Voices in favour of negotiations and peace in Ukraine

Pope Francis has spoken out again

by Karl-Jürgen Müller

More than 10 years after the start of the war in Ukraine, after hundreds of thousands of dead and injured, after major destructions, there are lighthouses of our time, lighthouses in the roaring seas of Western threats of escalation. Yes, they do exist: public voices, personalities swimming against the tide and wanting to end this war as quickly as possible through negotiation.
  In an interview with US commentator Tucker Carlson, Russian President Vladimir Putin had declared his willingness to negotiate.
  But the mainstream of Europe, which follows US policy, has ignored this. Even though on 14 March 2024 an important German politician, the leader of the SPD parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, Ralf Mützenich, said in parliament: “Isn’t it about time that we not only talked about how to wage a war, but also thought about how to freeze a war and end it later?”

What has the
“EU peace project” come to?

And Ralf Mützenich is not the only “well-known person” voicing such ideas. In a recent article1, former senior German UN diplomat Michael von der Schulenburg expressed his indignation at the failure of EU governments to initiate negotiations: “The deteriorating military situation in Ukraine and the United States increasing withdrawal from this war created a situation in which the EU is now pushed into the forefront in dealing with this problem.” Probably for the first time since the end of the Second World War, the EU would thus have the opportunity, independent of US geopolitical considerations, to take a lead in determining Europe’s fate in such a crucial issue as war and peace in Europe. And further: „One would hope that the EU that was once created as a European peace project, would use this opportunity to pursue a policy for finding a peaceful solution to ending the Ukraine war.” Troublingly, however, that this is not the case. Instead, ruling politicians in the EU and almost all its member states were getting caught up in “a policy of intensifying the war with senseless military posturing”.
  Russia must not be allowed to win, they say – implying that the whole of Europe would be threatened after a Russian “victory” in Ukraine. This is a complete distortion of what Russia is primarily striving for (see also box) and has always openly declared: a denazification and demilitarisation of Ukraine, protection of the ethnic Russian population there, neutrality of the country and a European security order that also takes Russia’s security interests into account.
  At the end of the article, it says: “The EU sets itself up for a massive failure if it continues its current path of seeking solutions through ever more weapon deliveries and sanctions. In its own interests, the European Union urgently needs a change of strategy that must aim at a pan-European peace and security order based on the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe and that must include Ukraine and Russia”.

Questioning the course of the war

Even in the mainstream media, there are voices here and there who question the current course towards war. For example, Rüdiger Lüdeking in a guest commentary2 for the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” on 29 February 2024. Lüdeking has been a member of the German Foreign Service from 1980 to 2018 and was Germany’s Permanent Representative to the UN and the OSCE in Vienna. Regarding the EU, he writes: “The thread of political dialogue and the understanding for necessary compromises have been lost. Hardly anyone seems to have retained a sense of proportion and sober realities [...].” And he demands: “The diplomatic possibilities for ending the war or achieving a secure ceasefire must finally be explored and tackled.”

An interview with Pope Francis

This article will focus on Pope Francis, who commented on the issue of war and peace in an interview with Italian-language Swiss Radio and Television (RSI)3 regarding Ukraine and Palestine.
  What did the Pope say?
  In the beginning, he is asked: “In Ukraine there are those who call for the courage of surrender, of the white flag. But others say that this would legitimise the strongest. What do you think?” The Pope replies: “It is one interpretation, it’s true, but I think that the strongest one is the one who looks at the situation, thinks about the people and has the courage of the white flag, of negotiating. [...] The word ‘negotiate’ is a courageous word. When you see that you are defeated, when things are not going well, you have to have the courage to negotiate. [...] Negotiate in time, look for some country that can mediate. [...] Don’t be ashamed to negotiate before things get worse.” After a second question, he adds: “Negotiation never is surrender. It is the courage not to lead the country to suicide.”

What war means …

The Pope illustrates what war means using the example of children: “So many innocent people cannot grow up, so many children have no future. Often, Ukrainian children come here to greet me; they come from the war. None of them smile; they don’t know how to smile. A child who doesn’t know how to smile seems to have no future. Let’s please think about these things. War is always a defeat, a human defeat, not a geographical one [i.e., not a question of whether you win or lose land and where exactly the borders are].”

… and the powerful of the world

The Pope is asked: “How do the powerful of the world respond when you ask them for peace?” His answer: “Some say, sure, that is true, but we need to defend ourselves... And then you realise that they have an aircraft factory to bomb others. Defend us – no, destroy us. How does a war end? With death, destruction, children without parents. There is always a geographical [see above] or historical situation that triggers a war [...]. But behind a war is the arms industry, and that means money.” He adds: “The more power someone has, the greater the risk that they will not understand the mistakes they make. It is important to have a self-critical relationship with your own mistakes [...]. If a person feels secure because he has power [...] then he is tempted to forget that one day he will beg, beg for youth, beg for health, beg for life ... it’s a bit like the temptation of omnipotence. And this omnipotence is not white.” The Pope uses the word “white” to symbolise peace.

A long tradition of peace endeavours

In an interview with German-language Swiss Radio and Television (SRF)4, Lebanese-born Antoine Abi Ghanem, currently a priest in a Swiss parish, explained the Pope’s position and brought it in a broader context. Abi Ghanem was the Vatican’s diplomat for disarmament and security issues at the UN. He is astonished at the widespread Western polemics against the Pope, even in Switzerland, a country usually standing for a culture of dialogue and compromise.
  According to Abi Ghanem, the Pope has a long tradition of advocating dialogue and peace. The Pope is aware of the consequences of war. Everyone can see the thousands of dead and injured, the extent of destruction. “And in the end, there is only one way. How will this war end? Only through a negotiation. The sooner, the better.”
  The Pope has given an ethical answer, an answer “that is in harmony with the long-standing position of the Holy See and the popes” of the last 150 years. The Pope’s answer is also not unrealistic: “The Pope lives in this world. He meets all the responsible people on this earth, he knows the realities and the details.” Antoine Abi Ghanem adds: “But I believe that politics must also be determined by ethics from time to time. Otherwise, we are in a cynical world. What does politics mean? Politics is [action] in the service of the common good. Not for the interests of individuals or groups and so on. The common good must always come first.”
  No, the Pope will never say when and how and who will negotiate. But the Pope is calling on us to do the obvious: “This will save us so many victims, so much destruction, so much hatred and so on.” One cannot fight endlessly. “This is a step towards peace. Peace – you can’t just say it will come by itself at some point. It will never come by itself. You have to be creative. You also must be humble sometimes. The small steps, the world will never become a paradise all at once. We must work for this peace every day.”

Peace and development

Later in the interview, he adds another reason why all the popes after the Second World War have spoken out in favour of peace and disarmament, quoting Pope Paul VI: “He said one word, the other term for peace is development. And that is the policy of the Holy See. In other words, what does peace really create? Political participation, human rights, justice, opportunities for children and young people, education, healthcare. All these components create peace much better than weapons.” Armament and the arms race, on the other hand, are a dead end that never ends in peace.
  When asked again about the Pope’s critics, Antoine Abi Ghanem replies: “Of course, NATO does not have the same position as the Pope. And I can understand that. Those who want to sell weapons don’t have the same position as the Pope either. And those who have other political goals don’t have the same position as the Pope. And that’s why I don’t think we should be so naive.”

“Europeans also need
the other cultures”

According to the interviewer, the Pope is also accused of being Argentinian and therefore having no sympathy for Europeans. The answer to this: “Why should everyone think like Europeans? That is the question, actually an important question. The question of universalism and universal values. And we need them. We have to think somehow universally. But that doesn’t mean thinking only in terms of one group of countries. Europeans also need other cultures. And we should also take something from other regions of the world. Europeans do what they do best, and so do the others. Thus, we get a universal idea of peace, of living together.”  •

1 https://www.nachdenkseiten.de/?p=112606 of 19 March 2024
2 https://www.sueddeutsche.de/meinung/ukraine-russland-genscher-nato-kommentar-luedeking-1.6407540 of 29 February 2024
3 The interview was done on 9 March 2024 but not published until 20 March and can be listened to and read in Italian at: ttps://www.rsi.ch/info/mondo/Conflitto-a-Gaza-%E2%80%9Cdue-responsabili%E2%80%9D.-Ucraina-%E2%80%9Cil-coraggio-della-bandiera-bianca%E2%80%9D--2091038.html.
4https://www.srf.ch/audio/tagesgespraech/antoine-abi-ghanem-der-papst-und-die-weisse-flagge?id=12558317 f 19 March 2024. The spoken word has been slightly adapted to the written language.

“No imperial ambitions”

“The conventional wisdom in the West is that Putin started the war because he’s basically an imperialist or an expansionist. Specifically, he’s said to be interested in creating a greater Russia, which means he is determined to conquer all of Ukraine. And then he’s going to conquer other countries in Eastern Europe and create a new Russian Empire.
  My argument is that this view is wrong; what Putin was doing when he attacked Ukraine was launching a preventive war. He did not have imperial ambitions. He was not committed to creating a greater Russia. His decision had everything to do with the fact that he viewed NATO expansion into Ukraine as an existential threat to Russia and he was determined to prevent that from happening.
  So, I have a view that is directly at odds with the conventional wisdom in the West. You asked me, how would I show that I’m right and the conventional wisdom is wrong? The answer is simple. There is zero evidence to support the conventional wisdom. There is no evidence that Putin wanted to create a greater Russia. There is no evidence that he wanted to conquer all of Ukraine. And there is certainly no evidence he wanted to conquer other countries besides Ukraine.
  On the other hand, there is an abundance of evidence that shows he was motivated by NATO expansion into Ukraine, or more generally, he was motivated by the West’s efforts to make Ukraine a Western bulwark on Russia’s border. He said on numerous occasions that this is unacceptable. I think all the available evidence shows that my position is correct, and the conventional wisdom is wrong.”

John Mearsheimer in an interview with the “Global Times” of 22 February 2024.
John Mearsheimer is a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago
 and one of the most renowned representatives of the realist school of US foreign policy thinking.

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