The need for an international peace conference at Torgau, in Germany, is more urgent than before. As we enter the first winter war, the protracted Kremlin assault on Ukraine has had worldwide impact. Africans are suffering from the loss of Ukrainian grain. Europeans are feeling the loss of access to Russian oil and gas. For the rest of us, inflation is an onerous burden on working families in every developed nation. But why Torgau?
The Soviet Red Army met U.S. troops there in January 1945. Their “closing the ring” marked a brief but important collaboration of the USSR with the Western Allies. Both sides hoped for a new spring of peace. All of that depended on the crushing of Hitler’s “nozzie” Wehrmacht menace, and for that much, our alliance held; Churchill even had the satisfaction of walking over Hitler’s burned-out bunker at the Potsdam Summit that July. Even then, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in 2004 asked to be included in the regular celebration of D-Day because the Allies had freed the German people, too.
Now, we need to seek peace with a passion. The Biden administration representative, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, has said our goal in this war is to “weaken Russia.” No one in in the administration has contradicted the Secretary. That must not be our goal, stated or even implied. NATO is proving itself as the greatest defensive alliance in all history. But to succeed, it is not necessary to cripple Russia. It isn’t even desirable.
President Biden is to be commended for the grave warnings he offered to NATO. He skillfully reunited NATO after years of disparagement by his predecessor. The Kremlin’s unjustified aggression against Ukraine proved the President’s words prophetic. The accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO, if it occurs, will be one of President Biden’s crowning achievements.
Mr. Biden has also wisely refrained from sending U.S. or NATO ground troops into Ukraine. Additionally, he declined to provide Ukraine with a “no fly zone.” As urgently as Ukrainians sought such aid, the dangers of lethal engagement between NATO forces and the Russian military were unacceptable.
A Russian attack on NATO forces could have brought into question the collective security guarantees of Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty. President Biden’s measured response can be seen in this week’s announcement that Ukrainian troops would be trained on the defensive Patriot Missile system here in the United States. Thus, we emphasize our determination not to make war on Russians.
This tragic war, however, might have been avoided altogether. President Biden could have persuaded our NATO allies to accept Ukraine as a member. That, and perhaps that alone, could have deterred the Kremlin from its disastrous course of invasion. Germans certainly feared all of NATO being dragged into a war that could escalate to nuclear exchange.
We could have worked overtime to persuade the Russian people that NATO is not Russia’s enemy. We could communicate to the Russian people that NATO is their shield, citing Germany as the classic confirmation of this fact. In 1991, the USSR acceded to the reunion of Germany and its inclusion within NATO. The Soviets even agreed to withdraw their hundreds of thousands of troops from Eastern Germany.
Since that historic rapprochement, Germany as a NATO member has posed no threat to Russia. Far from it. German politicians made every effort for thirty years to implement their wandel durch handel policy—trade will bring changes.
We know that the Peacemakers are blessed. More than that, they are urgently needed now. Although Trump called Gospodin (Mister) Putin’s invasion “genius,” not even Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin thinks it was a good move. He knows it was a катастрофа (catastrophe). His problem is our problem: how to extricate himself from this crisis without winding up like Saddam or Gaddafi. Our peace offer could include a Russo-Ukrainian Treaty based on the Russo-Finnish Treaty of 1992: no territorial demands but guarantees to ethnic minorities of both countries of linguistic, cultural, religious, and civil rights. We might agree to a UN-supervised plebiscite in Crimea.
The absence of any fierce resistance to Russian invasion in Crimea such as we’ve seen in Ukraine suggests that those people may in fact identify as Russians. We could press Ukraine to continue to supply vital water to Crimea. We could offer Russia a relaxation of economic sanctions, timed to coincide with the staged withdrawal of their troops from Ukraine. A liberated Ukraine should present NATO membership as a benefit to Russia; once peace is achieved, Russians could concentrate government funds on repairing their stricken economy and fractured health care system.
America has never made war on Russia. We need to seek peace with strength, but we must have no goal of further humiliating Russians. A disintegrated Russia would plunge the world into nightmares of “loose nukes” in the hands of outlaws. Avoiding nuclear war is the best argument for Peace at Torgau.