Perspectives on the War in Ukraine: An Introduction

Patricia Rinck and Tobias Debiel

The focus of this issue on 'Perspectives on the war in Ukraine' is edited by Patricia Rinck and Tobias Debiel. With contributions by David Carment, Oksana Huss, Tamara Martsenyuk and Siddharth Tripathi.

The cornerstone for this edition of the Quarterly Magazine lay in a Käte Hamburger Dialogue on the war in Ukraine co-organised by the Centre for Global Cooperation Research (KHK/GCR21) and the Institute for Development and Peace (INEF) in March 2022. In this event, our speakers, David Carment, Oksana Huss, Tamara Martsenyuk and Siddharth Tripathi, discussed different perspectives on the war in Ukraine, which came with their different disciplinary backgrounds and positionalities, some being directly affected and others observing from a distance. Since then, four months have passed and the war is still going on.  

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is a terrible tragedy that is causing untold human suffering and destruction. The military invasion has already cost thousands of lives, wounded many more, caused massive destruction in Ukraine and forced millions of people to flee their homes. The war also has massive consequences on the rest of the world, threatening the European and also the global peace order. Russia is violating international law and clearly pursues imperial goals with its war. The war also has major consequences beyond Europe, in political, economic and security terms, disrupting trade relations, contributing to food and fuel crises that especially countries in the Global South are now struggling with, and exacerbating security crises and other conflicts around the world.

We asked our four speakers at this event for short contributions with their reflections on the war against Ukraine, which provide important perspectives on the war and the complexity of the overall situation it has created. In their contributions, they focus on the situation in Ukraine and centre the experiences of Ukrainians (Oksana Huss, Tamara Martsenyuk) as well as the dilemmas that the war and the ensuing global crises pose for countries of the Global South (Siddharth Tripathi). Furthermore, options are explored for overcoming the ‘protracted conflict’ (David Carment and his co-author Dani Belo).

In the first contribution, Oksana Huss examines the factors behind Ukraine’s resilience in defending the country, which Russia has apparently underestimated and which has also surprised many outside observers. She suggests that Ukraine’s resilience is fostered by a culture of collaborative governance and participatory democracy that emerged since the beginning of the war in 2014, when civic activism and citizens’ engagement in politics increased strongly. Her contribution highlights the importance of the broad societal support for military resistance to the invasion.

Tamara Martsenyuk looks at the role women have played in the defence of Ukraine, countering the common portrayal of women as mere victims of wars and showing women’s roles as active agents of resistance: since the Euromaidan protests in 2013/14 and the beginning of the war, women have demanded a more active role in the public sphere, raising issues of inequality and gender justice. This has included demands for the right to actively participate in the military, thus challenging traditional gender roles. Martsenyuk argues that the role of women is crucial to understanding why and how Ukrainian society has so fiercely resisted the Russian invasion. She also stresses that true peace can only be achieved with a Ukrainian victory, as Russian occupation would not bring peace to many people in the affected areas.

In the third contribution, Siddharth Tripathi offers a perspective on the reactions of countries in the Global South in the face of the severe impact the war has had on them. He explores the concerns and dilemmas of the Global South regarding an alliance with the ‘West’ against Russia, emphasising the importance of the ‘privilege of choice’ that especially poorer countries in the Global South do not have, and highlights the hypocrisy behind Western demands on Global South countries to maintain a ‘rules-based order’ in which exceptions have been made time and again in the past for powerful actors’ violations of international law. He stresses that the war and the divided reactions expose the fault lines in the international system between the countries in terms of who gets impacted by such crises and how.

In the final contribution, David Carment and Dani Belo discuss potential ways out of the ‘protracted conflict’. They stress the fact that the war already started in 2014 and argue that the past eight years were characterized by 'missed opportunities for diplomatic action, confrontation and limited strategic thinking'. The two authors plead for a bigger European role and develop a template for conflict resolution that includes concrete steps for de-escalation. This contribution, sure enough, contains controversial assumptions and propositions. But it could also trigger a more intensive debate on how confrontation can gradually be transformed into a new security order in Europe that comprises basic elements of cooperation.

These four different perspectives are intended to contribute to a more nuanced debate that highlights the complexity of the situation for Ukraine, the global peace order as well as for the countries of the Global South that are particularly heavily affected by the impact of the crisis. This edition of the Quarterly Magazine considers it crucial to centre the perspectives and needs of Ukrainians. Still, it also includes considerations that take into account interests of great powers as a prerequisite for a lasting conflict resolution and a new security order in Europe. We also maintain that the negative consequences for countries in the Global South must be cushioned, and the danger of forgetting the many other wars in the world because of the war in Ukraine must be averted.

Sustainable peace in the world has become even more difficult after the Russian war of aggression. At the same time, some basic insights that we have gained in our research on peacebuilding at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research remain valid. Peace will after all only be possible if disadvantaged groups are given a voice and their rights are respected, both within societies – think of the rights of women and queer or racialised minorities, among others – and in the world at large, where power inequalities between the Global North and the Global South stand in the way of a peaceful world order. We see it as the task of the academic community to work together towards this goal and to point out the possibilities for a more just and peaceful world order, also and especially in times when the situation looks bleak.