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An avoidable war

Jul 07,2022 - Last updated at Jul 07,2022

The Ukraine crisis should give world leaders pause to consider the potential human, material, and financial costs and global repercussions of a war which should have been avoided.  It is all too clear that Russia's Vladimir Putin, Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky, the US's Joe Biden and Britain's Boris Johnson did not consider far-reaching negative consequences before opting for conflict instead of simply urging Ukraine to drop its intention of joining NATO, the casus belli for Moscow.   

When deciding to invade Ukraine, Putin thought Russia's forces would secure his war aims promptly and Moscow would negotiate a ceasefire and secure its terms in negotiations to end the conflict. He did not predict the ability and will of Ukrainians to resist or the reaction of Zelensky, Biden and Johnson or the stance of NATO's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

During the build-up to the February 24th Russian invasion, Zelensky urged, even begged, Biden to stop speaking of US "intelligence" reports on the imminence of invasion which frightened Ukrainians and undermined the country's economy. However, Biden persisted and was joined by Johnson.  Both were, and are, under serious domestic challenges. Biden has failed to deliver on campaign pledges and to curb inflation; Johnson has not escaped accusations of partying during Britain's strict COVID lockdown. For Stoltenberg, the Russian invasion was an existential opportunity to rescue NATO which lost its clout due to post-Cold War trans-Atlantic peace and security. 

Zelensky has exploited the invasion to become a global figure and bully who castigates anyone who fails to meet his demands for arms and money. Biden, Johnson, and Stoltenberg have dragged reluctant France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and other members of the European Union into the

anti-Russia camp. They were egged on by Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic which were formerly ruled by the Soviet Union and had rightful and long-standing grudges against Moscow.

The Russian invasion has had major global consequences. More than 5 million Ukrainians have taken refuge outside their country, the majority in neighbouring nations, stretching their resources and risking blow-back from their citizens who could grow weary of hosting millions of refugees. 

Warfare and sanctions have cut Ukraine's worldwide exports of sunflower oil which amount to 50 per cent of the total as well as wheat (9 per cent), and corn (13 per cent). This year's grain harvest is expected to be reduced by 30 per cent while disruptions prevent stored wheat from reaching desperate consumers.         Russia expects to export 20 per cent of global wheat supplies this season but there are complications due to sanctions on payment in foreign currencies and on Russian banks. Embargo also affects Russian fertilizer on which farmers in the US and Brazil, among others, depend.

The US, Britain and Canada have banned the import of Russian gas and oil while European

countries seek to end dependence on Russian energy by 2024. However, German industrialists

and trade unionists have warned that this could have disastrous consequences for householders and

manufacturers.  Global prices of both oil and gas have surged, feeding inflation everywhere and

threatening unrest in countries unable to cope, bankrupt Sri Lanka being the prime example. 

By invading Ukraine Putin has convinced neutral Sweden and Finland to join NATO, adding to alliance borders with Russia, and encouraging Western European countries to redouble spending on weaponry. This is the opposite of what Putin aimed to achieve and could lead to further risky behaviour. 

However, NATO's response to the Russian invasion has also prompted countries in this  region, Africa, Asia and South America to reject sanctions on Russia and distance themselves from NATO.  There is even talk of reviving the Non-Aligned Movement, dormant since the fall of the Soviet Union between 1989-91.  This would be a positive development as this would avoid a world divided between two opposing camps. 

War always has unintended consequences.  Two wars from this region confirm this dictum. The first is Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon and occupation of the southern half of the country.  Israeli defence minister Ariel Sharon – who had great expectations of this campaign - planned to drive Palestinians from their camps, destroy the camps and compel the refugees to flee to Syria.  This failed. He forced the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) to leave Lebanon for Tunis and secured the election of Bashir Gemayel as Lebanon's president. However, the PLO was not crushed or sidelined by exile and Gemayel was assassinated shortly after being elected.  Sharon certainly did not predict the emergence of the Shia Hizbollah movement, fostered, trained and armed by Iran, which in 2000 drove the Israeli army and its surrogates from south Lebanon, repulsed Israel's 2006 invasion of that country, and has become a major political force there as well as in Syria.

George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq has had disastrous unpredicted consequences for the US and the region.  Based on outright lies and waged without UN Security Council authorisation, the war undermined US credibility. The subsequent inept occupation weakened the Iraqi state, produced an outflow of middle class and professional Iraqis, created tensions between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds, Shias and Sunnis and created a military-political vacuum in Iraq.  The militia-linked Shia

factions influential in Iraq are supported by Tehran, Washington's regional antagonist.

Al Qaeda migrated to Iraq and spawned Daesh, which conquered 40 per cent of Iraq and 25 per cent of Syria, and Ha'yat Tahrir Al Sham (originally Jabhat Al Nusra) which, along with dozens of other takfiri groups, sought to bring down the Syrian government. This prompted Hizbollah, pro-Iranian militias and Russia to defend Damascus and helped it to regain control of 70 per cent of Syria territory. While Daesh has lost its holdings its fugitive fighters remain a threat in eastern Syria and western and northern Iraq, Tahrir Al Sham rules Syria's north-western Idlib province, which has become Al Qaeda's chief global base.

There is a huge difference between Putin’s war in Ukraine and the wars inflicted on Lebanon and Iraq by Sharon and Bush.

Moscow has for decades warned against NATO'S eastward expansion but alliance has ignored these warnings and proceeded to admit members on Russia's flanks.  For Putin, Ukraine's 2019 amendment of its constitution to formalise its intention to join NATO amounted to a threat to Russia's security. This threat was intensified by constant attacks on the Russian-occupied eastern Donbas region by right-wing Ukrainian militias. Therefore, the Ukraine war was not “unprovoked”. 

This was not true of either Sharon or Bush.  In August 1981, the PLO and Israel agreed to a ceasefire in south Lebanon and the truce held until Sharon invaded in June 1982, claiming falsely that the PLO was responsible for a bungled attack on Israel's ambassador in London. Ill advised by neoconservative and pro-Israeli members of his entourage, Bush justified his war by falsely

claiming Iraq was member of an "axis of evil" and a base for Al Qaeda in the aftermath of its

2001 strikes on New York and Washington. 

















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