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War and peace in Ukraine

On February 17, 2023, David Remnick of the New Yorker podcast interviewed Steven Kotkin, history professor at Stanford, and biographer of Joseph Stalin.

Kotkin said, “Let’s think of a house with ten rooms, and let’s say I barge in and take two of those rooms. I wreck those two rooms, and I also wreck your other eight rooms. You try to evict me, but I’m still there wrecking your entire house.

“You need your house. That’s where you live. You don’t have another house. Me, I’ve got another house, and my house has a thousand rooms. So, if I wreck your house, are you winning, or am I winning?”

On Friday, February 24, 2022, the world marked the one-year anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s invasion into Ukraine, in order, he said, “to de-militarize and de-Nazify Ukraine,” an inadequate or invalid reason, if not sheer propaganda.

Some argue that Putin’s true reasons were that he wanted to re-establish the old Soviet Union, or that he wanted to seize more land, or that he was terrified of a united Ukraine joining the European Union.

Whatever his reasons, Putin’s “special military operation” has turned into a tragedy.

Staggering for the Russians is the heavy loss of military equipment: 299 aircraft, 288 helicopters, 3381 tanks, 6615 armored combat vehicles, 5242 vehicles and fuel tankers, and 2037 tactical unmanned aircraft.

Yet, more tragic are the Russian army’s casualties: 148,130 military personnel. In February, the average number of Russian troops killed per day jumped to 842.

Putin’s draft now pulls poorly fed and barely trained conscripts from jails, mental health facilities, hospitals, and warm bodies off the streets, and hands them a gun, with an order to “march forward until they are killed.” This is a brutal, bloody war.

Millions of Ukrainians have fled, living miles from their wrecked country.

Kotkin says, that the war has revealed three pleasant surprises: “Ukraine’s strong resistance, Russia’s poor performance in battle, and the European Union’s unification.”

That the German government is about to send tanks to Ukraine must conjure up terror and nightmares among Russian governing officials and citizens.

Fresh in the Russian people’s collective memory are the 27 million Russian people who lost their lives in World War II, when the German Nazi military machine marched across Central Europe, deep into Russia, causing indescribable destruction.

Kotkin says that Zalensky and Ukrainian officials want three things before peace can happen: “captured Ukrainian territory returned to Ukraine, reparations for property damages, and a tribunal for war crimes.”

Kotkin points out, “that would mean the Ukrainians would have to take Moscow.”

Reparations alone are “estimated at $350 billion in U.S. dollars, when Ukraine’s GDP in 2021, prior to the war, was only $180 billion, just over half of the estimated cost.”

How can anyone stop this bloody war? How can anyone win a peace?

Some possibilities. Start small, with a cease fire for say, a day or a weekend. Draw on a map two red parallel battlelines, and call the land between them, a demilitarized zone. Both sides give up territory in exchange for something else that they want.

According to Kotkin, “a victory for Ukraine” would include entry or “accession into the European Union,” a condition that the Ukrainians crave.

In the podcast, David Remnick reminded Steven Kotkin of Sun Tzu’s quote. The ancient Chinese general said, “Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across.”

Kotkin said, “That would be great, but nothing like that is in sight now.”

What is in sight now is a wrecked house.