Turning point in the Russian/Ukraine war nearing? The courage to choose dialogue


By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

There has been rarely such a heated debate as the one which broke out after “Vatican News” and other European and US press outlets on March 10/11th reported about an interview which Pope Francis had given to the Swiss TV RTS. The full interview will be aired on March 20.

According to “Vatican news” (11.03.24) the Pope stated in light of the two wars which are ongoing in Ukraine and Gaza that “negotiations are never a surrender.” He urged the parties to the war in Ukraine, not “to be ashamed to negotiate before things get worse.” In the interview at one point the interviewer told the Pope that there are some in Ukraine who demand the courage for capitulation, by “hissing the white flag” while others say that this would only “legitimize the right of the stronger.”  The Pope essentially answered that this depends from which perspective this question is being looked at: “I think that those are stronger who think of the people and have the courage ( …)to show their readiness to negotiate.” (…)  When you see that you are defeated, that things are not going well, it is necessary to have the courage to negotiate. You may feel ashamed, but with how many deaths will it end?  Negotiate in time; look for some country that can mediate. Today, for example in the war in Ukraine, there are many who want to mediate. Turkey has offered itself for this. And others. Do not be ashamed to negotiate before things get worse.”  Pope Francis qualified “war” as madness and criticized the influence of “arms manufacturers on wars” who have a lot of money.

Uproar and chorus of indignation in Germany

The pope’s courageous plea for “diplomacy and peace” was answered by a pathological outburst of “hatred” particularly from the side of some leading German politicians who basically in reference to the “White flag” image stated  that the pope would call for capitulation, which when read in context is simply not true and got later again clarified by the  Vatican. Incidentally these are the same people who in the last weeks have been forming a common “front” against Chancellor Scholz for refusing to send “Taurus missiles” to Kiev- given that Scholz correctly argued that this would make Germany “a party in the war against Russia.”  Among the most outspoken opponents against the pope were leading members of the Bundestag: Norbert Röttgen (CDU),  Roderich Kiesewetter (CDU) and  Agnes Strack Zimmermann (FDP) as well as Katrin Göring- Eckard (from the Greenies). The chorus of indignation was accompanied by lead editorials in the German press, such as the daily FAZ, which qualified the Pope as having joined the “camp of autocrats”(!), accusing him that with his call for peace diplomacy he just gives way to the “right of the stronger that would prevail.” Reference was even made in the editorial to St. Augustine who had written about the “just war.”

“Right of self-defense” – not absolute

What is left out in the debate about the “right for self – defense” is the principle of “human international law” whereby the “well- being and common Good of all mankind” must be taken as measuring rod, as Cardinal Tomasi, former permanent observer of the Holy See at the UN in Geneva, stated in an interview with Vatican News. (11 March)  In it he emphasized that what is needed is a “moral compass which has got lost.”(!) He warned about those who demand that the “the right for self- defense” should be put in the center. “If in the attempt to self- defend everything gets lost, what remains then to be defended? We don’t know all the damage and consequence that are being perpetrated and we don’t know the number of civilian victims that are connected with that.”

European political leaders panicking

During a conference in Paris, February 26, which gathered state and government leaders from 20 countries, French President Emmanuel Macron stated that he would “not exclude sending ground troops to the Ukraine.” Given that “today our collective security is at stake” and “that there was no consensus of sending troops to help the embattled country,” Macron emphasized that “anything is possible if it is useful to reach our goal”, in order to  “ensure that Russia cannot win this war.” Kremlin speaker Peskov immediately responded that if the French option was to be realized, then one would have to think inevitably “about a conflict with NATO… Sending ground troops is not in the interest of these countries.” In his latest interview with state TV journalist Dimitry Kiselyov  (13.03.24 ) President Vladimir  Putin reiterated that “Russia wants to resolve all disputes and this particular conflict with peaceful means. But this should be a serious negotiation with provision of security for the opposing side and in this case we are primarily interested in the security of the Russian Federation. That is what we will proceed from.” Putin emphasized again that “Russia is ready to use nuclear weapons in case of threat of the existence of the Russian state.”

German Chancellor Scholz who participated in Macron’s Paris conference, was rejecting Macron’s proposal, by stating firmly that “there would be no ground troops, no soldiers on Ukrainian soil that are being sent by European or NATO states there.  I don’t know anybody who would seriously want this, also not in Ukraine.”

The only real strong support which Macron received was given by Poland, whose Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski  (husband of the notorious Neocon journalist Anne Applebaum)  expressed deep interest concerning Macron’s proposal to send western troops, stating that “several NATO countries already have their troops in Ukraine.”

The truth is that President Macron is with his back against the wall- given that his country is facing a lot of domestic upheaval not only from the peasants who are very upset about the Brussels Green Economy Plan, but also other social layers of French society. Being an “embattled” president who has no great chances to win in the upcoming elections, Macron obviously has no “strategic idea” how to end the war in Ukraine.  As Andriy Kuzmak noted in an article (Iswestija 12.03.), France is losing a lot of influence in Africa where Russia’s wheat exports which has a 30% share world-wide, have increased two and threefold for example to countries like Algeria. But France is also at odds with Russia, that since last year’s St Petersburg summit gathering leaders from 40 African countries, has engaged in a broad economic and military cooperation with some Western African countries (former French colonies) such as Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Central -African Republic.

Canadian military think tank on the future of Ukraine war

While it seems that the European political elite is caught in “wishful delusion” about their capability to have the Ukraine win, a look at the overall situation is much more sobering. In a study that was compiled by the Canadian Defense Ministry connected think tank  “The Network for Strategic Analysis (RAS/NSA)”, an article was published under the title “What Strategy for the West in Ukraine? Renunciation after Default.” (February 29th). ) The author Olivier Sueur- former deputy Assistant Secretary for NATO, the EU and the UN at the French Ministry for the Armed Forces in his article under the headline “Sustaining support for Ukraine does not constitute a Strategy,” notes that “the trajectory of the Ukraine and its Western supporters is precisely unsustainable due to a gap between means and ends that is too large.” In terms of options that still might be available, the article states:

“1. The United States is the weak link due to its crucial role in military aid to Kyiv, and the November 2024 elections limiting their short term perspective – Donald Trump is right to declare “I will have that war settled in one day, 24 hours”  as it would “only require announcing the suspension of American assistance. (…) 2. Russia is playing a long game of wearing down Ukraine in terms of combatants and the West in terms of weapons and ammunition while also working to fatigue public opinion. 3. Ukraine no longer has the ‘human resources’ to be on the offensive but can defend itself if Americans and Europeans provide the material means to do so. 4. The Europeans whose security is directly affected by the Russian posture and who have responded economically (sanctions, gas, economic aid), have no more strategy than the Americans and they fail to ramp up their capabilities in terms of weapons and ammunition.”

Ukraine: Gap between means and ends widening

The “conflict dynamics” is furthermore “constrained” by three limiting parameters: “The first is political, involving the stakes of Ukrainian stability and the American orientation as the main provider of military aid. The second is human, characterized by a “scarcity” of resource on the Ukrainian side. The third is “material”, involving insufficient production of weapons on the Western side.”

According to the article of Olivier Sueur at this stage Russia has gained more territory than Ukraine in 2023. It refers to an article in “Time” which was quoting a top Ukrainian presidential advisor in early October saying: “In  Kyiv  people are stealing like there is no tomorrow”,  “evoking to American decision makers the specter  or their experience in Afghanistan in this regard.” One of the presidential advisors to Zelensky is quoted having said “even if the U.S. and its allies come through with all weapons they have pledged,” “we don’t have the men (!) to use them.”(sic). And according to former British Defense Minister Ben Wallace it is noted that the “average age” of Ukrainian soldiers is over 40  years (average 43).

The author also uses the UNHCR based population figures for Russia and Ukraine. In 2020  Russia had a population of 145 Mio compared to 44 Mio for Ukraine (within its internationally recognized border). The article notes that “Ukraine must subtract the population of territories occupied by Russia since 2014, approximately 2 Million for Crimea and 3.8Mio of the self- proclaimed Republics Donetsk and Luhansk, leaving about 38 Mio people under the control of the Ukrainian government as of January 2022. Following the initiation of Russian military operations, 8 Mio people sought refuge abroad and 6,4 Mio were still displaced as of December 2023, according to the U.N High Commissioner for Refugees and an undetermined number of Ukrainians live in the newly occupied areas (at least 1, 5 Mio).  Considering the significant population flows entering and leaving the national territory, the author states that Ukraine practically relies on a population of no more than 30 Million (!)  Inhabitants directly under government control, including 5 Million internally displaced person-”

“Material limitations in the West”

Another major bottleneck is also the “weapon supply” from the West.  “Western stocks of equipment and ammunition” are “low (…), the 2011 military intervention into Libya had already shown the limits of European capabilities, with a reliance on the United States due to the rapid depletion of certain stocks (…) With the war in Ukraine, there is a shift, returning to large scale and highly consumptive conventional operations against a modern military.” (…)  The Ukraine fired between 4000 and 7000 shells per day totaling 1,5 to 2.5 million shells in a year compared to 20.000 per day for Russia. The transfer of one million shells by the United States in 2022 is both significant and insufficient. (…)

“After two years of conflict the consequence of these low stocks is that Western countries have little left to transfer to Ukraine without jeopardizing their security” (sic)…  “The question of stocks is closely tied to production capacity” (…) However for the same reasons that stocks are low, “production capacities” have significantly diminished since the end of the Cold War simply because demand has collapsed (…) “For example, in the United States, the production of 155mm shells was 3.250 per month in 2022, compared to 4,000 to 5,000 firings of this caliber per day on the Ukrainian side. Production increased to 20.000 per month with a goal of 40.000 per month by 2025, considering the necessary investments to create new production lines and the time required to train the workforce. Nevertheless , this production of around 500.000 shells per year in 2025 would take two years to replenish U.S. Stocks, before any could be provided to anyone, even though the minimum Ukrainian requirement is three times that (1,5 million)” … “The structural increase in weapons and ammunition production requires significant investments from companies , hence firm order from states, and ultimately, time to build the production facilities, recruit and train the work force as well as organize the supply chain.(sic)”

The article concludes that “in the face of a determined Russia intent on achieving its objectives, Ukrainians are no longer the master of its destiny (!) It depends entirely on the will and /or capacity for assistance from the United States and Europe (…).”

“The key question remaining is how Americans and Europeans envision their role in this conflict and what is their strategy?” It is emphasized that: “For the United States, the cold analysis is as follows: 1/ Military: Ukrainians will no longer be able to go further in terms of territorial conquest, and there is no question of admitting into NATO a country of which 17% of the territory is occupied indefinitely by a Russia that remains the world’s leading nuclear power. 2/ Strategically, the Americans have no specific interest in Ukraine, especially now that Russia had depleted its conventional capabilities (men, equipment, economy) and this conflict is diverting their final means from their real priorities (the Indo- Pacific). 3/Nevertheless, it would be appropriate to establish conditions for an honorable end, because, given the investment made, one can question the lesson learned by the rest of the World: There are precedents: South Vietnam was abandoned after 1975 after a much more painful involvement for the Americans; similarly Afghanistan in 2021.” The study refers to Richard Haass and Charles Kupchan’s article in Foreign Affairs (17 Nov 2023) “Redefining success in Ukraine” which “subtly proposes a compromise solution potentially acceptable to Russia, involving armed defensive neutrality  within a reduced perimeter for Ukraine- a variant reminiscent of Finland during the Cold War, with or without a peace treaty.”

The article concludes that “ ultimately  the American institutional paralysis leads to the progressive asphyxiation of Ukrainian military capabilities and the development of favorable prospects for a determined Russia unless there is a European political and industrial mobilization to offer an alternative solution being accompanied by Europe’s choice to maintain “strategic autonomy.” This would offer the chance that Europe if reason were to prevail,  would opt for a ceasefire and peace negotiations.


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