Ukraine-Russia conflict: Outcome to be settled on the battlefield?
By Kasit Piromya
The invasion of Russian forces into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022 did not result in a quick victory as planned by the Russian authorities or as expected by the international community. With the surprising ability of the Ukrainian side to resist Russian aggression, the war has become a protracted one with no end in sight. However, Ukraine has suffered immensely since becoming a battleground, resulting in huge outflows of refugees to neighboring countries and large-scale internal displacement. Destruction is all about for the eyes to see and for hearts and minds to shudder at.
Each side is entrenched in its will and determination. Ukraine wants to expel the Russians from its territory and regain its full sovereignty. Russia’s government wants to make sure that Ukraine will not become a bulwark of the Western world, led by the U.S. that could threaten its security and existence. Russia has psyched itself into thinking that it cannot and will not be defeated, and therefore came out with the implicit threat of the use of tactical nuclear weapons early in the conflict.
There has been a lull in the fighting in the last few months interspersed with missile attacks by the Russian side. This lull, intended or otherwise, has given each side time to recuperate, regroup, and rebuild. The Russian side went about its mobilization plans, analyzing and examining lessons learned from its military’s shortcomings. Ukraine’s appeals for more arms, aerial defense capacity, and financial support are being answered by its Western allies, members of NATO, as well as the European Union.
Both sides are, therefore, ready for more war. Larger-scale conventional warfare is anticipated by all concerned, observers, combatants, and bystanders alike. In this upcoming spring season, once the battle restarts more of Ukraine will be destroyed. The Ukrainians will suffer more and the world will continue to suffer the consequences of unprecedented sanctions against the Russian Federation.
But in the midst of this gloomy scenario and human tragedy, there will be one encouraging sign, namely, that with the continuation of the conflict at a larger scale or with enlarged conventional arms battles and an increased likelihood that the outcome will be a decisive one, the possibility of any recourse to the use of tactical nuclear weapons by the Russian side will, in all likelihood, become remote and unnecessary.
It is largely accepted or understood that the Russian side possesses the overwhelming conventional forces advantage in this conflict, both in terms of men and weapons.
Ukraine might be able to obtain a better set of modern arms and equipment from the West, but they are still limited in number and the training necessary to use these new armaments would take time. By then the Russians would be returning to the battlefield in larger numbers, with lessons learned and improved strategy.
The odds, by common sense and statistics, are not in favor of Ukraine. The Ukrainian leadership cannot continue to think in terms of victory on the battlefield. They have to seriously take into consideration the devastation of their country over the past twelve months and the likelihood of more destruction to come.
In life, sometimes we talk about the principle of damage control; to retain what one has and not lose more. The sooner all sides come to the negotiating table, the conventional warfare can end and the use of tactical nuclear weapons will no longer be even a remote possibility but an impossibility altogether.
In the meantime, the international community, which has been immensely negatively affected by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, can no longer afford to remain idle and continue to live in hardship, fear, and uncertainty. The citizens of the world have, therefore, every right and responsibility to call on and appeal to the Russian and Ukrainian leadership as well as to their respective partners and allies to come to their senses, forge a compromise, and work together for the common good of mankind and humanity.
One side can be victorious on the battlefield. But such an outcome would not really resolve the problem of the inevitable sense of loss by the losing side; that would remain. Animosity in the hearts and minds of the losers would linger on. Re-dress and revenge would become part of their mindset, waiting for the time and opportunity to emerge and break out.
Humankind is endowed with both the ability to build as well as to destroy. In the case of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, it has not gone to the edge or to the brink or to a state of no return. One can always say “enough is enough”; a phone call by one leader could bring about a ceasefire and a return to the negotiating table.
The world may soon witness larger-scale conventional warfare between Ukraine and Russia breaking out in a few weeks’ time. But why should we allow that to happen in order to let someone satisfy their ambition and animal instinct for destruction? Human beings possess both animal instincts as well as the intellectual and spiritual capacity to do positive things. We can, thus, control ourselves with this human endowment and act accordingly. We can, therefore, stop the war now.
We can deny any path for nuclear devastation here. And in this context, both President Joe Biden and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the one hand, and President Vladimir Putin on the other, can surely revert to the nobler side of their human nature. War can end. Peace can have a chance and the moment.
About the Author
Kasit Piromya is a former Foreign Minister of Thailand under Abhisit Vejjajiva from 2008 to 2011, as well as a member of the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (APLN).
Disclaimer: The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Asia Pacific Leadership Network or any of its members. APLN’s website is a source of authoritative research and analysis and serves as a platform for debate and discussion among our senior network members, experts, and practitioners, as well as the next generation of policymakers, analysts, and advocates. Comments and responses can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Joey Coleman.
This article was published in The Korea Times on 15 February 2023 as part of a dedicated, regular Korea Times column with analysis by APLN members on global issues. You can find the original post here.