It’s been six months since Russia launched its brutal war in Ukraine that has caused unspeakable carnage, brutality and widespread destruction. With no reliable estimates of casualties, it’s certain that the death toll among soldiers on both sides in the conflict are tragically high, with large numbers of civilians also killed and injured by indiscriminate bombing and missile strikes.
On top of the horrors of war suffered by the Ukrainian people, the threat of nuclear catastrophe also looms as fighting near Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the largest in Europe, risks the spread of deadly radiation. UN Secretary General António Guterres has recently called for a demilitarized zone around the plant.
The U.S. and its NATO allies continue to supply weapons to the Ukraine military with shipments of sophisticated missile launchers. The Biden administration recently sent Ukraine nearly $3 billion in new military aid that they say will provide weapons and training to enable forces there to fight for years to come.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Branko Marcetic, staff writer with Jacobin magazine, who discusses his recent article, “What Are the Chances for a Negotiated End to the Ukraine War? It’s Complicated.”
BRANKO MARCETIC: This is a really terrible war. I think everyone has seen these images and daily reports about how it’s going and it’s incredibly horrific and distressing. And so I think for that reason, it’s particularly important to try and do what we can to find some way to end it as soon as possible in a way that gives people some some breathing room in Ukraine and other parts of Europe.
So that’s why I think it’s really important to try and look at what are the chances, what are the openings potentially for some sort of like settlement in terms of obstacles? I mean, this war has been going on for four months now. The longer a war goes on, the more destruction and killing pile up and also the more chances of atrocities.
Of course, we saw that in Ukraine with the Bucha massacre. The more of that kind of brutality just builds and builds, each side tends to get dug in. They’re less willing to negotiate with the other side. They tend to see the other side more as as implacable enemies that can’t be reasoned with that, you know. There’s a vengefulness of course, that builds up.
And so all of that it is quite a pessimistic picture. It does suggest that that neither side is really ready to settle and talk and find some sort of solution. But as I tried to lay out in the article, that’s not the whole story. I think there’s also some indications of both sides being a little more open to negotiation than we might think.
SCOTT HARRIS: I’d like for you to review some of the positive signs that both sides at least are leaving an opening for peace talks and an eventual peaceful settlement. What are some of those?
BRANKO MARCETIC: One really big one is the grain deal that was brokered by the UN, basically because as part of the war, Russia was blockading Ukrainian ports and also Ukraine and Russia had both laid mines in the Black Sea. There was all this Ukrainian grain that was held up, I think 20 million tons, which is contributing to this global food price spike and also a hunger crisis that’s particularly acute in the global south.
And so it was a couple of months ago they signed an agreement. At the time, there was a lot of skepticism about this. A lot of people are saying, oh, you know, Russia just signs agreements in order to get advantage and then they’re going to sign this and they’re going to go back on it. And it’s not going to work out.
But actually, a few months in, the agreement has been a success. Basically, the agreement allows Ukrainian ships to basically guide these boats carrying grain and other agricultural exports through the sea, to navigate the mines, to get there safely so that this food can get where it needs to go. And, of course, that’s going to help Ukraine. It’s going to provide revenue for them.
It’s also going to help the countries that are getting the stuff. I think so far the last figure I remember seeing was I think 1 million tons of grain had been moved. So, you know, look, there’s still 90 million tons that’s held up, but that’s a pretty good sign. And the important thing about it is that it shows even while both of these sides are very bitterly fighting, you know, there’s a nationalist, very jingoistic upsurge in both countries that’s sort of been set into motion by this war and by the media and each side, as tends to happen during war.
But despite this, they were able to come together and find some way to resolve it. I would say that’s probably the most optimistic sign that it is possible to find some sort of agreement.
There’s been some other positive signs. I mean, you know, on the Russian side, even though we keep hearing that Russia’s not really inclined to negotiate, the former German chancellor who’s a Putin ally, he said that he talked to them and Putin was open to a negotiated settlement.
You know, that’s just one data point. That’s not much. But then you combine it with the fact that also Politico reported, I think back in June, the Russian ambassador to the U.S. was overheard actually — this is not an official interview, this was something that was surreptitiously caught by a Politico reporter in a restaurant in D.C. — saying to the person he was having dinner with, basically, yeah, you’re correct. We need an agreement to end this war.
And then later on, he denied it, of course, when the report went public. But the fact that he denied it suggests that this was not something that he was meant to be saying, that there is still a possibility to do it. Now, the problem is, to actually get these two sides to talk, I think requires not just forcing them to do it. I think it really is going to involve the United States getting involved in the negotiation and, you know, the United States actually being a party to those negotiations because there are certain things that only the United States can offer.
Branko Marcetic is part of an independent news organization that produces the podcast 1/200.
Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Branko Marcetic (16:54) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.
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