By Owei Lakemfa
The European Council met this Monday, May 30, 2022 on the Ukrainian-Russian War, made the same old arguments, declarations, threats against those who do not support Ukraine, imposed additional sanctions on Russia, and returned to the comfort of their homes.
Nothing in its 18-point long communiqué expressed sorrow or regret over the thousands of youths and civilians who have perished in the war. It did not express concern about more who might die due to the needless elongation of the war, and it was not interested in any peace deals or negotiations to end the war.
Rather, the European nations were focused on their usual condemnation of “Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine… and to immediately and unconditionally withdraw all its troops and military equipment from the entire territory of Ukraine”. In wars, there are Prisoners Of War, POWs held by both sides. The European nations might not see this conflict as a war, so rather than ask both sides to treat the POWs in accordance with international conventions or even ask for an exchange of prisoners, they treat this issue as one of kidnapping. So, they called “on Russia to immediately allow the safe return of Ukrainian individuals forcibly removed to Russia.”
As usual, they hailed “ the courage and determination of the Ukrainian people and leadership in their fight to defend the(ir) sovereignty”. They promised to provide the Ukrainians increased military support to continue the war. Again, the Europeans vowed to “investigate war crimes” which of course does not include those the Ukrainians might have committed.
The main focus of the meeting was the packaging of the sixth round of sanctions against Russia to cover crude oil, as well as petroleum products. But with so much dependence on Russian oil to survive, they exempted crude oil delivered by pipeline. They also had issues about including Russian gas but resolved to ban most Russian oil imports by the end of the year. The implication to me is that the European countries look forward to the war extending to the end of the year.
Although the European states claim the sanctions are to punish Russia and check its war machine, the facts are to the contrary. They are aware that sanctions cannot procure a ceasefire, force Russia to the negotiation table, slow its military advances in Ukraine, or cripple its economy. In fact, with steady exports and far less imports due to the European sanctions, the Russian economy appears to be doing better than the pre-sanction era.
First, the European states are aware that the oil sanctions may not have a negative effect on Russian economy because there are countries like China and India waiting to lap up Russian oil supplies. It is not for nothing oil has shot beyond $123 per barrel, thereby earning Russia huge revenue even at discounted prices. Oil was $92.81 per barrel when the sanctions were first imposed.
Part of the old sanctions against Russia included cutting its largest bank, Sberbank, from the SWIFT messaging system and a ban on insurance and reinsurance of Russian ships by 27 European states. But this has led to Russia sidestepping the dollar and insisting on payment with other currencies, particularly its rouble.
At the back of the war and sanctions, the rouble initially dropped, but quickly picked up, gaining 25 per cent against the dollar and becoming the best-performing currency in the world. The May 28, 2022 edition of the Economist reported that: “The rouble reached its highest level against the dollar in four years, and against the euro in five years.” The rouble is in such a high demand that in Russia, it is difficult to convert the dollar into local currency or any other currency. Also, the Russian Central Bank has cut interest rate from 14 per cent to 11 per cent.
When the Russians seemed to change their war plan by turning away from an outright take-over of Kiev and concentrating on Eastern Ukraine, the West hailed Zelensky as a giant killer. The West mistook the stalking of the Russian tiger for cowardice, forgetting that when the ram seems to retreat in a duel, it may be doing so in order to gather more speed and force for the head-butts it is about to deliver. Poor Zelensky revelled in accolades and talked glowingly about the Ukrainian spirit triumphing. His Adviser and Peace Talks Negotiator, Mykhailo Podolyak, just this Saturday, ruled out peace talks with Russia, saying: “Any agreement with Russia isn’t worth a broken penny”. The result today is that Russia and its allies have virtually completed their conquest of Eastern Ukraine and are likely to push further while officials of the Ukrainian region of Kherson, north of Crimea, are mulling a possible referendum to join Russia.
I have no military training whatsoever, but common sense tells me that a country whose territory is the battle ground, whose Air Force and Navy have virtually vanished, army badly battered, infrastructure, mainly destroyed, a quarter of whose populace is displaced, with factories, farms, offices and schools virtually un-operational, cannot be bragging about winning the war. Common sense dictates not a greater commitment to war, but one to immediate ceasefire and negotiations. Ukraine’s supporters in Washington and Brussels are basically cheerleaders; merely supplying more weapons and watching how far Ukraine and its youths can survive a clearly unequal war in which the dying are Ukrainians and Russians. Zelensky, with a propensity to seeking a live stage to perform, forgets that a person who allows coconut to be cracked on his head is unlikely to partake in the eating.
Unfortunately, the only narration allowed in Ukraine is that of Zelensky. Opposition parties suspected of having contrary positions were labelled as “pro-Russia” and banned by parliament. Even Zelensky’s warmongering predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, was twice prevented from leaving the country for meetings with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Vilnius. It was only this week he was allowed out to participate in the Summit and Congress of the European Peoples’ Party in Rottedam. The Zelensky government ensured this single line of thought when on March 5, 2022 it executed without trial, Denis Kireev, 45, one of its negotiators at Peace talks with Russia in Belarus. While he was accused of being a double spy, others said he was stepping out of line at the peace talks. Ironically, the Ukrainian government described Kireev as a “hero”.
I know the tendency is to label those of us who insist on an end to the war and negotiated settlement, as sell outs and Pro-Russian; I am glad that our small club has seen new members in French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Our club motto remains: ‘Peace is costly, but far cheaper than war.’