Giving Peace a Chance in Ukraine By Bruce Altschuler
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Brooklyn For Peace has been urging a cease fire and negotiations to end hostilities. People who disagree will tell us that “you can’t negotiate with a war criminal” or “you can’t trust Putin.” Our reply is that if we don’t look for opportunities to negotiate, the only alternative is the endless continuation of a war that has already killed hundreds of thousands on both sides, unleashed destruction on much of Ukraine and worsened climate change and food insecurity throughout the world.
A worthwhile precedent is the 1995 Dayton Accords negotiated with, among others, alleged war criminal Slobodan Milosevic. As imperfect as this agreement was, it ended a years long conflict that had killed tens of thousands and did not prevent the prosecution of Milosevic as a war criminal, although he died before a verdict in his trial could be rendered.
The United States and Ukraine should take advantage of any openings for negotiation that present themselves. One example of a chance missed was Putin’s proposal for a cease-fire during Orthodox Christmas in January. Rather than seeing this as a possible opportunity to advance the cause of peace, Ukraine and the United States immediately denounced Putin’s proposal as hypocritical. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pointed to Russia’s shelling of Kherson on Christmas Eve as evidence. President Biden made a similar statement. If so, why didn’t Ukraine, the United States or one of its NATO allies propose a deal earlier – cease fires on both religions’ Christmas holidays? If there was such an agreement and it was observed, it might have been a start, however, small, toward a larger agreement.
Negotiations can only succeed if both sides have something to gain from an agreement. In that case, a violation by one side will cause it to lose its gains. That, not faith in the goodwill of the other side, is what makes agreements work. But you can’t get to an agreement if you are unwilling to start.
Written by Bruce Altschuler