As the attacks and counterattacks flounder, let’s push for peace

A woman reacts as she stands outside the Odesa Transfiguration Cathedral destroyed in Russian missile attacks in Odesa, Ukraine, Sunday, July 23, 2023

THE war in Ukraine is both escalating and stagnating at the same time. This is the moment to push for it to end.

The escalation comes with Russia’s renunciation of the agreement allowing the export of grain from Ukrainian ports, a decision accompanied by a barrage of rocket attacks on Odesa and other Ukrainian ports. Ukraine has responded with apparently random drone attacks on residential buildings in the Russian capital.

While Moscow may be correct in arguing that the Nato powers and Ukraine have not upheld their end of the agreement on grain exports in respect of Russia’s own interests, a renewed blockade can only lead to growing hardship and hunger in many parts of the world.

The stagnation relates to Ukraine’s offensive to recapture territory occupied by Russia in the country’s south and east. Kiev’s imperialist backers are now expressing concern that it is not proceeding as anticipated.

Very little territory has been retaken, despite the enormous influx of Nato munitions, with cluster bombs just the latest.

This failure is not surprising. The accepted military preconditions for a successful offensive against a well-entrenched opponent — air superiority and a three-to-one advantage in soldiers and weapons — are absent.

Western military sources are additionally claiming that Ukraine’s forces lack the skill in combined-arms operations to advance on a broad front, a deficiency that cannot be made up by superior morale alone.

The same experts indicate that Russia’s army is fighting competently, which it wasn’t a year ago. However, there is no present indication that Russia can mount a successful offensive of its own.

Of course, any part of this equation could change suddenly. But it looks as if for an indefinite period stalemate and attritional warfare fraught with the danger of economic misery and military escalation looms, if the conflict is not brought to an end.

A few on the left believe that the war should conclude with a Russian victory, however defined, if only to give Nato a bloody nose. That may be understandable, but it ignores a range of issues from the illegality of annexing territory by force through to the wishes of the Ukrainian people themselves.

It is also blind to the nature of Putin’s oligarchic-capitalist regime, something highlighted again by the unpunished mutiny by the mercenary Wagner Group. Apparently it needs repeating — this is not the Soviet Union fighting.

Far more are cheering on Nato and Ukraine in a war to the finish against Russia. Recent US communiques extend this to the reconquest of Crimea, a mainly Russian-populated region which certainly does not want “liberation” by Kiev. That way lies Armageddon.

Three entwined conflicts are playing out in Ukraine. There is an internal, civil conflict which has been rumbling since Ukraine declared its independence in 1991 and exploded with the coup against the elected president in 2014.

Then there is Ukraine’s defensive war against Russia’s unjustified invasion. Finally, there is a proxy war being directed by Nato against one rival — Russia — with more than half an eye on a bigger one, China.

A durable peace depends on resolving all three conflicts on the principles of self-determination for minorities, respect for sovereignty and security arrangements that work for all and are not merely an extension of US hegemony.

Imperialism and its epigones like Keir Starmer reject all those principles, but the working-class movement should champion them. There are signs of trade unions taking a more nuanced position on the conflict, as the costs and dangers become clearer.

The immediate demand must be for a ceasefire and then negotiations, assisted by the United Nations, aiming at a democratic peace.