Ukraine Winter

War Or Peace In Ukraine? It's All About Europe

The risk is real of armed conflict between the West and Moscow on European soil. Searching for a way out means learning the lessons of Finland, and counting on leadership from France.

A deep chill in Kiev
A deep chill in Kiev
Andreï Gratchev*


PARIS — A year into the Ukraine crisis, ties between Russia and the West are coming dangerously close to irreparable rupture. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last, reformist leader of the Soviet Union who brought the Cold War to an end a quarter century ago, now fears a possible military clash between Russia and the West on Ukrainian soil.

We don't even know if the main parties in this apparently domestic conflict are still acting freely or have been reduced to playing the part of mercenaries in a proxy war whose objectives elude them. Left to their own devices, they are unable to end this civil war.

Yet prolonged fighting doesn't serve the interests of the two sides' "patrons," either in the West or the East. Beyond pictures of people suffering and of destruction in the middle of Europe, the Ukrainian crisis is starting to provoke dissension inside the European Union. It is also disrupting an otherwise more united international agenda focused on other priorities such as fighting Salafist violence, which requires effective Western and Russian cooperation.

Rising voices

Even if Russia is not ready to abandon the separatists, it has an interest in finding a dignified exit from the conflict. It can't pay for it indefinitely. The domestic image of Russian President Vladimir Putin as the warlord winning on all fronts is unsustainable. All sides would benefit from a way out of the quagmire. But for that, the storm of war needs to be quieted by neutralizing the extremists fabricated by and for this conflict.

The U.S. Congress has already called on President Barack Obama to supply Kiev with offensive weaponry. Several experts and neoconservative ideologues recently repeated these calls in a report that concluded that Ukraine's regime must receive military backing. Some EU leaders, notably the Baltic states, are saying similar things today.

NATO chiefs have just announced that the alliance would build new military bases in member states of the hypothetical "eastern front," while NATO is announcing joint maneuvers with Georgian troops in the Caucasus.

The so-called hawks in Russia are engaged in their own game of threatening gesticulation. In response to possible Western military aid, numerous members of the country's legislative body, the Duma, have proposed making Russian military involvement in Ukraine official. Other Moscow "hotheads," hoping to make a correct guess of their Russian master's real intentions, are saying Russian troops must march on Kiev. It seems the noise of restless jackboots is drowning out isolated calls for reason.

While the parties have not yet passed the point of no return, we might do well to reflect a moment. Who would benefit from an escalation of violence? Clearly among the first beneficiaries is the war party in Kiev, which sees only a military solution to the problem of rebellion in the country's eastern regions. For Moscow, Western military aid would certainly give Putin more evidence for his charge that the Kiev regime is NATO's "foreign legion."

From a domestic viewpoint in Russia, NATO's direct military involvement in an internecine fight among Slavs would fuel a new nationalist wave that would practically snuff out what's left of Russia's pro-European forces and the democratic opposition to Putin's rule.

A middle way

But doing nothing doesn't seem at all like a solution for the West. It seems that a middle way — a compromise that would consider all the warring parties' interests and concerns — has yet to be properly explored. It's time for Old Europe to return to center stage.

It's not as if the outlines of such a compromise are a mystery. The first step would be to remove mutual suspicions that lead to misunderstandings. On the European side, Russia must be assured that there is no Western project to turn Ukraine into a strategic bridgehead for NATO, to be used in any plans for regime change in Russia. It's a scenario some U.S. policy thinkers envision.

French President Hollande, big enough for the task at hand? Photo: jmayrault

The Russian side would have a similar duty to clarify to its Western neighbors the limits of its strategic "concerns." It would need to reassure them that it has no plans for repeated political banditry after the Crimea scenario.

On those bases, it should be relatively feasible to reach a formula for settlement: confirming Ukraine's territorial integrity with international guarantees; creating institutional reforms in Ukraine to assure the autonomy of Russian-speaking regions; confirmation of a non-aligned status for Ukraine (or at the very least, leaving this and the issue of the Crimea's legal status to the judgment of future political generations).

The issue is ultimately in the "the two Fs" — the federalization and Finlandization of Ukraine. This clearly has seemed the sensible option for some time. And we could add another F: France. This could be an opportunity for the country to recover its rightful place at the center of European diplomacy.

It is a compromise, but it merits attention. Otherwise, we may soon face the kind of "leap into the dark," as German politician Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg put it, that Europe took in August 1914.

*Andreï Gratchev is a Russian historian and former top aide to Mikhail Gorbachev

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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