Time To End the War in Ukraine. Mediation Is the Best Answer | Opinion
Since Russia began its invasion, the U.S. has contributed to an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, rallying popular opinion at home and throughout the West with the narrative that Russia's motives and intentions are groundless, evil, and even genocidal.
This has made honest conversation about the history, motives, and inevitable geopolitical and economic consequences of the conflict impossible. Rather than directly intervene as the U.S. has historically done, the U.S. chose to pour fuel on the fire in the form of more funding, weapons, equipment, and technical support, without which Ukraine would have been forced to negotiate, perhaps even averting the war. Many brilliant, well-informed diplomats and scholars rang alarm bells about the U.S. diplomatic hubris, but to no avail.
Today, after a year of war, the consequences predicted by so many experts are now coming home to roost. The strategic, industrial, economic, political, and military situation in Ukraine—and in Europe—is deteriorating significantly. Even without Nord Stream, Russia remains the third-largest supplier of gas for the European continent. Germany, like the rest of Europe, had to pay 10 times the market price to bolster their reserves. But it's not nearly enough.
Europeans have chosen to remove natural gas from their industries, leading to a huge number of industrial closures, including in Germany. Those manufacturing closures have occurred with all the attendant layoffs. Auto manufacturing alone is down by more than 25 percent. The German electorate is becoming increasingly skeptical about the West's approach to the war. And that was before recent reporting of what many of us had been saying since September; that the Biden administration was responsible for the Nord Stream sabotage.
If he knew about it, Olaf Scholz, the chancellor of Germany, may be guilty of colluding with President Joe Biden in committing what even the U.S. defines as a major act of terrorism. A major German national strategic asset owned in joint venture with Russia was destroyed, seriously damaging both Germany's economy and that of the EU, impacting tens of millions of jobs, putting many lives at risk, and on and on. A deep recession appears inevitable. The revelation should bring dire consequences for the German government at the very least. Only those who believe the ends justify the means and are willing put all moral considerations aside can defend this shocking action.
In Ukraine, the situation is desperate. Ukrainian tactical victories over the last year, however laudable, came at a terrible price. An estimated 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed or wounded since the war began. Ukraine is experiencing ongoing destruction of its infrastructure as winter progresses. A third of the Ukrainian population has been displaced already.
After the attack on the Kerch Bridge and their subsequent withdrawal from Kherson, Russia began launching missile and drone strikes against high-value Ukrainian infrastructure targets, including thermal power plants, electrical transmission lines, and large transformers. A third of the electric power grid is down. Much of the damage will be impossible to repair anytime soon. Unable to maintain their cities, the Ukrainians are running out of fuel, particularly diesel, as well as water and food.
Zelensky may have grand plans for a spring offensive, but it will likely come too late. Ukraine's U.S.- and U.K.-supplied artillery shells, for example, are running low, while Russia is in full-throttle shell production mode, with an artillery advantage of three to one. Endless swarms of rockets and Iranian drones are continuing to systematically take down everything the country needs for people to live there. Satellite imagery tells the true story of the cost of this war. At night, Ukraine is as dark as the Black Sea.
In December, Biden finally seemed to encourage Zelensky to think about negotiations. Zelensky instead demanded preconditions for negotiations which he knew Putin would never accept. What we've seen over the last couple of months is faux escalation with deals for Challenger tanks from the British, along with negotiations to send Patriot batteries, M1 Abrams tanks, and F16s from the U.S. These are unlikely to ever arrive. The U.S. is not going to put weapon systems into Ukraine that can only be operated by U.S. personnel, would be immediately attacked upon delivery, or might fall into the hands of the Russians.
The coming year of conflict promises to be vastly more devastating to Ukraine than what we've seen so far. Russia is not going to listen to dubious offers to negotiate based on demands that ignore the issues that caused the war in the first place. The only way out is a mediated settlement. Mediation offers a very different approach to achieving a long-term durable resolution than is possible with negotiations. It provides a more structured, comprehensive path to resolving the conflict because the process is led by an objective, neutral third party.
The only country capable of mediating this conflict that would be potentially acceptable to all the belligerents is Israel. Israel understands protracted conflict better than any other nation in the world and they are tough negotiators. They won't give up and walk away. They'll keep at it. With the newly elected Netanyahu coalition in power, the timing couldn't be better for Israel to take this on. Most importantly, they'll want to do it.
Some outcomes of the mediation may be obvious. But there are many complicated issues on the table that must be articulated, legitimized, and resolved. Mediation can do that. The process will take many months. But, perhaps its most important outcome will be the start of a healing process so essential for the many, many people on both sides of the conflict victimized by this cruel and needless war. Morality is at the core of what makes peace possible. Ukraine and Russia are neighbors and will always be, and they share a great deal. It is time to put an end to this tragedy.
Steven Myers is a former member of the U.S. State Department Advisory Committee on International Economic policy and the National Security Membership Committe.
The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.