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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

The war drags on

leopard-7745548_128_20231208-143835_1 Ukraine War

The Ukraine war drags on. It nearly ended in 2022, but the adversaries thought better of anything so untidy as a peace treaty. Since then, thousands of lives have been lost in an internecine struggle where intransigence has become policy and revenge a war aim.

Montgomery cautioned the USA in the 1960s that its war in Vietnam was "insane" because it had no clear-cut objective, and allowed military policy to be set locally and reactively. Neither 'saintly' Zelensky nor 'evil' Putin appears to have a clear-cut objective apart from the unconditional surrender of the other.

Monty said the two rules of warfare were, never march on Moscow and never try to take on China. The USA and the EU have been slowly marching on Moscow ever since. Capitalism is not poisonous and neither is Socialism, but totalitarianism is toxic in all its forms and disguises.

Candidates for totalitarian in the 21st century have included Russia, China and the USA. The latter has been most successful in its moves towards world dominance having not only military and economic might, but also near-global control over tech and communications. China has caught up quickly and is providing a new bi-polarity while the old kid on the block, Russia, struggles awkwardly to keep its place at the top table.

Why did Putin risk his entire career and all he had achieved by 'rescuing' Russia from economic oblivion on a roll of the dice that reached the outskirts of Kiev/Keev? Every other littoral country around the Black Sea being either a member or applicant to both NATO and the EU might have had something to do with it plus increasing Western interest in the Caspian. The gradual transition by the West away from coal to gas and European energy dependence on Moscow made invasion possible, the discovery of one of the largest untapped gas fields on earth in the Donbass may well have been a factor as well, but the other elephant in the room was the Dnipro rocket works and space programme along with the revelation in 2021 that Ukraine had developed its own cruise missile, which probably became the Neptune. This may well have been Putin's Cuban missile moment: long-range missiles carrying munitions loaded at Russia's borders that were likely (in his mind) to become a NATO/EU asset. So, did Putin cross the border because Kiev had crossed the line? In July 2022 the space plant was targeted by Russian cruise missiles amid Russian claims that it was manufacturing parts for Ukraine's ballistic missiles.

East-West relations

West is either enlightened or decadent depending on one's standpoint. The USSR and China described the West as decadent and imperialist all through the 1960s and 1970s, but then the West could easily counter such claims because it could describe itself as the free world as compared with its Eastern rivals. When the wall came down, however, it was seen that the emperor had no clothes having been attired in the iron curtain of its adversary all those years.

In the 1930s and 40s democracy was in decline in Europe where corporatism, fascism and communism dominated politics. There was a resurgence of democracy after WWII, especially as a foil to communism in the cold war, which defined a side. After the Berlin wall came down it began a slow decline again though. Globalism or corporate imperialism began to undermine traditional democracy. Supranational organisations assumed representative status without popular input. So, governments and corporations became interpretive rather than representatively proactive.

There was a moment of opportunity knocking, post murum, that was not answered with enough pragmatism, magnanimity and humanity, but with triumphalism and ambition. Why keep a principled Gorbechev in power when it could have a pliant Yeltsin across the table? Politicians in the USA considered it had won the cold war, but it quickly lost the peace. Wars and rumours of wars, regime change and proxy wars followed under the mask of a new world order, which was a new unipolar ambition with its capital in Washington.

The free world became a lot less free as US-based tech enabled the implementation of remote monitoring, restriction and control. British bobbies started carrying machine guns in London and liberty for the West seemed to mean vassalage for the rest of the world.

However, pendulums swing (as they do) and in turning South-East Asia and the Global South into the West's workhorse, it started to lose its economic dominance. The solution that was found was EU/NATO expansionism and digital colonialism. The solution for the Global South was multipolarity and not necessarily automatically taking sides.

The price of victory – how wars end

Victory for Ukraine looks too much like defeat for Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimea (which expressed its constitutional preferences through plebiscites in 1991, 1994 and 2014). Ukrainian soldiers would not be welcomed as liberators by civilians who have been bombarded by Ukrainian shells for years. It wouldn't be like France in 1944 or even Iraq in 2003. Minsk II agreed to dialogue on interim self-government for Donetsk and Luhansk, in accordance with Ukrainian law, and acknowledgement of special status by parliament, constitutional reform including decentralisation, with specific mention of Donetsk and Luhansk where elections were to be held.

A federal Ukraine, allowing some measure of self-government for Donetsk and Luhansk, crosses no red lines and answers both Ukrainian and Russian concerns. President Marcon said in February 2022 that the Minsk II agreement was the "only path on which peace can be built".

Ukrainian and Russian interpretations of Minsk II may differ, ranging from limited devolution to comprehensive autonomy, but 120 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gases were released as a result of the war in the first 12 months according to a report and the deaths and injuries sustained by Ukraine and Russia have been astronomical, not to mention displacement of peoples and damage to infrastructure.


Peace negotiations need to begin as soon as possible. Wars are ended by treaties not missiles. There will come a time when those who fought each other must live together and work together. Indira Gandhi said wisely, "You can't shake hands with a clenched fist."

The mantra chanted by some in the West is that Putin wouldn't abide by any promises, but neither side have an unblemished record relating to earlier promises and agreements. Talks could start on the basis of Minsk II, which could at least get people around a table. Turkey was a reasonable location of talks, but Jerusalem under the chair of Greek Orthodox leaders could be even better.

Meanwhile Cold War-style proxy wars break out in Sudan, Kosovo and probably now Israel/Gaza. The direction of travel towards the abyss is clear and so any chance of arresting its progress must be seized with both hands.

Wars may be thought to have been won, but do not end until peace and harmony are achieved and that is by good faith, compromise and workable agreements. 

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