BY RAMZY BAROUD
As is the case of long wars, the warring parties and their affiliated media in the Russia-Ukraine conflict have painted each other using uncompromising language, making it nearly impossible to offer an unbiased view of the ongoing tragedy that has killed, wounded and expelled millions.
While it is understandable that wars of such horror and near complete disregard of the most basic human rights often heighten our sense of what we consider to be moral and just, parties involved and invested in such conflicts often manipulate morality for political and geopolitical reasons.
This same logic is underway in Ukraine. Both sides are adamant that nothing less than a complete victory is acceptable. The Ukrainian view is fully supported by western countries in word and deed – as in tens of billions of modern weapons that have done little, aside from worsening an already bloody conflict.
Most Russians hardly see their war in Ukraine as a war against Ukraine itself. In his speech delivered on the first anniversary of the war, Russian President Vladimir Putin presented the war as an act of self-defense. “They are the ones who started this war, and we are using our forces to put a stop to it,” Putin said in a joint session of the Russian Parliament and Kremlin officials.
Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have themselves characterized the war using similar language. “We are fighting Russia,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said. Though the statement was withdrawn later on, Baerbock was actually being truthful: NATO and Russia are, indeed, at war.
The narratives of both sides, however, are so complex yet so polarized. To even attempt to offer a third view on the war, or to even approach the subject in a purely analytical manner immediately qualifies one to be ‘biased’. Each side believes that its version of the truth is moral, historically defensible and consistent with international law. As a result, many reasonable people find themselves retreating in silence.
But is silence, in itself, an immoral position, especially during times of war and human suffering? It should be. In Islamic theology, it is accepted that “anyone who refrains himself from speaking the truth is a mute devil.”
This maxim is shared by most modern philosophies and political ideologies. Among many such statements addressing the matter, one of the most powerful assertions by African-American leader and preacher Martin Luther King Jr. is, “The day we see truth and cease to speak is the day we begin to die.”
Yet, there is no single truth on the Ukraine war that can remain fully truthful after being placed within a larger context. The war on Ukraine is indeed illegal; but the preceding civil war in Donbas and the violated Minsk agreements at the behest of Western powers – as admitted by former German Chancellor, Angela Merkel – were also immoral and illegal. In fact, none of these acts can be analyzed accurately or understood fairly, without considering the others.
A year after the war, more fuel has been added to the fire, as if the main goal behind the war is prolonging it. Concurrently, very few proposals for peace talks have been advanced or considered. Even a proposal made by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, hardly a peacenik, was dismissed almost immediately by the pro-Ukraine camp. When the likes of Kissinger are being accused of being compromisers, we can be certain that the political discourse on the war has reached a degree of extremism, unprecedented in decades.
Aside from the morality of speaking out against the continued war, or the immorality of silence, there is another matter deserving of our attention: The war is not only an internal dispute between Russia and its allies on the one hand, and Ukraine and NATO on the other. It is affecting all of us.
A comprehensive study conducted by researchers from the universities of Birmingham, Groningen and Maryland examined the possible effect of the war on household incomes in 116 different countries.
The latest study created a model for the future, based on what millions of people around the world, especially in the Global South, are already experiencing. It looks bleak. Just the fact that energy prices could force an individual household to spend anywhere between 2.7 to 4.8 percent more is enough to push 78 to 114 million people into extreme poverty.
Since hundreds of millions already live in extreme poverty, a massive section of the human race will no longer be able to afford proper food, drinkable water, education, healthcare, or shelter.
So, our silence on the inhumanity and futility of the war is not just immoral, in this case, it also constitutes a betrayal of the fate of hundreds of millions of people around the world.
The war in Ukraine must end, even if one party is not fully and completely defeated, even if NATO’s geopolitical interests are not served, even if not all of Russia’s goals, whatever they are, are achieved.
The war should end because, regardless of the outcome, long-term instability in that region will not cease completely any time soon; and because millions of innocent people are suffering and will continue to suffer, in Ukraine and around the world. And because only political compromises through peace negotiations can put an end to this horror.
Practically, this means that Palestinians are left with no other option but to carry on with their resistance, indifferent – and justifiably so – to the UN and its ‘watered-down’ statements.