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Leader comment: Ukraine’s enemies deserve mourning, too

06 January 2023

THE prophet Jeremiah warned against those who say “peace, peace” when there is no peace. No Western nation, despite the drain on its resources, military and economic, caused by the war in Ukraine, is encouraging President Volodymyr Zelensky to sue for peace with President Vladimir Putin at this time. The continued occupation of large areas of Ukrainian territory and the ever-present threat from Russian missiles make peace a distant prospect, even were it not for the animosity engendered in Ukrainian hearts by the senseless destruction of their country and its people.

It is, none the less, tough for supporters of the Ukrainians’ defence to harden their hearts to the degree demanded by open warfare. The missile strike on the temporary barracks in Makiivka, in Russian-occupied Donetsk, shortly after midnight on New Year’s Day, killed scores of Russian conscripts. The number is put at somewhere between 89 (the Russian authorities) and 400 (Ukrainian spokesman and some Russian dissident voices, who say that a further 300 were wounded). To the Ukrainians, these were enemy troops, about to be deployed to shoot and kill their comrades or fellow citizens. The strike — with US hardware — was an occasion for celebration and a source of solace for people suffering under the Russian bombardment of their infrastructure. The more dead, the merrier.

It is not disloyal of the allies, however, to note that those killed and injured in Makiivka were ordinary citizens until they were forced into uniform a few weeks ago. They might have supported the Russian campaign wholeheartedly and enthusiastically, it is true, but their view was based on the disinformation fed to them by the state media. If it is possible to calculate degrees of innocence, these conscripts were not as innocent as their compatriots who have fled Russia or risked imprisonment to avoid being caught up in the war, but neither were they as guilty as the leaders who recruited them for their irresponsible war games. Before they were victims of the US missiles, they were victims of the corrupt self-aggrandisement of President Putin and his compliant supporters — generals, media figures, and church leaders among them.

In his Independence Day speech on 24 August, six months after the start of the Russian invasion, President Zelensky said: “What is the end of the war for us? We used to say, peace. Now we say, victory.” The latter must include the former, of course, but even at the height of the war, the conduct of the combatants can make peace more likely. The better treatment of civilians by Russian troops would be one contribution to an eventual peace. A humane response to deaths among Putin’s cannon fodder would be another.

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