Ukraine: a global approach to give peace a chance?



Imagine you are at a rugby match where one side starts beating up spectators. They inflict brutal damage on supporters of the other team while their own supporters cheer them on. The other spectators watch with reactions running the gamut of disbelief, outrage and horror. But they carry on watching avidly, without intervening.

And that is what is happening now as Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine enters a new phase. War is a spectator sport on our own doorstep.

Viewers in spectator nations can see the blood-soaked room where a Ukrainian woman was raped by Russian soldiers before her throat was cut. They can hear how civilians in Bucha were found shot with their hands tied behind their backs or how elderly people trapped in Mariupol without water, food or heat are eating their family pets. And then watch some more.

No matter how much evidence of atrocities is shown on our screens:  systematic brutality, killings, torture and rape of civilians and wholesale destruction of cities, bystander nations haven’t found an effective way to stop Putin’s war.  We may have breathed a collective sigh of relief the Russian offensive against Kyiv has failed. But worse is to come as Putin’s forces reboot their campaign to concentrate on the Eastern region under new commander General Aleksandr Dvorinkov, dubbed The Butcher of Aleppo for his brutality in Russia’s Syrian campaign.

The response from some countries has been to send some arms and train some Ukrainians, more likely to assuage Western guilt than end the conflict. Sanctions haven’t halted the slaughter, are more likely to bolster Putin’s narrative about the hostile West. They won’t work unless Europe refuses to buy Russian ‘blood’ oil and gas and the economic effect would cripple western economies. Joe Biden telling Putin he will pay for war crimes is as effective a deterrent as a snowflake at dousing a raging fire and the UN fading into irrelevance is one way to describe the organisation.

What seems to missing from the international dialogue is any facilitation to bring peace in the Ukraine, unless attempts are going on behind the scenes. Heaven knows there is enough experience in the world in brokering peace accords, something that we in Ireland have recently experienced at first hand. It’s only 28 years since the Troubles came to an end in the North when the 1994 Good Friday Agreement was signed, with a ceasefire by paramilitaries, the withdrawal of the British army and the decommissioning of IRA arms.

In South Africa the 1991 National Peace Accord started the process which led to the end of apartheid and the first democratic elections there in 1994. Yet, insightful debate about how resolution was brought about in those seemingly insoluble situations is absent.

There are many ingredients which go into conflict resolution and bringing about consensus. Among them conviction that both sides have interests in common with more benefits to be gained from peace than ongoing violence, recognition of what the conflict involves and what will resolve it.

Other groups outside the political and military bubble need to be involved in peacemaking: business interests, churches, aid agencies as well as seasoned facilitators. Sometimes simple things establish common ground, in South Africa members of the opposing Nationalist Party and the ANC were taken on a fishing trip together, hard to argue when you have a fish on the line.

We can’t bring back peacemakers like the late Nelson Mandela or John Hume but there are surely enough experienced wise heads to put together an international peace commission to facilitate an end to the carnage and a conflict which is impacting the whole world.

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