Thursday

22nd Feb 2024

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What I learned in Kyiv: any 'political solution' will be brutal

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"I wake up every morning, thinking this may be my last day. I have never lived like this", a young woman in Kyiv told me 10 days ago, when I visited the city. It seemed calm, and life was normal. But this week the missiles came back.

There is no normalcy. War is an all-consuming experience. Every Ukrainian is involved in it in one way or another: Fighting, helping, caring, worrying, crying.

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  • In Kyiv two things became clearer to me: first, most Ukrainians truly see the conflict as a war of survival for their nation

In Kyiv two things became clearer to me: first, most Ukrainians truly see the conflict as a war of survival for their nation. They view it through the lens of Russian repression of Ukrainian nationhood in the 19th century and Stalin's killing of millions of Ukrainians in the Holodomor, the mass hunger of the 1930s.

I had read about both, but it was only through conversations in Kyiv that I understood the intensity of this trauma.

It is no surprise that Poles are so overwhelmingly supporting Ukraine. They experienced similar trauma from Russia and Germany. The story is similar for the Baltic states.

The conviction that this is a war of survival makes the discussion of geopolitical analysts sound so wrong.

They ask how much defeat Moscow can take before things become too dangerous. But victory and defeat cannot be precisely balanced out, as if war was some laboratory exercise. For Ukrainians the point of "too dangerous" is long past.

It arrived in 2014, or at least on 24 February this year. Russia has been attacking Ukraine, its people and the nation for eight years. And it has not been shy about it. Every day its Russian TV pundits talk about "so-called Ukraine".

Ukrainians think they can buy themselves some years, or perhaps even decades, of rest if they defeat the Russian army and push it out of their country.

This is a rational assumption that Ukraine's allies need to share, for Ukraine cannot fight without their military and economic support.

Euphemisms

The worst the allies and their public commentators can do is muse endlessly about what a "political deal" could look like. Because a "political deal" is a euphemism for handing over Ukrainian land to Russia.

And "handing over land" is a euphemism too. People live on that land. They would have to live in Russia — brainwashing certain, survival not guaranteed.

The endless talk about a political solution overlooks another problem. Putin has ruled it out. He made a show of "annexing" four Ukrainian regions, declaring them eternally Russian, before saying to Ukraine: "Come and negotiate now" — making these words meaningless.

There may be a moment when the Russian government wants to negotiate for real. The war is going badly for them. Then there may be talks (though probably not with Putin). The Ukrainian government would consider the situation in consultation with its allies.

Possible scenarios may then emerge. But trading territory and people in abstract discussions now is pointless and insulting.

The second thing that became clearer during my time in Kyiv is this: many people in the West would like Ukraine to be a little bit guilty as well, or at least be problematic. They say: Look at those Nazis of the Azov regime! How about corruption? And wouldn't some Ukrainians prefer to live in Russia?

Why are these people obsessed with Ukrainian problems and issues that are irrelevant to the conflict?

A list of serious problems could be drawn up for almost any country in the world. But, in the case of Ukraine, how are these problems related to being brutally assaulted by a neighbour that wants to steal your land and destroy your culture?

They are not. But it is nice to think they are related. It gives psychological relief. If Ukraine would be a little bit guilty as well, would it not all be much easier? We could then dismiss the conflict as some complicated, hard-to-understand historical struggle between two neighbours.

We could feel good and rational saying that Ukraine needs to find some kind of political solution. Trade some land. Let some of the people be taken over by another country (they speak Russian anyway, don't they?). We helped them alright, but now it's enough.

I have worked for more than eight years on Ukraine and have visited many times. Ukraine has problems, but they have not caused this war.

Today it has only one existential problem: Russia.

This is our problem too. The Kremlin follows a path of revisionist aggression for more than a decade. It wants to destroy European peace and democracy along with the international rule-based order.

Democracies are far from perfect. They apply doubles standards and often make bad compromises between what they define as their interests and values.

But Russia is different. Its policy is to systematically help dictators around the world to crush their people. Ukraine is the frontline of a war against all of us.

The best we can do is support Ukraine to bring this awful war to an end as quickly as possible. It is a hard way to go.

Not everybody believes this is the right way to go. This is a legitimate discussion, but it should be an honest one. People who propose "political solutions" need to explain the brutal realities and risks associated with their solutions.

Author bio

Michael Meyer-Resende is the executive director of Democracy Reporting International, a non-partisan NGO in Berlin that supports political participation.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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