Ukrainian tank Ukrainian tank. Photo: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine / Flickr / cropped from original / CC BY-SA 2.0, license linked below article

We urgently need to put peace on the agenda, argues Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

The latest news from Ukraine is very grim indeed. On Monday 10 October, Russian missiles struck civilian infrastructure across Ukraine on a scale not seen for months.

The death toll from these strikes currently stands at 19, while 105 are wounded. The damage is largely to Ukraine’s energy infrastructure just before the onset of winter. 

This atrocity is of course not the first. From the bombing of a theatre sheltering civilians in Mariupol in March, to the excavation of mass graves in territories lost by Russian troops in the Kyiv and Kharkiv areas since then, it is evident that Russia’s military machine has perpetrated numerous war crimes against defenceless people.

Russia’s most recent escalation was retaliation for an apparent suicide bombing by Ukrainian special forces designed to heavily damage the Kerch bridge, a key supply route for annexed Crimea and a symbol of Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian territory.

The attack on the Kerch bridge was almost certainly designed as a major provocation to the Kremlin. It comes as Russia’s military has been put on the back foot by a Western-backed Ukrainian army offensive that saw Russian troops flee the Kharkiv region and the key city of Lyman in the Donbas over the last month.

By targeting the bridge, which was one of Putin’s major infrastructure projects in the past few years, Kyiv was symbolically saying it was not afraid to poke the Russian president in the eye. It was also saying that it still aims at re-taking control of the Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014.

It is unclear if Western leaders sanctioned this specific attack, but a US senior defence official did say in July, when asked whether American military hardware could be used by Ukraine against any target within Ukraine, including the Kerch bridge, that this was legitimate.

The reality is also that Ukraine’s war effort is now centrally funded, equipped, informed and often directed by NATO. Washington and its allies saw the Russian attack on Ukraine as an opportunity to fight a proxy war with Russia, which has now lasted 7 months.

And the Western response so far to Russia’s latest escalation has not been to focus on diplomatic negotiations to reach a cease fire, but to reassert their commitment to arming Ukraine, including with advanced US and German air defence systems.

Ukrainian officials say that the promised aid is not enough and are adamant that heavier weaponry should be sent to their army to pursue the retreating Russians.

Pivotal moment

While Russia’s forces are clearly on the back foot, the recent missile attacks underline that Russia’s military still has the capability to devastate Ukrainian cities and its population. With autumn setting in, military operations will become harder and Russia is sending more troops to Ukraine.

So, there is no obvious end point in sight, and the fighting is likely to continue and lead to more deaths. Russian setbacks have in fact emboldened hardliners in the Kremlin and Putin has repeatedly warned that he is prepared to use nuclear weapons.

Just a week ago, even Biden was forced to publicly warn that he did not think that Putin was bluffing. Uncharacteristically, he asked himself: ‘I’m trying to figure out: what is Putin’s off-ramp? Where does he find a way out?’

The response to that question would surely be in a negotiated ceasefire and a diplomatic settlement. Even though muffled, anti-war voices in both Russia and many Western states have been making the case that de-escalation is the way forward before the conflict spirals out of control.

Hundreds of thousands have left Russia to avoid the draft and there have been protests against the military mobilisation announced recently by the authorities. Similarly, large-scale demonstrations have occurred in Central Europe against further escalation as the economic costs of the war begin to bite.

Leaving the world in the hands of the likes of Putin and Biden is too risky to contemplate. Anti-war movements in both East and West must do all they can to raise the pressure for a negotiated peace as soon as possible, linking the demand for peace with demands for economic measures to combat the cost of living crisis.

This is a pivotal moment and further escalation will bring further devastation to Ukraine, Russia and the world. Russian and Belorussian forces are massing again on Ukraine’s northern borders, while the West continues to send lethal weapons to Ukraine.

We need to do all we can to prevent the spiralling of the conflict out of control – because the consequences could be catastrophic for all of humanity.

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Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica is a member of Marks21 in Serbia and a supporter of Counterfire. He is on the editorial board of LeftEast and teaches at the University of Glasgow.

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