Close to midnight

Published March 4, 2024

THE Ukraine war has entered its third year, with no signs of a peaceful resolution. If anything, the principal protagonists — Ukraine and its Nato backers on one side, Russia on the other — appear to be digging in for the long haul. In a troubling indication of just how dangerous this conflict remains to global stability, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s raising the spectre of nuclear war last Thursday, during an address to his nation, should be enough to get rational actors on the world stage to redouble their efforts to end the Ukraine war. In an ominous message to his Western and Ukrainian foes, Mr Putin reminded them that “we also have weapons that can hit targets on their territory”, while specifically mentioning his country’s nuclear-strike capabilities. He also reminded his adversaries of the unenviable fate the armies of two of Russia’s historical foes — Napoleon and Hitler — suffered while trying to conquer his country. The Russian ruler’s combative rhetoric is a likely reaction to French President Macron’s recent comments at a Nato meeting that Western troops could fight in Ukraine.

The mere idea of nuclear deployment by heavily armed militaries is frightening, especially when both sides take a rigid position that does not allow much room for a negotiated settlement. The West’s threat of bringing Russia ‘to its knees’ is unlikely to intimidate Mr Putin. On the other hand, Moscow’s efforts to take other states’ territory by force is a recipe for continued conflict. The fact is that the Ukraine war — along with the bloodbath in the Middle East, and the confrontation between China and Taiwan — is amongst the global hotspots where even a conflict between two parties might spark a much wider conflagration. That is why it is in the interest of the international community to bring these conflicts to a peaceful close, or else prepare for massive turbulence in the global political and economic order. Any long-lasting solution must entail Russia giving up Ukrainian territory it has occupied, while the West should give Moscow guarantees that it does not seek to encircle it. These possibilities currently seem distant, as both sides have gone into Cold War mode. Perhaps this is why atomic scientists have put the Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds to midnight, with chances of turning back its hands diminishing rapidly.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2024

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