Gary Mason

June 9, 2022

The Globe and Mail

Almost from the outset of the war in Ukraine, fear of the conflict sparking a nuclear catastrophe has hung heavy over the world.  Russian President Vladimir Putin and his acolytes have used the threat as a tactic to instill fear into Western democracies – in particular, the political leadership of Britain, the European Union and the United States.

Early on, Mr. Putin issued a warning that any “third parties” that tried to help Ukraine risked “consequences as such as you have never seen in your entire history.” In May, a Kremlin-allied television host warned Britain that if it launched any rockets in Russia’s direction, it would be reduced to a “radioactive desert.”

When dealing with a sick (figuratively and literally) megalomaniac like Mr. Putin, you can never entirely dismiss these notices. Any exchange of nuclear weapons between Russia and a Western country would likely quickly escalate into broader, international calamity.

The evil Mr. Putin is capable of has unnerved some politicians more than others. One, it seems, is French President Emmanuel Macron.

Mr. Macron recently offered his thoughts on how the war in Ukraine might end, or at least what it might take. “We must not humiliate Russia so that the day when the fighting stops we can build an exit ramp through diplomatic means,” he said.

You might imagine how this went down in Ukraine. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said such a statement “only humiliates France,” because Russia “humiliates itself.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was appalled, saying Russia has been killing citizens in his country since 2014 when it invaded Crimea.

While it remains unclear what precisely the French President meant when he said Russia and Mr. Putin must not be “humiliated,” it was broadly interpreted as a sign of appeasement: if Ukraine has to forfeit a bit of land so Mr. Putin can save face, then so be it.

Which is an appalling thought.

After this unprovoked invasion by Russia, there can be no talk of accession or mollification by Western leaders. In any event, the only person who can make that call is Mr. Zelensky, and he does not sound like someone who is preparing to give up the fight or concede anything to avoid humiliating Russia.

Not after Mr. Putin’s army has slaughtered thousands of innocent Ukrainians. Not after his soldiers have raped Ukrainian women and children. Not after Russian troops have levelled entire towns and killed those trapped inside their homes, especially the elderly. Not after these invaders have captured tens of thousands of Ukrainians, including children, and deported them to camps in Russia.

No, this is definitely not the time to talk about how we must ensure Mr. Putin doesn’t feel embarrassed in the end.

Now, I understand Mr. Macron’s desire to see this war end soon. It has had ramifications throughout the world, contributing to rising energy prices, inflation, food shortages and talk of a global recession. Sanctions imposed by the EU have impacted Russia, but they have also inflicted significant pain on its 27 member countries as well.

Italy and Germany have joined France in calling for a swift end to the war. The united European front on Ukraine is exhibiting some cracks of late.

The war will eventually end, but it can’t be at any cost. Any ceasefire now would almost surely solidify and make official Russia’s gains in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Many believe Mr. Putin would be satisfied to walk away with that and call it a day until he decides on his next venture.

This is what he did in Crimea in 2014 and even Georgia in 2008. Go in, make gains, wait for pressure from the international community to build and then agree to stop the shooting and walk away with the territorial inroads Russia has made.

This may ultimately be the way this war ends, but it can’t happen before every effort is made to drive Russian forces out of Ukraine. That will take patience. Right now, modern military equipment is pouring into Ukraine from the U.S. and elsewhere. It takes time to train soldiers on how to operate much of it. Ukraine is preparing for a new offensive.

Mick Ryan, a retired Australian Army major general, has no time for talk that even hints at capitulation. This would include remarks like Mr. Macron’s. “This strategically bankrupt, selfish and impatient French approach will only encourage future [Russian] aggression,” Mr. Ryan said on Twitter this week. “The Ukrainians have fought for the right to determine how this war ends.”

And no one else.