I am pleased to be here for this meeting and thank you for organising it. In my introduction, I would like to raise two issues that seem to me fundamental for understanding the current events in Ukraine. The first aspect concerns the nature of this war. In the second part of my reflections, I will try to explain why, in my opinion, peace in Europe is currently impossible, or at least unlikely, and quite distant.
The nature of this war
First of all, the nature of this war. In my opinion, it is not just a war between Russia and Ukraine, as tends to be assumed. Certainly, it is a war between these two neighbouring countries, and therefore it undeniably has a local and regional dimension. However, it would be wrong to reduce it to that. It is also a war of civilizations, a global war in which Russia, supported by China, is facing off on one side, and the United States, NATO, and the entire Western world on the other. Therefore, this war can be called an unlimited, borderless war, even if they are not compact blocs as they were understood during the Cold War. Gabriel Galice, chairman of the Geneva International Peace Research Institute GIPRI, has described it very well in a video of the blog Antithèse.1
The regional dimension is well known. It is the Donbas conflict, a consequence of the coup d'état of February 22, 2014, which followed the Maidan protests and triggered the uprising of the Donbas population against Kiev after the new nationalist regime banned the official use of the Russian language. So much for the regional dimension.
However, it is its global, existential dimension that is increasingly coming to the fore, both at the level of military operations (mobilising all NATO military forces against Russia, excluding any deployment of troops on Ukrainian soil) and at the strategic level. Therefore, one can speak of a war of civilizations and an unlimited war. Why is it unlimited? Because it concerns the totality of human activities. It is a conflict that goes far beyond the purely military aspect.
It is mainly an economic war between two worlds, Russia, including China and numerous other countries such as India, in the fight against the hegemony of the West and its allies. The sanctions imposed on Russia are a form of war waged with embargoes and blockades. This economic war is even more unlimited and boundless than the military war, because the military war, at least for the moment, remains limited to the territory of Ukraine and to conventional means. It fortunately remains below the nuclear threshold, nuclear bombs. On the economic level, on the other hand, one can speak of an almost total war.
A war for the right to one’s own ideas of social coexistence
It is also a cultural war, an ideological war, an information war that involves all aspects of our daily lives. It is clear that two different world views are at stake here. The liberal or rather neoliberal ideology tries to impose the rule of economic laissez-faire and so-called progressive morality against people who defend their right to have their own idea of life in society.
It is also a war of individualism and abstract values against a more traditional and humanistic vision of human society. I understand the term progressive to refer to what belongs to the LGBT, woke, diversity, multi-cultural ideology, as opposed to a more conservative vision or one that is more concerned with respecting the heritage of ancient Greek, Latin, and Christian humanism.
This war is also spatially unlimited because it affects the entire planet and not just two countries. All the countries of the world are being affected, not only Europe, but also NATO, China, India, and the countries of the global South. For the West, it is a question of survival. It is a question of maintaining its hegemony over the world, which it has exercised for five centuries. That is why the West, led by the United States, wants to fight the war to the bitter end and “weaken” Russia as much as possible, as the U.S. Defense Secretary said during his visit to Kiev at the end of April.
Awakening of the non-Western countries
This global dimension can also be observed in the awakening of the non-Western countries. China supports Russia, although it had always tried to stay out of it and maintain a certain neutrality. Now it has found that it is forced to take sides with Russia as it risks becoming the next target.
The same observation applies to India. India has always defended the principle of non-alignment and has been careful to keep a low profile. But Delhi is de facto supporting Russia by refraining from sanctions. The Indians have realised that this is an opportunity for them to assert themselves on the international stage and get rid of the old Anglo-Saxon colonialism of which they were victims for two centuries.
Finally, an awakening can also be observed in Africa. Many African countries are leaning towards the Russian side, including Saudi Arabia, although it is an old ally of the USA. After the debacle in Afghanistan, the country is beginning to think and distance itself from the USA. So it is willing to sell its oil to the Chinese in yuan and no longer in dollars. As for Latin America, you see that Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, but also Mexico are quite positive towards Russia.
Europe, Japan and the US congratulated themselves and said they had achieved a Holy Alliance against Russia. However, a close look at the world map reveals a very different situation. Only 37 countries have imposed economic sanctions against Russia, while 150 countries have avoided them.
Conclusion: This war is unlimited in its scope and extent, but also in time. I think it will last. It will not end tomorrow. The military operations will probably decrease and perhaps stop in a few weeks or months. But in the other areas of the war – the economic, cultural and ideological – it will continue. The conflict marks a turning point and heralds the end of the neoliberal globalisation associated with the maritime powers and the beginning of a new form of globalisation that is more continent-centred. It is the beginning of the end of the dominance of the Anglo-Saxon maritime empire, of Britain and the USA, which are islands, over the continental powers, embodied by Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Iran, which are land powers. We are witnessing the revenge of the continental powers against the maritime powers.
New phase of military operations
Now a few words on military operations. From a military point of view, the fighting has entered a new phase. The operations are concentrated in the east of Ukraine and are unfolding slowly, nibbling, step by step. After destroying Ukraine's large military infrastructure – airports, command centres, depots and weapons factories – in the first phase, the Russians' goal is now to destroy most of the Ukrainian army, which is concentrated in the Donbas, where it has been able to strengthen for eight years. The advance is slow because the Russians do not want to massacre the Russian-speaking and Slavic population living in these areas. Contrary to what we read in our press – there are always many victims in a war, and I am not trying to justify war – the Russians do not want to kill their own friends, populations that are close to them. That would not make sense, which is why they are proceeding cautiously. They do not want to use the American strategy, which is to bomb massively and destroy everything before they advance. If they did that, they would massacre their own friends. And the difficulty for the Russians is that the Ukrainian army has been reformed and trained for eight years with the help of American, Canadian and English trainers, and the conscript force is carefully monitored by Azov retaliatory battalions. The Ukrainian extremist nationalists thus control the regular conscript army and are responsible for eliminating soldiers who want to surrender or avoid combat. Their task is all the easier because the Azov fighters are Western Ukrainians who despise the Russian-speaking and Orthodox Slavs in the east. They speak Ukrainian, not Russian. For them, it is no big deal if people from the east die.
At the same time, Ukraine is provided with almost unlimited military support in the form of arms deliveries, intelligence, command and advisory services, training of soldiers on foreign territory, cyber warfare, disinformation and psychological operations. This military and financial support from the thirty NATO countries can only prolong the fighting and increase the number of victims.
Therefore, from a military point of view, the operations on the ground will take some time.
Why peace is hardly possible in the short term
I now come to the second part of my contribution: How will all this end? Is there any hope for peace? I think that peace will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, in the short term. First of all, because Ukraine or Zelensky's government does not want to make peace and cannot make peace. Why is that? There is a video from 2019 that shows Zelensky visiting the Donbas after his election, where he is trying to enforce the Minsk Agreement that his country signed. He is seen addressing the Azov battalion and asking the officers to withdraw and pull back the heavy artillery 18 kilometres behind the front line in accordance with the Minsk Agreement. The video then shows the leaders of the Azov battalion threatening Zelensky and refusing to obey him. Conclusions: 1. It is Azov, not Zelensky, who rules the country, and 2. peace negotiations mean risking lives, as was shown in March when Ukrainian death squads killed two of the Kiev negotiators because they were deemed too pro-peace and suspected of colluding with the Russian enemy.
The second reason is that the Americans, who advise and direct the Ukrainian government, also do not want peace. Their latest statements have been very clear on this. And as former Brazilian President Lula da Silva said recently [see article "Lula da Silva: EU and USA could have prevented war"], this should nevertheless have been expected from them. The US will do everything in its power to ruin Russia and send it back to the 19th century (which made the Russians smile, since Russia was never as big as it was in the 19th century!). Joe Biden has another goal in mind, namely to win the mid-term elections to be held in November. Being criticised by the Republicans as too soft, he is also being pushed to escalate and has every interest in escalating the war to rise in the polls and distract from his more than controversial management of national affairs and the economy.
The Russians do not want peace now either, insofar as their military and political goals have not yet been achieved. The Russians have set three conditions: Denazification, neutralisation and recognition of the independence of Crimea and the Donbas. So far, only 50 % of these goals have been achieved. This is not sufficient. Demilitarisation has partially taken place, but the Donbas army still needs to be defeated and, above all, the neutrality of the future Ukraine needs to be achieved. What the Russians call denazification, i.e. ending the control of the nationalist far right and Azov over Ukraine's political and military life, is also halfway there. The victory in Mariupol, the Azov capital, and the “liberation” of the coastal provinces were important steps, but the Kharkiv region and the rest of the Donbas have yet to be “denazified”.
Bucha – accelerant of the anti-Russia hysteria
There is another reason why peace is impossible: Bucha and its media “massacre”. When the Russians withdrew from the Kiev region at the end of March after negotiations in Turkey, they were confronted with the Bucha case, which is obviously largely a skilful staging. It is obvious that the victims of Bucha died as a result of the war. They are victims of war, and that is a tragedy that we must all acknowledge, especially if they are civilians. But these civilian victims were not necessarily the target of a Russian massacre. These people were also killed by bombardments, especially Ukrainian bombardments, because the city was occupied by the Russians and therefore bombed by the Ukrainian army and was fiercely contested for four weeks.
It is possible that there were attacks by Russian soldiers. Such occur in all wars, and it would be surprising if there had been none in Bucha during the weeks of occupation. Therefore, one should not rule out this hypothesis. However, it should not be ruled out that there were civilians massacred by the Azov and Safari Group death squads that combed the town in the two days between the withdrawal of Russian troops and the announcement of the “massacre” in Bucha. It should be recalled that these Ukrainian soldiers had officially announced on their websites that they would eliminate “the saboteurs and accomplices of the Russians” who were suspected of having made pacts with the enemy by accepting biscuits, water or food from the Russians.
All this means that there are several types of victims in Bucha who died for different reasons, but who are classified exclusively as war crimes, crimes against humanity or even “genocide” committed by the Russians. Even the satellite photos, which were obligingly provided by an American company on behalf of the Pentagon, are highly suspect. What is certain, on the other hand, is that the crime, if it is a crime, benefits exclusively the Ukrainians and the West. This reinforces the suspicion that it is a staging or at least a rough arrangement of the truth.
For the case and the subsequent mediatisation, with its troop of journalists brought in in buses and attended by Ukrainian officers, and its processions of Western politicians who went to the scene in a kind of macabre tourism, will have served to create hysterical fits of the European and of the Ukrainian public against Russia. The warning is now clear to everyone: Ukrainians know that they will be mercilessly liquidated if they cooperate with the Russians. Likewise, those who have sided with the Russians in the east and south know that they no longer have any choice: Any return to a Ukrainian regime dominated by nationalists is forbidden to them on pain of death.
I witnessed the same scene in Sarajevo during the 1993 war, with the same kind of scripting intended for the Western media and the same impact on the combatants. Such montages only serve to strengthen the extremists on both sides and lead to pogroms and massacres. They act like self-fulfilling prophecies. The aim is to make both sides irreconcilable. I also do not give much credence to individual testimonies broadcast on television or radio. And when you see old ladies on TV proclaiming, “Yes, the Russians massacred, did this and that,” European journalists take that at face value: “These are testimonies about Russian war crimes.” But how can they be taken seriously when we know that these survivors probably fear for their lives because they have seen the Azov battalions at work and know that they will come to call them to account if they do not testify in the way they want. They will not take the risk of telling the truth in such a context.
Europe without reason
One more word about Europe. We have seen that the USA does not want peace, because as long as the war continues, they can sell their gas, oil and weapons and consolidate their domination over Europe. The attitude of the Europeans, however, is a mystery. I do not understand the Europeans’ interest in becoming hysterically anti-Russian, because objectively they would have to find a way to cooperate with Russia. German industry and French agriculture will buy their oil, gas and their fertilisers much more expensive and run the risk of no longer being competitive. Europe will spend even more money and get into even more debt.
Germany has announced 100 billion euros for military loans. This is an equally big loss for the population. It will also have to finance and provide for five million Ukrainian refugees in Europe. At the moment, the situation is still manageable, but what will it look like in two years? Neither is it possible to isolate Russia, since it is almost autonomous in terms of energy and food resources, and it furthermore can continue to trade with countries that represent almost two-thirds of humanity.
So Europe can only lose. The way it is dealing with this conflict shows the weakness and incompetence of its leaders, who have no strategic and long-term vision and only react under the influence of immediate emotions.
Damage to democracy and the rule of law
In conclusion, I would like to say that I believe that this war will continue. It will not end tomorrow. Since both sides are aware of the danger of nuclear escalation, we are more likely to have a medium-intensity war, like Afghanistan and Iraq, that will probably last for years. As a result, we will again have a Europe divided in two. A new Iron Curtain will be erected, 1000 km further east than the previous one. This means, that long-term tensions will not diminish. Another consequence will be what I call the Sovietisation of our states.
The West keeps saying that it leads a war for democracy and human rights against the Russian dictatorship and fascism. This is wrong, because in reality, a hardening on both sides is to be expected. There will be a hardening of the Russian regime, but with us as well. If you look at things closely, you see that the freedom of the press has also been abolished by banning Russian media. But this is a profound encroachment on the freedom of opinion and freedom of press. When I go on television to express a critical point of view, I am not allowed to have my say. Even the right to property, which is guaranteed by the rule of law and national constitutions, is severely violated. When 300 billion dollars that belong to the Russian people, are confiscated, and billions from the oligarchs, then this is a violation of private property, which is considered inviolable. And I am talking here about our house, our Banks, Switzerland, and not Moscow.
All this is very harmful to the people, whose rights were guaranteed by the Enlightenment and law. It is understandable that sanctions are imposed on states as long as it is in accordance with international law, which is not the case here. But that Western states, which are considered to be the role model for respecting the rights of the individual, behave in this way, this has never happened in the democratic history of the last centuries. The countries that have committed such outrages were dictatorships. This is what Nazi Germany did, for example, when in the 1930s it deprived Jews of their property, solely under the pretext that they were Jews. And yet that is what Europe, our Europe, is doing today to the Russians, only under the pretext that they are Russians.
One can only hope, that these actions do not lead to the tragic consequences that we have seen in the past. Thank you for your attention. •
(Translation Current Concerns)
Guy Mettan is a journalist and member of the Grand Council of the Canton of Geneva, which he presided over in 2010. He began his journalistic career while studying political science; he then worked for the “Journal de Genève”, Le Temps stratégique, Bilan, “Le Nouveau Quotidien” and later as director and editor-in-chief of the “Tribune de Genève”.
Since 2005, he has been President of the Union of Swiss-Russian & CIS Chambers of Commerce. He was President of the Geneva Red Cross from 2006 to 2014 and a member of the Council of the Swiss Red Cross until 2019. In 1996, he founded the Swiss Press Club, of which he was President and later Director from 1998 to 2019.
He is the author of several books, including «Creating Russophobia: From the Great Religious Schism to Anti-Putin Hysteria» (2017), published in seven countries, including China and the USA.
The text reproduces a lecture given by Guy Mettan to readers of Current Concerns on 30 April 2022.
If you want to prevent the setting of cookies (for example, Google Analytics), you can set this up by using this browser add-on.