September 21 will be remembered in history as a day when the Ukraine crisis appeared to be escalating very sharply. Russian President Vladimir Putin called up 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine and backed a plan for territorial gains to make up for some recent reverses. In an address to his country he said, “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect our people—this s not a bluff.”
This has been interpreted by some to imply that President Putin is not ruling out the use of nuclear weapons.
However big destruction can also be caused by nuclear accidents, particularly in the context of Zaporozhzhia nuclear power plant. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of endangering the plant. On September 21 Russia said a large caliber shell had damaged a water pipe at the plant.
President Putin’s statements were provocative and drew no less provocative comments from western leaders. As seen earlier also in the recent past, there were no attempts to try to tone down the rising heat and to address legitimate concerns. Peter Stano, foreign affairs spokesperson of the European Commission said that Putin is not interested at all in peace, only in escalating war. Such a statement is not justified, as it is more a question of terms of peace than of rejecting peace altogether, but to make a blanket statement that the adversary has no interest in peace at all appears to be like closing doors that should be kept open.
Around the same time the world has also moved a few more inches towards a direct confrontation between Russia and the western powers. The Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia today “is at war with the collective west.” President Putin said that his troops were facing the best of “the Western military machine”. These are obviously very important statements which have probably not been made in the case of any other proxy war. Why has the situation been allowed by world leaders to deteriorate to such an extent? They have clearly acted in very narrow and irrational ways, and future generations will not forgive them for their failure to provide a legacy of world peace and disarmament.
Clearly the chance of the Ukraine war spiraling out of control into a Russia versus USA/West/NATO confrontation is much higher today than in the case of any previous proxy war.
While it is well-known that the Ukraine authorities have asked for continuing increase of military supplies and weapons from the west and from the USA in particular, there have been reports also of more specific demands of longer-range artillery which can hit Crimea and possibly parts of Russian mainland.
Despite very high dangers being posed to humanity by war-escalation ( with the most direct harm likely to be suffered by the ordinary people of Ukraine), effective steps with genuine hope and chance of stopping the war or at least preventing further escalation are not at all visible on the horizons. Small, well-intentioned efforts of peace activists are certainly there, but small efforts are not adequate just now. There is not much clarity on what form stopping of war will take, and what will be the terms of a ceasefire.
One possibility is that if (and this is a big if) Russia is able to make some quick, even if not very stable, territorial gains in the areas considered more crucial in its strategic calculations, it can then announce a ceasefire. But there appears to be very less likelihood that this will be accepted by the current Ukraine authorities and their USA backers. As far as the threat to world peace is concerned, it will remain the same as before. However a big difference then would be that the Russian side can then declare that it has claimed control of only those territories which want to join the Russian Federation, and any violation of a ceasefire unilaterally declared by it would then be like invasion of Russia and not of Ukraine– at least this is the way Russia would like to present the situation then.
On the other hand, if Ukraine forces backed by even more military support from the USA, succeed further in ousting Russia from even more of the areas occupied by Russia in recent times, Ukraine too can declare ceasefire, although the likelihood of this happening plus Russia accepting such an outcome without a new wave of assaults is equally remote.
This precisely is the most worrying part of the current escalating situation, that any solutions which end war or at least avoid further escalation do not appear to be on the horizons at all. What is more and more certain is that almost the entire humanity (as well as other forms of life) will have to pay very heavy costs for the continuation and escalation of this war. If more and more people in various parts of world, in millions, particularly in the most influential countries, come out to support the call for peace ignoring narrow interests, rallying around unbiased solutions suggested by senior retired diplomats, then some significant contribution can hopefully still be made for early end of this terrible war which just now threatens to spiral out of control. The irrational antagonism of the USA/West to Russia must also end, if only for the sake of world peace.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Man over Machine and A Day in 2071.