In an open letter, experts and other public figures call for a ceasefire in Ukraine. They ignore the fact that Russia is currently not interested in negotiations. Above all, they ignore the real aim of the Russian war.
Open letters seem to have become fashionable, and peace is a good thing anyway. So an open letter demanding peace is always justified – isn’t it?
There is a misunderstanding. Not every letter calling for a speedy ceasefire is a good thing. That applies in any case to the most recent writing of this kind, an appeal just published by “Zeit” under the title “Truce now!”. It was signed by political scientists, but above all by celebrities from literature and the media who have been pushing for an imminent ceasefire for some time or who believed that Ukraine’s military success was impossible from the start.
But Ukraine is not dead yet. Not yet, because that is precisely the declared aim of the Putin regime. The signers don’t seem to think so. Here is the central gap in their analysis and their demands. Currently, this war is not a conflict in which “both sides” have to make compromises in order to end it. This is a war of annihilation. For years, Putin’s Russia has repeatedly made it clear that, from his point of view, Ukraine has no right to exist – not linguistically, not culturally and certainly not politically. From the Russian point of view, this is therefore not a raid or an invasion – terms that you will look for in vain in this letter. From a Russian point of view, it is about the reconquest of Russian territory and the destruction of the independent identity of the people living there. The violence would therefore not end just because Ukraine surrendered.
A straw man argument
The authors of the open letter ignore this shameless imperialism. You have to hide him, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to write that “it cannot be assumed that an agreement is impossible and that Putin in particular does not want to negotiate.” It must be assumed that this is the case. Putin’s spokesman has just announced what needs to happen for the war to end: “The nationalist units and the Ukrainian military must be ordered to lay down their arms.” Russia demands unconditional surrender.
Curiously, the signatories do not ask about Russian war aims or Russian motives for the war. They suppress the fact that Russian state television is talking about the fact that now would be a good time to attack Berlin. They gloss over the fact that Putin sees himself not only as the new Peter the Great, which would be bad enough, but also as some sort of revenant of Ivan the Terrible. In short, they ignore the magnitude of the threat that Putin’s Russia poses.
In return, the authors of the letter accuse the West of having a war aim that it does not have. You write: The longer the West supports Ukraine with arms deliveries, the less clear it becomes what the war aim is. You seem to know it anyway: “A victory for Ukraine with the reconquest of all occupied areas including the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and Crimea is considered unrealistic by military experts, since Russia is militarily superior and has the ability for further military escalation. (…) Continuing the war with the goal of Ukraine’s complete victory over Russia means thousands more war casualties dying for a goal that doesn’t seem realistic.”
One can easily find quotes from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that support such war aims. But: “The fact that warring parties make maximum demands or expressly reject peace talks is not an unusual starting point in deadlocked conflicts,” as the letter correctly says. Selenskyj will also know that he has to make concessions, bitter as it is in the fight against such an aggressor. And the west? Neither US President Joe Biden nor German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have ever declared a “victory” for Ukraine to be their goal. They say Ukraine must not lose and Putin must not win. The letter writers accuse the West of a goal it does not have, which is to discredit arms sales to Ukraine. This is a classic straw man argument – an impertinence.
The pinnacle of banality
They continue to use the threat of famine as a result of the war as an argument. Only: As an argument for what? For the fact that the war must end quickly? That goes without saying: Of course, this war must end quickly. But how? According to the letter, there should be no peace dictated by Putin. “Rather, the international community must do everything possible to create conditions under which negotiations are possible at all.” These are again self-evident, which no one denies. That is exactly the aim of the arms deliveries: to create conditions under which negotiations are possible and to prevent a dictated peace. Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron keep calling Putin, ultimately to persuade him to negotiate. The transcript of a conversation between Macron and Putin that has just been published shows how unsuccessful these initiatives have been so far. Both Macron and Scholz still try again and again. The letter ignores that too.
All these blank spaces make the letter naïve at best, ruthless at worst. The authors leave open how, from their point of view, a ceasefire can be achieved. “Economic sanctions and military support must be integrated into a political strategy aimed at gradual de-escalation towards the achievement of a ceasefire,” they write vaguely. One has to hope that this does not mean that the West is offering Russia a sanctions reduction in exchange for negotiations. That can be thought about when Russia ceases to be a threat.
“In view of the threat of humanitarian catastrophes and the manifest risk of escalation, the starting point for restoring stability must be found as quickly as possible,” write the signatories. “Only a suspension of hostilities creates the necessary time and opportunity.” This is the culmination of the banality of this text, which appeared on Wednesday at Zeit Online. In Germany it is behind a paywall, for users in the Ukraine it is freely accessible: There the “Zeit” is kindly free of charge. It is hard to imagine that people in Kyiv, Odessa, Kharkiv or Cherson could read this open letter without bursting into screams.