Photo by Dave Middleton

There are questions we urgently need to ask about the Russia–Ukraine war. Questions which are important for all of us, because this war holds in it the seeds of our future, whether for good or bad.

How we respond to the war as individuals and as nations depends on the answers we give, so I urge you to think in depth about your responses. I don’t offer answers of my own – but the questions may suggest answers, or perhaps indicate further questions which it would be useful to consider.

Let’s begin.

1) What are the root causes of the Russian invasion?

Are they

  • Russian imperialism?
  • Putin’s insanity?
  • Russian nationalist populism of the kind witnessed in the UK over Brexit?
  • Ukrainian nationalist populism of the kind witnessed in the UK over Brexit?
  • Ukrainian treatment of its Russian speaking citizens?
  • Ukraine’s drift towards NATO?
  • NATO’s unwillingness to halt further eastward expansion?
  • US interference in Ukrainian politics?
  • US economic and military imperialism?
  • Some or all of the above?

2) Which of these root causes (if they are root causes) can and should be addressed to achieve peace?

3) Now the war has started, what will minimise the death and suffering of ordinary Ukrainians?

Is it

  • Perpetuate the war by ramping up financial and military support to Ukraine?
  • Encourage all Ukrainians to fight to the death?
  • Monster Russia and Russians and lionise Ukraine and the Ukrainians?
  • Get as many Ukrainians as possible out of their country as quickly as possible, re-housing large parts of the Ukraine population elsewhere in the UK and Europe?
  • Continue with sanctions against Russia, excluding oil and gas?
  • Implement harsher sanctions?
  • Declare war on Russia by attempting to implement a No Fly Zone over Ukraine?
  • Declare war on Russia by bombing Russian positions in Ukraine?
  • Negotiate with Russia on a peace treaty?

4) Is there a way to end the war which allows both Ukraine and Russia to ‘save face’?


  • Ukraine join the EU but not NATO, committing itself to military neutrality?
  • Russia retreat from Ukraine except Crimea and Donbas, with formal recognition of these regions as Russian?
  • Russia retreat from all Ukraine except Crimea, with both sides reaffirming the Minsk Protocol in regard to Donbas?

5) If peace negotiations are to be successful, what would a realistic peace treaty look like?

Would it

  • Involve total Russian capitulation and offer nothing in return?
  • Re-affirm the Minsk Protocol and declare Ukrainian neutrality in return for Russian withdrawal (excluding Crimea and possibly Donbas)?
  • Require Russia’s recognition of Ukrainian sovereignty and its right to join the EU?
  • Involve a NATO commitment to halt further eastward expansion?
  • Include Russian commitment to provide assistance/compensation toward rebuilding Ukraine?
  • Require Russian commitment to honour the sovereignty of other local non-NATO states?

6) How can the risk of a multi-state or world war be minimised?

Can this risk be minimised

  • Through further military support or assistance to Ukraine by Western nations?
  • By threatening to declare war on Russia?
  • By demanding Russia’s total capitulation and retreat?
  • By effectively declaring war on Russia with the implementation of a No Fly Zone?
  • By dialling down the rhetoric and urging peace talks between the two nations?
  • By NATO confirming it will not expand further?

7) How can the risk of nuclear war be minimised?

  • Through encouraging a peace settlement between the two nations?
  • Through increased financial or military involvement in the war by the UK, EU, US or NATO?

8) What can we do as individuals to help Ukraine and the Ukrainians?

  • Practice our diagnostic skills in assessing Putin’s mental or physical health?
  • Proclaim on social or mainstream media our hatred for Putin and our support for Ukraine?
  • Abuse or ‘cancel’ peace activists and anti-war campaigners?
  • Urge our governments to participate more directly in the war?
  • Urge politicians of all parties to support highly targeted sanctions against Russia’s military, economic and political elite?
  • Urge our governments to cut their ties to Russian wealth?
  • Urge our governments to explore any potential path towards negotiation and peace?
  • Encourage our governments to dial down the war-like rhetoric?
  • Encourage our governments to welcome refugees?
  • Give financial or practical assistance to refugee charities or groups?
  • Give financial or practical assistance to the Red Cross or similar charities?

9) What can we do as individuals to reduce the risk of all-out war?

  • Be consistent and universal in our morality, treating all people of all nations as equally valuable, equally important and equally deserving of our empathy, consideration and support?
  • Be resistant to group-think and propaganda?
  • Strive to avoid punitive or tribalistic ways of thinking?
  • Strive to be rational and calm?

I hope these questions have helped clarify your thinking about the crisis in Ukraine. Please feel free to offer your answers, or further questions, in the comments section below.

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4 thought on “9 Questions You Should Ask About The War”
  1. Meh
    Don’t get me wrong, nothing here is exactly “wrong,” but the point where I see a socialist critique fail is not attacking the status quo, but forming an alternate solution.
    Assuming this is political and not just ideological, what solutions would a socialist propose. Specifically, what agreements? This isn’t a gotcha, but a serious question. Countries like France that have recently tried to push for peace, ceasefires, humanitarian corridors, kept communication with Putin, etc. have been humiliated. Longer term, people are retrospectively looking back upon the EU/German idea that Russia would tone down it’s irredentist goals if we just traded more with them and tied our economies closer.
    There has been some attempts to foster peace and better relations with Russia, but they have just burned a lot of this goodwill.

    When you say peace, would you seek to push through a negotiation Ukrainians despise? Because call them irrational, suicidal, overly optimistic, etc. but Ukrainians do not want a Russian leader, they do not want to be demilitarized, they do not want to lose the right to join EU/NATO, they do not want to formally recognize Crimea and they do not want to give up the Donbas, overwhelmingly so.
    And if not, even implementing Minsk, which everyone has put no real effort in to do, how do we expect to get a deeply anti-Russian Ukrainian public to agree to this especially with no security guarantees, and on the flip-side if Russians believe Ukraine was going to strike first with NATO/dirty bomb/biological weapon, that the existence of Ukraine is a sovereign nation is rooted in ultranationalist, and that the military operation is still going well, why would they agree to stop.

    Finally, and this is a much easier one, there is war like rhetoric because there is a war. Because there is already a war, sending financial aid, humanitarian aid and yes, lethal weapons that can kill thousands, is both good and popular.
    Obviously I don’t want more death, but blaming NATO / West for aiding Ukraine could just be “why didn’t Ukraine just surrender immediately, there’d be way less deaths”
    Not to mention, politically this is deeply unpopular. And yet, the only common solution I see amongst other socialists is:
    1) Ignore what Ukraine says, they are not truly acting in the interests of the general public. reduce aid to Ukraine, reduce arms to Ukraine, reduce broad-based sanctions upon Russia which only harm the Russian people (Which massively helps Russia’s ongoing invasion)
    2) Increase diplomatic pressure upon both Russia and Ukraine to come to a peaceful settlement (with little further details)
    3) The real issue is [Russian money in politics/military industrial complex/general conspiracy theory/ pro-war establishment], and instead of focusing outwards and criticizing Russia we should deal with our own issues (A true but general deflection to the ongoing illegal invasion and war crimes of Russia)

    Also, making Ukraine a “neutral” country is impossible. They will continue to elect the most pro-West, anti-Russia candidates for decades. Sure, you can stop them joining NATO even though they couldn’t anyway, but this will only make the issue worse if you take Russia at its word over “Sphere of influences.” It will be extremely, extremely hard to go back to like 1990s or even pre 2014 Russia Ukraine relations.

    Unilaterally disarming simply doesn’t work, and the same applies when we’re arming Ukraine. Socialists who make great points to them come to the conclusion of “why haven’t we just tried diplomacy, stop broad sanctions, stop sending arms to Ukraine,” are not just very unpopular politically, but miss the issue entirely.

    1. Hi Joe, thanks for taking the time to read this article and respond in such detail – much appreciated!
      In answer to your points, please take a look at my earlier article, Four Steps To Peace, which you can find here:
      In it I try to suggest a way forward for Ukraine and Russia, much of which I have subsequently seen suggested by Noam Chomsky and others.

  2. Hi Nic, thanks for reading and responding! I don’t think this article attempts to justify Russia’s invasion – and that’s certainly not my intention. I’m a pacifist and against all war. What I’m trying to do here is suggest that the moral context is not so stark, with Russia, Ukraine and the West all contributing in creating the preconditions for war, and that we should ask ourselves searching questions before we get too enthusiastic about prolonging or fueling a war from the nice safe distance of the UK.
    I agree ‘All socialists should rally to support Ukraine and oppose fascist Russia and racist China’ – but I also believe we need to be critical allies and ensure we’re not merely helping to prolong a war that suits the geopolitical machinations of NATO members, or consolidating Ukraine’s transition into a fascist-enabling state.

  3. Whatever the reasons for Russia invading Ukraine, two things are clear. Firstly, Russia annexed Crimea and used its military might to establish an enclave in the Donbas. Secondly, Russia has again invaded Ukraine and has bombed civilian infrastructure.
    Are they justified? has Ukraine posed a threat to Russia. No. Does NATO show any appetite to invade Russia? No.
    So why he invasion. There is only one plausible explanation, Russia wants to demonstrate that dalliance with ideas like free speech, democracy etc are a threat to Russia. Russia’s expectation that the first invasion would undermine these failed, so a second invasion was necessary.
    I am a socialist. I believe that Putin’s Russia represents fascism. I further believe that Ukraine could become socialist like most of Europe already is – not a perfect socialism, but en route with provisions like free speech, democracy, welfare provision, independent trade unions, minimum wage, social medicine provision, state pensions etc. Things on fascist or conservative would introduce even if many have had to accept.
    All socialists should rally to support Ukraine and oppose fascist Russia and racist China.

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