“Our two countries are witnessing the death of their youth”
Six months of war and still no light at the end of this infernal tunnel as winter approaches and, with it, a fixing of military positions. No sign of a possible ceasefire (let alone peace) is brightening the horizon as the grain transport agreement has shown that when the political will exists, anything is possible. Yurii Sheliazhenko, executive secretary of the Ukrainian Peace Movement, and Oleg Bodrov, Russian environmental activist and member of the management of the International Peace Bureau (BIP), answered our questions, one by email, the other by telephone. The same feeling of waste, the big losers of which are the Ukrainian and Russian peoples.
After six months of conflict, what is your assessment?
Yurii Sheliazhenko The Russian-Ukrainian war remains the key battleground in the multifaceted great power struggle for geopolitical dominance. The situation deteriorated with the deepening of East-West antagonism. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, millions have become refugees and internally displaced people, much housing and vital infrastructure has been destroyed. Ukraine’s economy will shrink by half after Moscow’s aggression, and Russia’s economy is badly hit by Western sanctions. With crazy amounts of public money wasted on military spending in the United States and European countries, inflation is exploding around the world.
War crimes and serious human rights violations are being committed on both sides, as reports by UN agencies and organizations such as Amnesty International have shown. It is not putting the aggressor and the victim on an equal footing, it is not a justification for the aggression and not Russian propaganda. It’s just a fact: any war, including the so-called defensive war, violates human rights. The real victim is not Ukraine’s militaristic, authoritarian, right-wing populist government, nor any army that is part of the systemic violence, but civilians on both sides. The battle around the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant shows how both sides behave: the Russian army has taken control of it by turning it into a target, and the Ukrainian army is attacking it. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense admitted at least one attack with drones. The UN’s proposal to turn a nuclear power plant into a demilitarized zone is the best idea of what should be done, but the two belligerents are unwilling to give up ambitions of military control over this civilian asset despite warnings from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Oleg Bodrov This is a tragedy for Ukraine first of all, but also for Russia, because both countries are witnessing the death of an entire section of their young generation. For its part, the power in Moscow needs to maintain a unity of Russian society. To achieve this, the authorities need an external threat and enemy. War is therefore the tool that allows society to be controlled in a tense economic situation. This explains the propaganda relayed by the television media to make people believe in the support of the population for government policy. This support is much less strong and more ambiguous than one might think. Especially since the situation on the military ground is not good. Alas, it can bring Moscow to much more drastic decision-making: the use of tactical nuclear weapons or acts of provocation within the framework of the nuclear power plant of Zaporijjia. This attitude also has consequences for the nuclear industry globally and for Russia. In addition to the catastrophic economic and human toll of this war, it is also necessary to underline the ecological impact which we do not speak about because of the absence of information on this subject. The media like yours must seize it. On the social level, we must take into account the gigantic losses for Russia, but especially for Ukraine. A whole part of the territory is engaged in the war and witnesses the destruction of its infrastructures.
What can be the negotiation conditions between Ukraine and Russia?
Yurii Sheliazhenko The leaders of Russia and Ukraine and their allies in the East and West are promoting demonized images of the enemy and unrealistic plans for the war to end in complete victory. This is a deep error. We must end the war through reconciliation, which requires promoting the values of peace and justice. A global peace movement could change that by advocating for a ceasefire, peace talks between East and West, as well as between Russia and Ukraine, and a systemic transition to an economy and a policy of non-violence.
The recent Istanbul agreement on the shipment of grain from Ukraine via the Black Sea was signed in particular under international pressure from countries in the South. This example, together with that of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, shows that people can raise their voices, mobilize, pressure governments and international organizations to resist the militaristic policies of great powers and war industries. that endanger the common future of all the peoples of the Earth. After several years of bloodshed, the extreme mutual weakening of Russia and Ukraine in this pointless and senseless war, recklessly encouraged by the supply of arms from NATO countries to Ukraine, could also lead to negotiations, but that would be peace in a graveyard, not the victory of common sense and peace. The sooner we stop shooting and start talking, the better.
Oleg Bodrov The fighting will probably continue until October. From this period, the climatic situation, with the arrival of winter, could lead to a freezing of the conflict. Talks between Russia and Ukraine are unlikely. If the conditions on the ground become problematic, causing the matchups to freeze, then maybe something will be possible. But the main threat today concerns Russian blackmail with the occupation of the Ukrainian nuclear power plant in Zaporijjia. The risk is considerable and could lead to dramatic consequences.
The current conditions therefore do not allow for negotiations. Ukraine has set itself the guiding principle of maintaining its territorial unity. On the Russian side, it is hard to imagine the power agreeing to return the territories conquered and controlled by the army in the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. Concerning Crimea, the obstacles appear even greater in the face of the request from the Ukrainian side, while this territory is now constitutionally part of Russia. If ever a negotiation process succeeds, its organization can essentially take place in Geneva or Vienna, due to their neutral status.
How do Ukrainian and Russian societies react when the 180 days of war have been exceeded?
Yurii Sheliazhenko Unfortunately, the propaganda of the war effort is effective. We have complete and unconditional confidence in the military and a mood to choose strong leadership over democracy. But the number of people who believe in a quick victory, or that Ukraine will regain all territories within internationally recognized borders, has dwindled. Many people understand that Ukraine is in a long-term disaster and are looking for ways to leave the country. Two online petitions to President Zelensky, asking him to allow men to travel abroad, garnered tens of thousands of signatures, which he dismissed with contempt. The State Border Guard Service of Ukraine arrested and handed over to recruitment centers more than 6,000 conscripts who were trying to escape military mobilization. The situation is particularly problematic because current legislation does not allow conscientious objection. I hope that in the future more people in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine will refuse to bear arms.
Oleg Bodrov At the beginning of the war, a real shock shook society. No one expected such military operations. From now on, the Russians look every evening on their television the images of the war as if it were about a televised series which is prolonged for six months. Live reports on the situation in Donbass or kyiv do not move viewers. Traditionally, Russians get their information massively from television and trust it. But these media are totally dependent on the government. For all these reasons, the attitude of Russian society towards this war will not change. However, this does not mean that there is unwavering support, as many media claim. Many people around me condemn this war. But current laws make it dangerous to publicly express opposition. Such an attitude can lead to prison sentences, to very heavy fines, the amounts of which will be used to finance the army. It is difficult to have an objective view of the company due to the lack of independent sources of information. Only one thing can possibly create a psychological shock: very high human losses. In this case, the power will not be able to hide the number of dead from the Russians. The other disturbing phenomenon is the return of soldiers who have experienced violence in Ukraine. With a heavy social context, we are witnessing the multiplication of acts of banditry and armed robbery. Another interesting fact is that many Russian soldiers refuse to serve in Ukraine. They outnumber those who enlist to fight. Moscow has found a way out: winning. A bonus of 2,200 euros is promised to young people to convince them to enlist, three times the salary of a teacher.