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man mourns dead son

The father of a man who was reportedly killed by a cluster rocket mourns over his body in the city of Lysychansk in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 18, 2022.(Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images)

As Death Toll Climbs, NATO Chief Warns Russian War on Ukraine Could 'Last for Years'

While Western powers continue to pour weapons into the region, critics argue that "there's only one way to bring it to an end. That's diplomacy."

Jessica Corbett

It has been nearly four months since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine and with peace talks stalled, the chief of NATO warned Sunday that war could drag on for years.

"We have to prepare for it to last for years," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

"We must not let up in supporting Ukraine. Even if the costs are high, not only for military support, but also because of rising energy and food prices," he continued. "But: That is no comparison to the price that Ukrainians have to pay every day with many lives."

"And if Putin learns from this war that he can simply carry on as he did after the 2008 war in Georgia and the occupation of Crimea in 2014," Stoltenberg added, "then we will pay a much higher price."

Stoltenberg's comments followed Friday reporting by The Washington Post that "the United States and its allies are making preparations for a prolonged conflict in Ukraine."

U.S. President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that Washington "is providing another $1 billion in security assistance for Ukraine, including additional artillery and coastal defense weapons, as well as ammunition for the artillery and advanced rocket systems that the Ukrainians need to support their defensive operations in the Donbas."

The Post pointed out that "European nations including Germany and Slovakia unveiled their own shipments of advanced weapons, including helicopters and multiple-launch rocket systems."

Critics continue to warn, as anti-war columnist Ted Snider wrote for Responsible Statecraft earlier his month, that sending more advanced weapons which threaten Russia "could not only prolong the war and cause more suffering for Ukrainians by extending the current battlefield, it could also, ultimately, put Ukraine in a weaker position at the negotiating table."

Taking aim at Massachusetts' all-Democrat congressional delegation in particular, Jason Pramas of DigBoston this month spotlighted the lack of public discussion or debate about pouring billions of dollars into Ukraine, including among "politicians who have been critical of the outrageously huge U.S. military budget and have fought hard for increasing the budget for domestic social programs benefiting working families instead."

As Pramas wrote for Common Dreams:

Yet is there no criticism to be leveled by the Mass. delegation against a $40 billion package that is going to pump far more cash into the treasuries of major American military contractors than it is into desperately needed humanitarian aid for the Ukrainian people?

Is there no problem with giving so much money to a foreign power engaged in a regional conflict, however justified, when there are so many human needs going unmet here in the United States?

Is there no risk in providing bigger, more long-range, and more powerful weapons systems to the Ukrainian military when their use could trigger a nuclear response from Russia that would lead swiftly and inevitably to a global conflagration that would end human civilization?

Apparently not.

American scholar and dissident Noam Chomsky, in a recent radio interview, noted that the United States and other NATO nations sending weapons to Ukraine isn't a new development.

"From 2014, the U.S. and NATO began to pour arms into Ukraine—advanced weapons, military training, joint military exercises, moves to integrate Ukraine into the NATO military command. There's no secret about this. It was quite open," Chomsky said, adding that Stoltenberg recently "bragged about it."

"So, criminality and stupidity on the Kremlin side, severe provocation on the U.S. side. That's the background that has led to this," Chomsky said of the war. "Can we try to bring this horror to an end? Or should we try to perpetuate it? Those are the choices."

"There's only one way to bring it to an end. That's diplomacy," he argued. "Now, diplomacy, by definition, means both sides accept it. They don't like it, but they accept it as the least bad option."

In the absence of diplomatic negotiations—which Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, publicly blamed on the United States earlier this week—bodies continue to stack up in Ukraine. The New York Times on Saturday published a special report on deaths from the war.

About a fifth of Ukraine is now under Russian control, and "the Ukrainian army is taking heavy losses. By the government's own estimates, as many as 200 soldiers are dying every day," the Times reported. "In April, Western countries estimated that Russia had lost about 15,000 soldiers in Ukraine; on Friday, Ukraine put the estimate at 33,000."

The newspaper also addressed the unknown but significant civilian death toll:

In its latest updates, the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said 4,509 civilians had been killed in the conflict. But it is clear that many thousands more have been killed. Ukraine's chief of police, Ihor Klymenko, said this past week that prosecutors had opened criminal proceedings "for the deaths of more than 12,000 people who were found, in particular, in mass graves."

And in Mariupol, the Black Sea city flattened by Russian bombardment, Ukrainian officials in exile have said that examinations of mass graves using satellite imagery, witness testimony, and other evidence have led them to believe that at least 22,000 were killed—and possibly thousands more.

"Children are not protected from the indiscriminate violence," the Times noted. "The United Nations' agency for the protection of children in emergency situations has estimated that at least three children have died each day since the war started in February. That is only an estimate."

Amnesty International also has a new report highlighting civilian deaths. The human rights group declared Monday that Russian forces' use of cluster munitions in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, "constitute war crimes."

"The repeated use of widely banned cluster munitions is shocking, and a further indication of utter disregard for civilian lives," said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty's senior crisis response adviser. "The Russian forces responsible for these horrific attacks must be held accountable for their actions, and victims and their families must receive full reparations."

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