“On the 12th of June 1812 [.…] millions of men crossed the frontiers of Russia, and war began. Millions of men perpetrated against one another such innumerable crimes, deceptions, treacheries, robberies, forgeries, issues of false monies, depredations, incendiarisms and murders as the annals of all the courts of justice in the world could not muster in whole centuries”.
That of course is from Lev Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Book Three. Change the dates and direction of the attack – not against Russia but by Russia, in pursuit of Putin’s revisionist ambitions, add a few details – such as the Russian president’s thuggish warning that whoever may interfere with his order to “liberate and denazify Ukraine” (a blatant falsification of facts), by responding to his invasion with counterattacks on Russian soil will face immediate retribution, including nuclear arms if necessary – – and the analogy between the brutality of past and present wars is striking. It leads to the despairing conclusion that, for a large part of humanity progress remains a meaningless word.
But the dangers of a protracted devastating war of attrition, right across the fault-line of Europe between East and West Europe, in today’s world are far worse than in the times of Napoleon, the British Empire and the Czars. History, with globalization and advanced technologies, moves faster.
Inconclusive wars of attrition, where there are no winners, and all belligerents are losers, tend to slide inexorably towards the unstable and highly dangerous status of “wars by proxy”. The endgame, unwanted but equally disastrous, might be World War Three.
This is what is happening now in Ukraine, with the United Nations sidelined, notwithstanding symbolic successes such as the recent General Assembly vote condemning Russia’s “illegal so-called referendums” and “attempted illegal annexations” of the Donetsk, Kherson Luhansk and Zaporizhia regions.
The non-binding emergency resolution, presented by Albania–soon after President Putin, while his war of aggression was raging, signed illegal unification treaties of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics–was approved with a 143-5 vote.
In reality, the quasi-unanimity in the 193-member global assembly is an exercise in self-serving political acrobatics. While it is true that only Russia, North Korea, Belarus, Syria and Nicaragua voted against the resolution condemning an “attempted illegal annexation”, far more significant is the fact that in the vote there were 34 key abstentions. They included China, India, South Africa, Pakistan, Thailand, Cuba, Vietnam, Armenia and Algeria.
Seen in this light, the UN recent censure of Putin’s aggression is little more than a diplomatic fig leaf. The symbolic exercise will not stop the Ukrainian disaster. It barely disguises the seriously diminished role of the United Nations in world affairs, and in peacemaking.
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