16/03/2022
Texts in English
Realistically about the tragic situation in Ukraine


The suffering of hundreds of thousands of civilians, as well as soldiers (not just professionals), the enormous material damage that will affect not only the places where the fighting is taking place, as well as the huge consequences of the massive wave of refugees are still incalculable. There is no reason in trying to quantify them at the beginning of the whole tragic process. Now, it is necessary to appeal for an immediate ceasefire, for a truce, for a readiness to be able to accept meaningful and seriously proposed compromises.

Such an approach, however, requires something else than emotions, sorrow, sympathy, cheap gestures, not to mention attempts on the side of politicians to abuse the situation to denounce their political rivals. It requires a return to a rational way of looking at the causes of today’s situation. That’s the prerequisite for finding solutions that would minimize losses and costs of all kinds.

To find such solutions, exaggerated rhetoric and political phrases are not sufficient. It is not enough to engage in political games that are always about domestic politics (and in the Czech case, about the upcoming local, senate and presidential elections).

The war has been going on for three weeks now and it will not come to a quick end by itself. What is still missing is an analysis of why all this happened. The first few days I was urged to remain silent, not to analyze. Now, perhaps it's slowly becoming not only possible but necessary.

It should be said that the biggest victim of all that is going on, Ukraine, has been from the beginning only a tool in a bigger game. It would be cheap to accuse Ukraine that it should not have accepted this role and that it should have seen through it long ago. That is easy to say, especially in hindsight. In a complicated post-communist plus deeply divided Ukraine, it is questionable whether anyone had sufficient strength and mandate to do so.

It is evident that for at least the last ten years there has been a clash in Ukraine between the West and Russia (I was going to write West and East, but that would leave China aside). It is a “delayed match” of the Cold War. On the part of the US and its allies it is the continuation of the policy of a unipolar hegemon (created by the victory in the Cold War) and on the part of Russia it is the decision not to allow – as they now say – the crossing of the “red line”, which for Russia was the membership of its neighboring country in NATO. 

I agree with the realists in American foreign policy – from Kissinger and Brzezinski to a generation younger Mearsheimer and Carpenter – this is how the cards were handed. Ukraine didn't have the same cards (it was playing a different kind of card game) and therefore could only join one side or the other. Since “Maidan” in 2014, Ukraine, or rather Ukrainian politics, has opted for a confrontation with Russia, especially in anticipation of NATO and EU membership (and the connected, on the side of Ukraine not properly understood benefits).

Ukraine had anticipated a confrontation of a different type than the one that broke out on February 24, 2022. Did Ukraine make a mistake? Should it have expected what happened? I have repeatedly admitted that I did not expect a full-fledged war, but I am not a Ukrainian politician. For me, it was a secondary, although very seriously perceived, problem (and a huge concern); for a Ukrainian politician it must have been a question of life and death.

Should they have been able to “read” Russian plans and intentions? Should they have seen into the soul of Russia and Putin better than we here in Prague? And than in Berlin, Paris and Washington? Should they have taken Putin’s months-long statements more seriously? I somewhat excuse them by using my earlier analogy – they were holding different cards than Biden and Putin. And they were being persuaded of the full support and the help of the West.

The issue now is the seriousness of the negotiations that have been initiated. The key to their success is the answer to the question “what vision of Ukraine’s future will make Russia stop the war”. The response from the West must come as quickly as possible. Every day, the costs increase exponentially. For the Czech Republic, too, this is an absolutely crucial issue.

Václav Klaus, 16 March 2022, Prague


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