A building bombed by Russian forces in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv A building bombed by Russian forces in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv 

Caracciolo: We need to work for a truce between Russia and Ukraine

The chief editor of the Italian geopolitical magazine ‘Limes’ discusses the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, saying a truce could possibly last a long time and be a first step toward peace.

By Andrea Tornielli

A truce to stop to the fighting, a "non-war" which is far from peace, but would at least stop the bombing and the continuing loss of lives.

This is the suggestion proposed by Lucio Caracciolo, director of the the Italian magazine ‘Limes', one of the most authoritative publications on geopolitical affairs in Italy.   

Since the outbreak of Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, 'Limes' has provided insights into what is happening, also in the light of recent history. Vatican Media interviewed him taking the cue from Pope Francis' words. 

Q: At the Angelus on Sunday, 3 July, Pope Francis asked for a peace that is no longer "based on the balance of armaments, on mutual fear". Why does this seem so difficult to negotiate today?

The situation is different from that of the Cold War when communists, liberal democrats, capitalists, etc. condemned each other, but respected each other more. Today, there is no ideological difference, but there is an almost total mutual distrust: we don’t trust each other, while at the time of the Cold War, paradoxically, we did. It often happens today that something is said that is understood in another way by our counterpart: we can no longer find that common language that somehow guaranteed peace at the time of the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. Americans and Soviets understood each other much better than Americans and Russians do today.

Q: Russia prepared and unleashed this war and now it seems difficult to stop it...

No doubt - all you have to do is read the newspapers - there are those who hope the war will weaken Russia, who wanted and started it, and that it will discourage her from taking further war initiatives in the future to the advantage of the United States in its competition with China, given the current alignment between the Russians and the Chinese. To understand the context, we must also take into consideration a whole range of countries in Central-Eastern Europe, practically from the Scandinavian peninsula to Poland,  and down to Romania, which for historical reasons consider Russia a mortal danger.

Q: Meanwhile, the rearmament race which the Pope described as "madness" has resumed.  What do you think about this?

I have a different idea. Although it may seem a paradox, it is actually a fact: a certain degree of mutually recognized weaponry is considered a deterrent factor, i.e. a system that allows to maintain peace, or at least ‘no war’.

Of course, in an ideal world - which I hope one day will come true - the Pope's appeal against rearmament should be the goal. However, since we live in a rather imperfect world, which tends to become more and more so every day, I would be satisfied with a "no-war" situation. And today this "non-war", given the lack of mutual trust and the lack of communication I mentioned above, can only be based on some form of deterrence. The trouble is that, at this stage, it can be doubted wheher deterrence still actually exists, because a new idea of using  so-called tactical atomic bombs is emerging: since they are a little less powerful, we want to justify their eventual use. This would be truly shocking! That is, if this happened, if these atomic devices were used, we would be faced with a total massacre.

Q: What negotiated solutions do you consider possible, in the present and the future,  to stop the war in Ukraine?

Unfortunately, wars have a force of inertia and there is also an economic war going on. The lack of communication and all this hate suggest that the war will not end soon. My impression is that the conflict is doomed to last a long time. But I am also convinced that within the next two to three months we can and must try to reach the goal of a ceasefire. Notice that I am talking about a truce, not a peace treaty or a decision regarding borders and territorial partitions. I'm only talking about a stop to the fighting, so that we may end the shooting and the bombing, in the hope that this truce could then become, for lack of alternatives, if not a permanent datum, at least a very prolonged datum, on the Korean model.

Q: But what  you are proposing would  somehow "freeze" the present situation , which sees the Russian army control a part of the Ukrainian territory after invading it...

Yes, but the "freezing" I am talking about would not be an end in itself, but rather a means to lower the tension and thus avoid the loss of other human lives and material goods. However, it could also become a first step to finally start a dialogue and achieve peace. However - I would like to add this -  in my opinion, peace is very difficult in the current conditions: there is a lack of trust and there is also a lack of certainty, both for Putin and Zelensky, about their future after the eventual negotiation. This said, even a ceasefire alone will not be easy to be accepted by both sides. However, at this moment, the truce is a necessity and a possibility: both countries are  quite exhausted from a military point of view.

Q: What more could Europe do to achieve this result?

Unfortunately, Europe is absent ... it is a fact that we tend to camouflage with the rhetoric of Europe, which however then clashes with reality: there is no European geopolitical subject. Indeed, we have never seen so many different positions and interests dividing the European countries as in this moment. There is certainly an anti-Russian bloc. But then we have a bloc that it would be a mistake to define pro-Russian, but which appears more inclined to enter negotiations and which includes Italy, France, Germany, and more generally Western Europe. And then there is the Hungarian position which, instead, is openly pro-Russian. Furthermore, there is the British  position which is similar to the American one, but goes even further. And finally, what about Turkey?

So, in short, in the European space, and specifically in that of the European Union and in that of NATO, there are many different positions. I am convinced that none of these can really be conclusive, because I believe that the United States is the one who can really persuade Russians and Ukrainians to peace talks.

Q: Would a united position on the part of Europe still be desirable?

It is not a time for wishful thinking, but of facts. One day, who knows, maybe we will see a united Europe speaking with one voice. But since this goal does not seem on the horizon - at least for the next few years -  I believe we must act immediately and then individual European countries can play a role. Turkey is certainly carving one too.

But ultimately, I am convinced that from a strategic point of view the war unleashed by the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army can be considered, in some way, an indirect and undeclared war between Russians and Americans, with in the middle also China as an opponent of the United States and aligned with Russia. And therefore its solution is a question the  great superpowers must find, and not the medium powers or in any case the European powers. I believe that only  phone calls between Putin and Biden and between Biden and Zelensky, therefore a triangulation with Washington, could give the green light to a negotiation.

Q: Do you think the current Russian government can implode, as some analysts have claimed?

The question is more complicated than we think, because when a government implodes in Russia, the state implodes too. We saw it in the October Revolution, we saw it with the Gorbachevian end of the Soviet Union. It is never just a simple change of regime: the state changes in the strict sense of the term, the borders change, the institutions change, the structures change. So if, hypothetically, Putin were to lose power due to a war and not simply because he was defeated in elections – which seems to me unlikely at the moment -  it would be likely that the collapse of the Russian Federation would follow.

We must not forget that the Russian Federation was not created by someone for some purpose: it is simply the result of the decomposition of the Soviet Union. Basically, Russia and Ukraine are two post-Soviet states which, at the end of that operation to dismantle the USSR which took place between the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, found themselves in a condition that they both consider temporary.

Q: Do you agree with the Western governments' decision to send weapons for defensive purposes to  Ukraine?

I believe that it was right to send weapons to the Ukraine and that it is right to continue to do so, within certain limits and under two conditions. The first, is that through this gesture of practical, pragmatic solidarity, that is, that of arming the weakest and most attacked part in the battlefield, in some way, we may be able to influence  those we are helping. And the second condition is that Ukraine should not, in my opinion, ask for weapons and then eventually use them to attack Russia or another country directly. It’s ok to defend yourself, but beyond that, no. Finally, I would add that despite all the military aid that theWestern countries have sent, this has not proved decisive. Because now, what Ukrainians need, besides weapons and even more than weapons, are men, soldiers. And those come in limited quantities and essentially in the form of mercenaries.

Q: However, we continue to buy Russian gas, without which we would struggle to heat our homes. So in fact, as Fr Gaël Giraud, SJ pointed out in previous interview, we indirectly finance Putin's war ...

There is no doubt about that. But it is also true that we have to live, and if there is no gas, our countries are practically finished. The situation in Germany is particularly serious; in Italy perhaps less, but clearly energy is absolutely existential for our countries, it is not a superfluous good. On the other hand, Ukraine also buys gas reserves from the Russians. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and European NATO countries sold and bought gas. In short, this is not so much the point. On the other hand, a ceasefire must be reached quickly, which also implies a reduction in sanctions and counter-sanctions. Because there is not only war on the ground, there is also an economic war that risks having devastating effects for humanity as a whole, especially on the weaker countries,  even more devastating than the ones caused by the war in the Donbass region.

Q: The Pope, quoting a head of State, spoke of the "barking of NATO at the Russian borders", words that caused a lot of discussion. What are your considerarions on this?

I believe that what characterizes this war is the total prevalence of propaganda over realistic analysis. Realistic analysis does not in any way mean justifying the aggressor. Instead, it means trying to put yourself in his shoes, try to reason as he thinks and understand why he does certain things rather than others. Now, there is no doubt that when we decided to push NATO forward into post-Soviet space and perhaps even closer to the Kremlin walls, we did so for two main reasons. The first reason is that, from our point of view, having empty spaces between us and Russia was not ideal. And the second reason is that we thought  that in this way we could put Russia under  constant  pressure, without, however, having a clear idea of what we wanted to achieve.

We enlarged NATO knowing what the Russians think. Regardless of the regime that governs it - whether Tsarist, Democratic, Fascist or Communist - Russia has felt and feels somehow encircled by the West and without natural borders. The Russians believe that a rather large space between Moscow, or St. Petersburg, and the possible "invaders" is indispensable. We knew this and we did not considered it. But I want to say very clearly that this cannot in any way justify - and indeed it makes it even more stupid as well as criminal - the aggression against Ukraine, which ultimately reduced Russian power rather than increased it.

Vatican Media is publishing insights into Pope Francis' words on the war in Ukraine and on possible negotiated solutions: the views expressed by the interviewees are not attributable to the Holy See.

11 July 2022, 16:41