Why are political voices saying Ukraine should 'settle'? - analysis

Pro-Moscow propaganda is seeping into European countries: Ukraine needs to “accept” or “settle for” losing territory.

 Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky signs on a national flag as he visits a position of Ukrainian service members, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine May 29, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky signs on a national flag as he visits a position of Ukrainian service members, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine May 29, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Ukraine is facing a renewed Russian offensive after 100 days of war. This has been awful for civilians, driving some eight million of them from their homes. There have been atrocities and cities bombed, people have been massacred, and surrendered Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have disappeared.

Beyond the brutality, however, there is a story of heroic Ukrainian resistance. That resistance has led to a see-saw conflict in which Russia was pushed back after initial gains.

However, 100 days into the war, it is not clear if Moscow might now be able to push forward again. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited troops in the Kharkiv region on the country’s front lines. This was his first major public visit to the front since the war began. Kharkiv is some 230 km. from Severodonetsk, where the Russian offensive is developing.

Russia appears to be trying to consolidate its holdings in eastern Ukraine, in the breakaway Luhansk and Donetsk “People’s Republics.” These are areas Moscow helped to carve out of the besieged country in 2014. Russia would like to conquer more areas around these two secessionist republics, which it recognized in February.

Videos and reports from the front have said Russia is not only making gains but is using withering fire from artillery and other weapon systems to try to break Ukraine’s resistance. The issue Kyiv faces now is that despite the support and weapons it received from the West in the opening days of the war, it could now face troubles at the front. This is because the supply of weapons to Ukraine is not endless. Some of the weapons trickle in.

 Smoke rises above a self-propelled howitzer 2S1 Gvozdika of pro-Russian troops, which fired a leaflet shell in the direction of Sievierodonetsk to disperse information materials from combat positions in the Luhansk region, Ukraine May 24, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO) Smoke rises above a self-propelled howitzer 2S1 Gvozdika of pro-Russian troops, which fired a leaflet shell in the direction of Sievierodonetsk to disperse information materials from combat positions in the Luhansk region, Ukraine May 24, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)

Weapons to Ukraine

Does Ukraine have enough time to train with the new artillery and anti-tank weapons it received? Is it receiving enough vehicles? It doesn’t appear to be receiving warplanes.

Stories about a crowdfunding campaign to raise $5 million for one more Turkish Bayraktar drone do not seem promising. You can’t crowdfund at that rate for a few drones to be fed piecemeal into the cauldron of conflict.

 A view of a destroyed building following a shelling, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk region, Ukraine May 22, 2022, in this still image obtained from social media video.  (credit: REUTERS) A view of a destroyed building following a shelling, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk region, Ukraine May 22, 2022, in this still image obtained from social media video. (credit: REUTERS)

Why is this happening now? 

According to reports, leaked documents show Germany has not sent the weapons it promised, and there are fears that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is prevaricating in support for Ukraine. Pro-Moscow propaganda is seeping into Germany, Italy and other countries.

The narrative now coming from some European countries is that Ukraine needs to “accept” or “settle for” losing territory. This is based on the argument that “diplomacy is how wars end.”

This false narrative claims that most wars end in a negotiated settlement. These voices assert that countries always have to give up something in negotiations. Oddly, they don’t assert that Russia must give up anything. Instead, their “diplomacy” argument means that the first country to invade and attack can always hang on to illegally occupied territory.

Where have we heard this before?

MOST OF these voices are from charlatans; when it came to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, they didn’t argue that the invaded country had to “give Saddam something to help him save face.” Only with Russian President Vladimir Putin do we hear the argument that Russia needs to be “given” something so it can climb down and not be “humiliated.”

The voices arguing that the West Bank is “occupied” by Israel and that Israel must “withdraw to the 1967 lines” are the same ones who think Ukraine should be giving up land to Russia to achieve peace.

These pundits run the gamut of those who openly support Ukraine but simply think diplomacy will end the war, those who pretend that Russia must be coddled to avoid “nuclear war” and those who actually back Russia.

There are voices now being raised in the West from those who object to Finland and Sweden joining NATO. They are backed by the regime in Ankara, which doesn’t want these two democracies to join the Western defensive alliance. Turkey wants the West to bribe it with guns and let it invade Syria for it to give its “yes” to Helsinki and Stockholm.

Moreover, there are “realists” in the West, some of them linked to the former pro-Iran lobby, who are arguing that the US must force Ukraine to concede something. At the same time, though, Washington is sending billions of dollars in support to Ukraine. This means it is unclear if the arms deliveries will be enough. If Russia gets a ceasefire, it can interpret that as an opening for another invasion in the future. If it feels appeased, it might simply keep attacking.

These are the questions that now underpin the Ukraine war. While Russia faced stiff resistance when it launched the invasion, it is now hitting its stride. It knows it faces sanctions, but it is still doing deals, such as new talks with Serbia in an effort to get around them.

Moscow knows that European support for Ukraine might very well slow and that US media might not continue covering the war with the same vigor with which it started. It also knows that having finally defeated the defenders of Mariupol, it has some gains to show for months of bloody conflict.

The question now is whether time is on Ukraine’s side. Does it grow stronger every day, while Russia has difficulties replacing its tanks and armaments? If Ukraine isn’t receiving new tanks, then how long can it last in a war of attrition on a long front line where Russian artillery might have some advantages in its eastern region? These are key questions.

Russia certainly performed poorly in the first two months of the war. But it has reserves and more weapons and an arms industry that can continue to produce planes and tanks. Can Ukraine also produce tanks, planes and sophisticated weapons, or must it always rely on these piecemeal deliveries from the West?

The coming months will tell if Moscow has set a goal to conquer another city or two and then seek a negotiated peace. They will also reveal if Ukraine will accept such a negotiation without more backing from the West to assure it that Russia won’t start another invasion in a few years.