By Branko Marcetic, Compact
After alternately ignoring and vilifying advocates for restraint in Ukraine, the foreign-policy establishment is coming around to … restraint. Over the past few months, American and European diplomats have been urging the Ukrainian government to sue for peace. “The conversations have included very broad outlines of what Ukraine might need to give up to reach a deal,” NBC News reported over the weekend, citing unnamed officials on both sides of the Atlantic. “The discussions are an acknowledgment of the dynamics militarily on the ground in Ukraine and politically in the US and Europe.”
Talk about the Cassandra effect.
For the better part of two years, opponents of escalation called for exactly such a course of action, only to be told that it is immoral, unrealistic, or both. Pro-diplomacy voices have consistently maintained that peace talks and some kind of negotiated settlement would be in the best interests of ordinary Ukrainians and their war-battered country, and that the US government should use its leverage to make that happen. They rolled out a litany of evidence to support the claim that, in the words of Canadian-Ukrainian University of Ottawa professor Ivan Katchanovski, “even a ‘bad’ peace is better than a ‘good’ war.”
Restrainers indicated that while Kiev is certainly justified in defending itself and trying to reclaim territory seized by Russia, the potential costs to Ukraine of a prolonged war would be much worse than the costs of losing territory. They pointed to the conflict’s staggering and unsustainable casualty figures for a country with a prewar population less than a third of Russia’s. They also tallied the profound economic costs of continued warfare, which saw Ukraine’s GDP shrink by 30 percent in just the first year; the country survived on the back of international grants and loans that left it deeper in debt and increasingly at the mercy of its neoliberal creditors.