflict that has likely claimed tens of thousands of lives, both Ukrainian and Russian.
In the same way, a constant refrain was heard of “game changing” armaments arriving in Ukraine from the collective west. Whether it be light infantry items such as Javelins, or drones, or harpoon anti-ship missiles, or heavy artillery such as M777 Howitzers or the HIMARS systems, the provisions are always lauded as “game-changing”. However, they often end up being a damp squib.
For example, the US sent just 4 of the supposedly “game-changing” HIMAR systems to Ukraine but did not send the long range artillery and associated targeting systems with them. In their military package they included 15,000 155mm rounds for the M777 Howitzers, but that in comparison to what Russia is firing per day is a paltry amount.
A BBC report from Severodonetsk said that Russia fired 1,500 artillery shells at the town of Rubizhne in one day. So in one day, in one location, the Russians fired 1/10th of the total 155mm artillery supplies that Ukraine received in this aid package.
The reality is that the logistical conditions for resupply have always favoured the Russians because the theatre of war is right on their doorstep – whereas it is thousands of miles away from the USA, Britain, etc. It is no wonder the corporate press is gradually changing tune from “Ukraine will beat the Russians”, to “Ukraine will need to concede territory in talks”.
Even the most corporate of corporate press, the New York Times, have acknowledged this outcome through an op-ed which was signed, and possibly even authored, by Joe Biden.
This has the appearance of a PR campaign to satisfy US domestic politics, and an attempt to create an impression that the Biden administration are doing something when in reality they have written off Ukraine as a lost cause and a black hole for arms and funding.
This was not always the case, of course.
The talks that were happening between Ukraine and Russia in Istanbul back in March and April had the potential to lead to real peace negotiations, but the momentum was halted by Boris Johnson and Joe Biden who promised massive military aid.
Today I met my friend President @ZelenskyyUa in Kyiv as a show of our unwavering support for the people of Ukraine.
We're setting out a new package of financial & military aid which is a testament of our commitment to his country's struggle against Russia’s barbaric campaign. pic.twitter.com/KNY0Nm6NQ3
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) April 9, 2022
Zelensky reversed his commitment to continue with these negotiations and give way on key Russian demands after talking to Johnson. But military aid, as we have seen, has been ineffective in repulsing the Russians.
The successes of the Ukrainian Army so far have been lauded but they have been costly in terms of soldiers lost, and of doubtful strategic value. The territory gained in the surge on Karkiv for instance, applauded as a great counteroffensive victory, has since been re-lost. Meanwhile the Russians are taking the heavily fortified territory in the Donbas bit by bit. This is only possible because they have air cover and superiority in artillery.
And yet the West continues with the insistence that the only end to this conflict is that Russia is repulsed from Ukraine. Soldiers on both sides of the conflict continue to die every day that the war continues.
In truth we are all in trouble. The war is having devastating consequences in Ukraine and it is also having a global effect. Come September, when the harvest starts coming in, we will see the real effect this will have on food shortages, and in the prices of food on the shelves in Ireland and around the world. We can already see the effects of inflation on energy and on goods generally. Energy inflation is already having an effect in the economic output of both the European economy and the World. Food shortages may cause starvation in the developing world.
In a development that must be a surprise to the West, it seems that the threat of food security is leading to a fragmentation of the world order. China and India are already signing contracts with Russia for oil and gas, perhaps promoting the rouble to the position of a world currency. Recently the African Union president, Macky Sall, met with Vladimir Putin to discuss deals to offset the impending food crisis.
Food may be just the starting point in a series of financing partnerships that could threaten the West’s hegemonic position in development investment in the Global South.
The West may have been operating under the presumption that Russia was ‘a gas station masquerading as a country’ and would collapse when Western sanctions were applied. “The Rouble would be Rubble” Biden famously quipped.
“He who controls currency controls the world” Henry Kissinger once said. He turned out to be completely wrong, and once the bank sanctions were put on Russia and failed, that was clear for all to see. Since then, Kissinger has given his opinion that Ukraine should negotiate with Russia and make concessions in territory. Larry Elliott, writing in the Guardian, said he believed that Russia was winning the economic war.
As he pointed out, sanctions had “the perverse effect of driving up the cost of Russia’s oil and gas exports, massively boosting its trade balance and financing its war effort”.
The leaders of the West, now complain that Russia is blackmailing the world with her control of essential commodities and food. But this will not change the reality of the situation. Calling inflation “Putin’s Price Hike” will not save Biden in the coming midterms.
And Putin is not to blame for the Covid shut down of the Western (and global) economy, which was causing severe inflation before February. Putin did not make the leaders of the West overestimate the potential of renewables to power their economies, nor did he make them demonise fossil fuels and shut down their extraction whilst simultaneously buying the same fuels from Russia. He did not make them print money and pump resources into the Green Leap Forward – an experiment based on ideology rather than science and engineering. These were all self-inflicted injuries by the West that likely emboldened Russia as Moscow made the decision to invade Ukraine.
The invasion was wrong and has led, like all armed conflicts, to untold suffering for ordinary people. Seeking an end to the conflict, to that suffering, and to the global effects for ordinary civilians also suffering the fallout, should be a priority for leaders.