Pope Francis Has a Point. Ukraine Has a Real Opportunity in the Negotiations

Ukraine has put up a heroic fight against the much superior Russian military. But it clearly is on the losing side.

4 min read
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Recently, Pope Francis received flak from Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba for asking Ukraine to have the courage to lift the "white flag" and find its way to the negotiating table with Russia.

Considering the Pope represents much of Western Christianity, the main backer of Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, this was a rather remarkable step. And a much-needed one too.

Both Kuleba and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have rejected the pope's proposal.

The European Union has said that any negotiations would be on Ukraine’s terms. The Vatican has been put on the back foot and has been at pains to explain that what the Pope meant was not for Ukraine to capitulate but to find the path to talks and negotiations.

For Ukraine is being destroyed. So, the pope makes a good point.


Ukraine's Losing Streak 

Ukraine has put up a heroic fight against the much superior Russian military. But it is on the losing side.

It has received hundreds of billions of dollars in military and various kinds of other aid so far. But clearly, Russia has the military upper hand, and simultaneously, aid fatigue is setting in amongst its allies.

During a recent visit to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, Kuleba was reported to have emphasised that Ukraine needed unlimited supplies of weapons and ammunition to fight off Russia’s onslaught.

"The strategy of helping Ukraine drop by drop no longer works. If things go on as they do now, it won't end well for anyone. Unlimited and timely supplies of all types of weapons and ammunition are necessary for Ukraine to prevail over Russia," Kuleba has been reported saying.


A Divided NATO and EU, and a Growing War Fatigue

The Pentagon recently announced a USD 300 million military aid package for Ukraine. Contrast this with the USD 60 billion aid package that is stalled because of a lack of bipartisan support in the US Congress (and most of this money goes back to the donors as proceeds for defence procurements).

But the recent resignation of US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who is widely believed to be the architect of the "Maidan" uprising in Ukraine in 2014, which set the ball rolling for the Russia-Ukraine conflict, is also believed to reflect the beginning of the unravelling of America's Ukraine policy.

Other issues, like the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (NATO) boots on the ground in Ukraine, are also dividing the military alliance. Note the differences that have crept in between French President Emmanuel Macron and his other NATO counterparts. The European Union (EU) is similarly divided.

Countries like Hungary and Poland do not want any more aid to be given to Ukraine. Germany has refused to send the much debated Taurus missiles, as they would need German engineers to operate them.

On the other hand, Russia's capture of Avdiivka has given it a military edge. Russia has also been able to quickly get its military production capability back on track.

While Ukraine is still being generously armed by its allies, it lacks troops. Speaking to The Quint, well-placed sources in Kyiv who do not wish to be named, said that young able-bodied men are afraid to come out on the streets as they are being forcefully conscripted into the Ukrainian Army.

About 6.5 million Ukrainians are estimated to have fled the country. Many of them are from amongst the elite and privileged classes who now cheer the war from afar.

According to the UNHCR, 3.7 million Ukrainians remain internally displaced, and many more require humanitarian aid. Ukraine has lost almost a generation. Interestingly, many Ukrainians inside the country would like to see the end of the war.


What Russia’s Unwavering Economy Amid Sanctions Signals

Contrast this with the resilient Russian economy. Unprecedented sanctions have been slapped by the West on Russia since 2014 when it incorporated Crimea into its territory.

Last week, the countries of the world applied new sanctions against Russia. President Joe Biden extended the state of emergency introduced back in 2014 for another year, along with fresh sanctions. Latvia became the first EU country to impose restrictions on imports of agricultural products from Russia and Belarus, as well as from other third countries if the products have Russian or Belarusian origin.

Yet, inflation has been controlled in Russia and pensions have increased. The military-industrial complex is back on track, along with supplies from Iran and North Korea.

Despite the sanctions that it has imposed on Russia, the EU still continues to procure gas from it, as well as oil supplies through third countries like India.

For its part, Russia has also signalled its willingness to talk.

The famed interview President Vladimir Putin gave to US Journalist Tucker Carlson last month is widely perceived to be an outreach to the American people. Even the Pope's message to Ukraine has resonated with the Russians, splashed as it was across the Russian media.

In such a scenario, Ukraine should be taking the first opportunity to get back to the negotiating table. Instead, it has a law in place which bans any talks with Russia.

And its leaders seem to lack foresight. For as long as the conflict continues, the harder the stance of each side gets.


The Cost of Expanding NATO on Ukraine

The war has resulted in Finland and now Sweden acquiring NATO membership, bringing the military bloc closer to Russia’s doorstep. Here, there is an interesting contrast.

In 2008, Georgia fought a similar war with Russia, which resulted in the loss of territory, i.e., South Ossetia. For more than a decade after that, Georgia aspired for NATO or EU membership, but it got neither, and finally last year, it concluded a strategic partnership with China.

Ukraine has similarly been trying to acquire NATO membership for itself. It has been an elusive quest. But it will pay the price for bringing NATO closer to Russia, and the longer the war continues, the harder Russia’s position is likely to get. And the price will be paid by Ukraine.

Russia has warned it would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons if it feels a threat to its statehood. It's time for the Ukrainians to wake up, smell the coffee, and heed the Pope's advice.

(Aditi Bhaduri is a journalist and political analyst. She tweets @aditijan. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Sweden   Pope Francis   European Union 

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