Why We Also Need a Ceasefire in Ukraine

Local residents react next to the site hit after Russian strikes in Zmiiv, Kharkiv region, on January 8, 2024, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. At least three people have been killed and dozens injured in a fresh wave of Russian strikes across Ukraine, regional officials said on January 8, 2024.

(Photo by Sergey Bobok/AFP via Getty Images)

Why We Also Need a Ceasefire in Ukraine

It's 2024. It's time for less empty cheerleading and more compassionate realism. It's time to call for a ceasefire, end the bloodshed, and work for a negotiated end to the war.

Ukraine has received $232 billion in assistance in the two years since Russia’s illegal invasion. That includes $90 billion in direct military aid, $130 billion in financial aid, and $12.2 billion (only 5 percent of the total) in humanitarian aid. The U.S. has provided $75.4 billion, mostly for weapons funding and security. Military aid to date, $90 billion, exceeds Russia’s reported annual military budget of $66 billion prior to the war.

In 2022, U.S. officials and Democratic leaders insisted Ukraine would defeat Russia. The hawkish Atlantic Council even issued a paper entitled “Preparing for Victory.” Instead, the war has become a lethal stalemate.

By early 2023, US officials knew that an estimated 130,000 Ukrainian troops had been injured or killed but withheld that information from the public, instead promising great results for Ukraine’s upcoming counteroffensive. It failed, by Ukraine’s own admission, amidst reports of “heavy casualties” (the Ukrainian government does not publish casualty reports) and finger-pointing all around.

It's 2024. It's time for less empty cheerleading and more compassionate realism.

The victory talk was misguided at best and cynical at worst. A quarter of a trillion dollars has already been spent on this war and The World Bank estimates that it will cost another $411 billion—nearly half a trillion dollars—to rebuild the war-torn country. As the fighting drags on, the deaths increase and so do the dangers.

A quarter of a trillion dollars has already been spent on this war and The World Bank estimates that it will cost another $411 billion—nearly half a trillion dollars—to rebuild the war-torn country.

The risk of nuclear war remains very real, as the U.S. crosses one red line after another on the road to superpower brinksmanship. A related threat is posed by the six nuclear reactors at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Power Plant, which have already been damaged in the fighting and are currently under Russian control. Their present status remains unclear. And Ukraine’s terror tactics in Russia could further undermine the world order, risking retaliation against Ukrainian and even U.S. targets.

Time is against Ukraine. In the words of a retired top Ukrainian general, “This is not our war because resources-wise, economically, Russia looks stronger and has a four-fold advantage in manpower.” (Russia’s economy is also fourteen times larger than Ukraine’s.)

The Biden administration has also undermined its own goals by driving China and Russia closer. As a result, writes historian Jake Werner, “China has provided some diplomatic cover for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and refused to impose sanctions ...” This helps Russia hold out even longer.

Now, Politico magazine reports the Biden administration is “quietly shifting” toward strengthening Ukraine’s position for future negotiations to end the war—negotiations that “would likely mean giving up parts of Ukraine to Russia,” according to American and European officials. For his part, Putin has “quietly signaled” that he’s open to a cease-fire.

And yet, bizarrely, the administration is also proposing to send another $50 billion in military aid—more than has been sent in the last two years (details here). There are no signs that the White House is pushing for negotiations. Instead, it seems to be escalating the war. Worse, its decision to send cluster bombs to Ukraine violates international norms and will harm countless innocents—many of them children.

It's time to call for a ceasefire, end the bloodshed, and work for a negotiated end to the war.

Instead of acknowledging reality, however, the White is still pushing $110 billion in supplementary spending, which includes $50 billion in new military aid to Ukraine. Only this massive weapons package will suffice, says the White House, and it must be passed now. It’s “urgent,” says President Biden. It’s “urgent,” says Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. It’s “urgent,” says National Security spokesman John Kirby. (That’s what they call a “talking point.”)

But why is a commitment of this size so urgent? Certainly, targeted aid is called for. A collapse of Ukraine’s defenses would weaken its negotiating position. But the administration hasn’t explained why this limited goal requires more weaponry than Ukraine has received in two years of full-scale war.

Could there be another reason? Also from Politico:

For Biden, navigating the nearly two-year-old war in the middle of a tough election campaign ... will prove tricky at best. As it helps Ukraine shift to a more defensive posture, the Biden administration can’t appear to be handing the advantage to Putin ...

“Those discussions [about peace talks] are starting, but [the administration] can’t back down publicly because of the political risk” to Biden, said a congressional official who is familiar with the administration’s thinking ...

Could the best interests of Ukraine and the world be taking a back seat to politics? Let’s hope not. But Biden now has the lowest approval rating of any president since George W. Bush, according to recent polling, and Donald Trump clearly senses that he is vulnerable on the war issue.

The administration insists, in John Kirby’s words, that “we are not dictating terms to President Zelensky.” That’s not true and never has been. Western allies blocked a 2022 peace deal between Russia and Ukraine that could have ended this war in its early months. We learned that, not from some underground journalist, but in an anti-Putin article co-written by neocon national security insider Fiona Hall. As Ukraine’s chief negotiator confirmed to a Ukrainian newspaper, Britain’s then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson showed up and nixed the deal on behalf of the West.

Zelensky has been criticized, sometimes by his own generals, for clinging to a grandiose vision of “victory” that is at odds with the military stalemate on the ground. But even Zelensky is returning to the idea of negotiations. An article in the New York Times on January 16, 2024 was headlined “Zelensky Calls for Peace, Not More Weapons, in Davos.” Zelensky told business leaders at the World Economic Forum, “We need you in Ukraine to build, to reconstruct, to restore our lives.”

Besides, the talking point that we won’t tell Zelensky (or Netanyahu) how to run their wars never made sense. The U.S. has a right to make its own decisions about external conflicts. That’s not telling them how to manage their affairs; it’s deciding how to manage our own.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian people keep paying a heavy price, losing their homes, their health, and their lives—as their children lose their childhoods.

They’re also losing their human rights. Amnesty International reports that the Zelensky government is using the war as a pretext for cracking down on workers’ rights and freedom of expression. A report to the United Nations Human Rights Council expressed concern about the nearly 6,000 Ukrainians targeted for crimes of collusion.

Democratic freedoms are also being eroded. “Political persecution of leftists and other dissidents has not become something new since February 24, 2022,” a Ukrainian human rights leader told Jacobin’s Branko Marcetic. “It’s just that since February 24, they have acquired a larger scale.”

There have been large-scale crackdowns on writing and even speaking Russian, which remains the primary language of millions of Ukrainians. And a notorious website run by a Zelensky insider doxes people deemed unfriendly to the Ukrainian states, some of whom wind up dead.

Corruption is worsening at all levels of government. A September 2023 Reuters headline reads, “Corruption accusations continue to plague top Zelensky aides.” The article describes a construction company president who kept rolls of bills in a safe behind a desk to, in his own words, “bribe public officials to approve building projects.” Reuters reports:

The task of handing over the cash, (the construction executive) said, was entrusted to a lawyer named Oleh Tatarov, now a senior adviser to Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Tatarov, who the Kyiv Independent calls “the symbol of Zelensky’s tolerance of corruption in his inner circle,” is now his adviser on law enforcement and security agencies. (There is more on Tatarov’s checkered career here.)

Corruption has diverted humanitarian aid, specifically food aid, as well as weapons purchased with foreign (including U.S.) aid. “Corruption can kill,” an anti-corruption activist told theNew York Times. The corruption problem will get even worse under Zelensky’s rumored plan to take corruption investigations away from law enforcement and place them under the Security Service (SBU), a force controlled and directed by his office (and presumably coordinated by Oleh Tatarov).

Aid scandals have engulfed the Defense Minister as well as the energy sector, high-ranking civil servants, and all heads of regional military recruitment centers.

Those recruitment centers implicated in corruption are another source of anguish for Ukrainians. The New York Times reports that their so-called “people snatchers” have “confiscated passports, taken people from their jobs and, in at least one case, tried to send a mentally disabled person to military training,” according to sources.

The Times adds, “Videos of soldiers shoving people into cars and holding men against their will in recruiting centers are surfacing with increasing frequency ...” and that “the harsh tactics are being aimed not just at draft dodgers but at men who would ordinarily be exempt from service,” including the injured and disabled.

The American people deserve a truthful accounting of the situation. The Ukrainians deserve an immediate ceasefire backed by balanced, rational pledges of humanitarian and other aid as all parties pursue a diplomatic conclusion to the war.

Professors Stefan Wolff and Tetyana Malyarenko write that the conflict is increasingly seen as a “war fought by the poor.” They note that the government is proposing “coercive measures” that “range from high fines for draft dodging, to seizure of real estate and the freezing of private bank accounts, to the cancellation of passports of Ukrainian refugees abroad.”

Other proposed measures include “increase(ing) the tax burden on individual citizens and small and medium-sized businesses, while social spending will be radically reduced.”

While Zelensky is interested in negotiations, he opposes a “ceasefire” and says it “would only benefit Russia” by allowing it to re-arm and fortify its position. But it would provide the same opportunities to Ukraine. A well-planned ceasefire would include commitments from the United States and the European Union to stand against its misuse.

Zelensky’s position is clearly unacceptable to the Russians, just as Putin’s position is unacceptable to Ukraine. But the history of diplomatic negotiations tells us disagreements like these are common at the start of negotiations. Diplomacy exists to resolve such differences.

The American people deserve a truthful accounting of the situation. The Ukrainians deserve an immediate ceasefire backed by balanced, rational pledges of humanitarian and other aid as all parties pursue a diplomatic conclusion to the war.

Tell your senators and member of Congress that you want a rational plan for Ukraine, not a massive giveaway to arms contractors. You can call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

It’s easy: Give the operator your zip code to be connected to your elected officials’ offices. Phone calls make a difference.

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