Invasion of Ukraine: A creative reflection beyond symbols, punishment and rearmament | International
Here we are, in our front row seats at a bloody circus, watching it all on TV and on Twitter, caught between infinite pity and reasonable selfishness. The tension between two opposing forces is unbearable. On the one hand, our horror at a senseless invasion, our astonishment at the Ukrainian resistance, the unarmed villagers who surround an enemy tank or feed a captured Russian soldier who weeps when allowed to call his mother, and our sorrow at seeing terrified children in bunkers, huddled next to their parents as bombs destroy their cities; and on the other, the 60-kilometre column stationed outside Kiev, which we know could be destroyed in an afternoon with satellite-guided cruise missiles and radar-invisible stealth fighters. The immovable shackle that binds the West is the fear of nuclear war, and Vladimir Putin, turned into a crazy and unpredictable adversary, has known how to press our keys well. So we are paralyzed by a bluff we dare not ignore, expert mouse-and-screen observers and, in our common anguish, unable to do much more than impose sanctions, donate weapons and money, and issue convictions.
During the long period of Russian build-up around Ukraine’s borders, at each stage it was Putin who had the privilege of deciding the next step and the West merely reacting, which game theorists say is playing the wrong game. . Whoever has the strongest trick first tries to cooperate, and when he fails, he comes back with higher stakes. But NATO is not a single player, they are no less than 30, and when the groups make decisions, they tend to be moderate. The circus we are in is full of ghosts. In 1914, European nations rallied for peace while sleepwalking to war. They came to her slowly, unhindered by nightmares of nuclear winter. Now we are forced to interpret the dirty neural processes of a man with the sick dreams of him. This is the supreme punishment of mad in nuclear tactics: if we cannot trust the enemy to act logically and in his own interest, we are left paralyzed, waiting for his next step, unable to take the risk of direct intervention.
There are also other younger ghosts in the circus: Grozny, Aleppo and Idlib. In these cities, the Russian plan was to destroy hospitals, medical triage centers, residential buildings and schools from the air to demoralize the population. In Ukraine, as Russian troops stumble in their advance, we are beginning to see the same cruel tactics. Artillery units have always enjoyed a bull that does not have the poor damn infantry. When launching their projectiles from a distance, with fine consideration of the mathematics of parabolic curves, artillerymen never have to look into the eyes of a dying child. The same goes for guided missiles and bombs directed from military aircraft. Remote assassination is a simpler, more abstract crime.
Russian recruits don’t have the luxury of staying cool. Those who have been captured or have surrendered seem spectacularly misinformed about their mission. They are surprised that the Ukrainians have not welcomed them with open arms. If they are truly lucky, they end up overwhelmed by the friendliness of the locals. Their supply chains are failing, often interrupted by Ukrainian forces using anti-tank weapons against transport vehicles and tankers. The Russian army is said to have modernized, but it seems that foot soldiers are still treated like serfs. That fearsome column outside Kiev may be regrouping and preparing to attack, or it may be a symbol of all that has gone wrong on the Russian side. With provisions for only five in each vehicle, soldiers may be hungry, thirsty, out of fuel, and most importantly, out of motivation to kill other Slavs. Soon we will know which of the two possibilities is the right one.
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The paradox is that the more Russia fails on the ground, the more Ukraine has to fear cold, distant bombing. There seems to be no way out, because a dazzling military victory for the Russians would also be a nightmare for Ukraine. Perhaps most likely a dismal victory. Kherson has fallen, Mariupol is under terrible pressure, and Odessa may be next. Ukraine may soon fall. Recent history assures us of the ability of the Russian command to allow colossal atrocities.
No matter how much compassion and anguish we feel, as spectators we find ourselves in an unbeatable situation. We enjoy vaguely comical moments, when tractor-riding farmers steal a tank to laughter or a stunned motorist offers to tow an armored car back across the border. For now, the West is thinking above all of punishing Russia. In Edinburgh and Munich a conductor is fired. Soccer games are cancelled. The yachts of the oligarchs are confiscated. Apart from these symbols, which are important, the only thing that really works is the economic sanctions, which have been impressive.
Yet as his economy sinks, Putin seems to have convinced himself that he can, as Tacitus famously put it, create a desert and call it peace. He costs nothing to order carnage and destruction in the grisly police state he presides over. If nothing changes in the Kremlin, the international community will have to start looking for solutions, because there is an added danger, which is the spillover of the conflict: as the powerful weapons of Europe and the United States reach across the Polish border into Ukraine, perhaps it suits Putin to decide that it is, after all, at war with NATO. On behalf of all of us who support Ukraine, a creative reflection is necessary, which is not limited to thinking about symbols, punishment and rearmament. We must not leave it to talks between the warring parties in a cabin on the border with Belarus.
There doesn’t seem to be much hope. Ukrainians are waging an existential struggle for the country they love. Putin believes that he is obliged to impose himself.
It may seem that between “the expansion of NATO to the east” and “the right of a sovereign state to decide its agreements” there is no possibility of reconciliation. But all negotiations to end hostilities begin by seeming irreconcilable. A sophisticated, even sophistical diplomatic campaign involving China should already be using all its resources to design, as a minimum first step and with as much creativity and compassion as possible, the conditions for a ceasefire. If we do not try, we will be condemned to see the death of multitudes up close; and we will never forgive ourselves.
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