Discover more from Konstantin Kisin
Wishful Thinking Won't End the War
This is part 4 in a 6-part exchange between Noah Carl and myself. I will be writing parts 2, 4 and 6 in response to Noah’s articles. The subject of our exchange is whether the West is following the right strategy in Ukraine. Noah and I have previously discussed the issue on his podcast, as well as on Twitter. We are now doing so via this Substack exchange. You can read his last contribution below:
Apologies for the slow response - I’ve had COVID from which I am thankfully now recovering.
Our discussion increasingly reminds me of a scene from the 2004 movie, Troy.
In the movie, the Trojan war begins because Paris of Troy falls in love with Helen, wife of Menelaus, younger brother of King Agamemnon. Angered by Helen’s betrayal, Menelaus implores Agamemnon to attack Troy. While for Menelaus the war is personal, to Agamemnon this is the casus belli for a war he always wanted.
In the scene in question, Helen, Paris and his older brother and defender of Troy, Hector, have safely arrived in Troy with Agamemnon’s army hot on their heels.
Alone with Hector, his wise wife, Andromache, questions him about the impending battle. Hector attempts to bat off her persistent inquiries by suggesting that the war could be prevented by Paris fighting Menelaus in single combat to decide Helen’s fate. Anromache’s reply?
“50,000 Greeks did not sail the sea to watch your brother fight!”
I do not want to waste our readers’ time by rehashing the same old arguments about the past. You believe adherence to the Minsk Accords could have prevented this conflict. I believe, as both sides said repeatedly, that they were not only destined but, in fact, designed to fail. The breakaway republics’ leaders repeatedly called them “a capitulation”, as did Ukrainians.
Let us focus instead on what you, rightly, identify as our biggest disagreement:
In your concluding paragraph, you say “there will be no long term solution unless Russia is permanently deterred from further aggression”, and we need to strike a balance between “raising the cost for Russia without provoking nuclear escalation”. I take from these statements that you believe now is not the right time to negotiate?
I do not believe now is not the right time to negotiate. Any time is the right time to negotiate if both sides are willing to do so. The point a lot of people appear to be missing, however, is that for a negotiation to take place, both sides have to want to negotiate.
You say further:
I believe the best time to negotiate was right at the start; the second best time was after Russia’s withdrawal from Kiev; and the third best time is as soon as possible. It’s true that negotiations might not lead anywhere. But we could at least try…
You appear to have forgotten that when the war first broke out, President Zelensky, called for negotiations every single day. He repeatedly called on President Putin to hold negotiations "mano-a-mano” to hash things out.
These negotiations failed because Russia felt in control and demanded that all of its stated war goals were met. That is not negotiations, that is unconditional surrender, which, I remind you, included demilitarisation, removal of the elected Government of Ukraine under the banner of so-called “denazification” and, of course, complete independence and, undoubtedly, immediate subsequent annexation of the Donbass and, likely, other territories it had under its control at the time.
In other words, attempts were made to negotiate, including by embarassing kowtowing from Macron and Scholz both before and after the invasion, which, undoubtedly emboldened Putin further by making him believe that he could break the West’s resolve by peeling off France and Germany.
You say that the second-best time to negotiate would have been after Russia withdrew its forces from the suburbs of Kiev. Again, you forget that Ukraine continued to call for negotiations throughout the summer, months after Russian troops were forced to pull back. Even after the horrors of Bucha. Even after Ukrainian POWs were given “safe passage” before being tortured and murdered.
It was the Russian side which refused to negotiate at this point as they focussed on holding annexation referendums in occupied territories. Even though the stated goals of the “Special Military Operation” never had anything to do with Kherson or Zaporizhzhia, they eventually held the referendums and annexed them anyway.
150,000 Russian soldiers did not invade Ukraine to negotiate!
You say the third-best time to negotiate would be now. I can see why you would want that, but you’re not a party to the negotiations. Russia and Ukraine are. And why would Ukraine negotiate now?
As I said from the outset, what Ukraine needs is long term security. Not words on a piece of paper. Actual security. If they don’t get it, the lives they “save” now will be lost double when Russia inevitably invades again. And, yes, I’m sorry, long term security for Ukraine means NATO membership which Putin would not agree to as things stand.
And so we are where we are.
Ukraine has the initiative. They’re taking back territory. Russia’s mobilisation efforts are stalling. Putin is busily reshuffling his deck of corrupt and incompetent generals. They know Putin won’t use a nuke over Kharkhiv and Kherson - it would be suicidal for him and for Russia. It makes perfect sense for Ukraine to continue its efforts to re-take more territory before the Indian summer ends and the fields of Kherson turn to impassable mud.
The only way to get Ukraine to negotiate right now is to pull all Western support and let them get slaughtered.
When the war first broke out, I had a conversation with a minister in the British Government who told me that Kiev was about to fall. Frantically, I called anyone I could in the area to warn them to leave. One phone call, then another, five more, ten more. The reaction was always the same “I see, thank you for telling me but I can’t leave”. I begged, I cursed, I threatened, I offered to help. Nothing.
Eventually, I got through to a friend of a friend, an easy-going well-fed IT consultant in his late 40s who would occassionally pick me up at the airport when I came to visit. I ran the same old script: “Kiev is going to fall, they’re going to use thermobaric bombs, think of your kids”. He interrupted me: “Kostya, stop. Now you listen to me”.
“In 2014, they caught us blind and distracted. But we are not the people we were 8 years ago. This is OUR land. This is OUR country. WE WILL FIGHT. And if you ever call me again with this shit, our friendship is over.
Give my love to your wife.”
In the time that passed between your last article and this one, Vladimir Putin explained in the clearest possible terms what his actual objectives are: to dismantle the West’s hegemony.
It is in our strategic interest to prevent this from happening, not only because the impact on our standard of living will be infinitely worse than the energy crisis of our own making, but also because Vladimir Putin’s dream of a “multipolar world” offers nothing more than suffering and bloodshed to humanity.
I don’t want to argue the merits of the current world order with you. It is imperfect, flawed, unfair, oppressive and whatever else you want to call it.
But human beings evolved to live in hierarchy and a multipolar world is an inherently unstable construction. The end of one unipolarity marks nothing more than the beginning of the search for the next one. It is to be resisted for that reason alone.