Thursday, October 27, 2022

Leaving Putin a fig leaf to hide his defeat behind might reduce famine deaths worldwide and avoid nuclear war

Summary : Putin is guilty of war crimes in his invasion of Ukraine. Denying him victory war important to deter other wars. But completely defeating him could carry as much risk of nuclear war as allowing him a victory that made him overconfident would. So it would  be safer to offer him a fig leaf to hide his defeat behind in the form of Crimea and the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk his Ukrainian separatist allies have held since 2014. There are also more famine deaths in Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Ethiopia caused as long as the war continues due to disruption of grain exports from Ukraine and Russia and chemicals needed for fertiliser production from Russia. These shortages especially affect food aid as they are sources of cheap grain from the UN’s World Food Programme. And may lead to more famines both through price rises and through reduced food production worldwide due to farmers in poor and middle income countries not being able to afford fertiliser. Any compromise with Putin will be a bitter pill to swallow, but, if he accepts it, less bad than millions more famine deaths or the risk of unintended escalation to nuclear war. (Continue reading for full post of under 1,200 words)


How The Ukraine War Contributes to Famine Deaths Across Africa and the Middle East

Vladimir Putin is a dictator who is overseeing war crimes, including the deliberate targeting of civilians. Denying him outright victory by arming and training the Ukrainians has made more invasions less likely. But every week the war in Ukraine continues, not only are Ukrainian civilians killed, but millions starve to death in famines in Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia, partly through disruption of Russian and Ukrainian grain exports. In Somalia alone, one child is hospitalised with acute malnutrition every minute (1) – (2).

The UN’s World Food Programme says the war needs to end ; that it gets 50% of its food aid from Russia and Ukraine and got two thirds from Ukraine alone in 2021 ; that grain exports from Ukraine have fallen by three quarters since the invasion. These figures include the time since the July UN brokered export deal under which Russia agreed to give safe passage to ships exporting Ukrainian grain, and , unofficially, sanctions on Russian grain and fertiliser, exports were to be eased.. Russia is already threatening not to renew the deal in November, claiming its own grain and fertiliser exports haven’t been permitted in practice. (3) – (6).

What’s more experts warn that the current Ukrainian export levels, almost equal to pre-war ones, are unlikely to be maintained due to damage to crops, disruption of planting crops for future seasons, Russia occupying much farmland,  shortages of labourers, money and the high price of fertiliser (driven up by sanctions on Russia which is a major producer of chemicals used to make it). As well as Russian attacks on grain and sunflower oil storage facilities (6).

Increasing global fertiliser prices, also caused partly by shortages of potassium and phosphate of which Russia was the key supplier risk reducing food production worldwide , which could lead  to global food shortages (7).

Trying to Completely Defeat Putin is as likely to cause nuclear war as allowing him a victory

Then there’s the growing risk of nuclear war. It is certainly important to prevent Putin conquering other countries, or annexing big parts of them, as this is both bad in itself and could lead him to overconfidence that led to war with NATO, which could escalate to nuclear war.

But if Putin believes he faces total defeat, that could lead to him using tactical nuclear weapons and risk escalation to nuclear war too.

Former Chair of the US Joint chiefs Of Staff Mike Mullen is among those calling for negotiations to  end the war, as the risk of Putin using tactical nuclear weapons increases. Zelensky, understandably outraged at Putin targeting civilians, says Ukraine will only negotiate with Putin’s successor. But if Putin thinks his position is under threat, he may use nuclear weapons to try to force concessions from Ukraine to save his Presidency (8) – (9).

It seems very unlikely that Putin would began an escalation by directly firing nuclear weapons at NATO countries.. But the risks of unintentional escalation in stages are more serious. For instance, Putin fires a nuclear weapon over the Baltic, the North Sea or the Black Sea as a threat to try to bring Ukraine and NATO to the negotiating table. Or uses a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine itself, on Kyiv even.

Some analysts think an immediate NATO response could use limited or even massive conventional air and missile strikes on Russian forces in Ukraine.

The Russian government and military have claimed they could block these by shooting down GPS satellites used for targeting, or using other technology to disrupt GPS based targeting systems. Yet Russian forces in Ukraine haven’t blocked it, probably because too many of them are still reliant on GPS themselves  to make it practical. And US forces having been training for years in operating without GPS (10) – (12).

Nor could Russia destroying GPS systems prevent US, French or UK nuclear weapons’ being targeted, as their primary guidance systems are inertial not GPS (13).

So assume Russia can’t prevent NATO conventional counter-strikes. How would Russia respond if most of its conventional military was destroyed, it faces loss of status as any kind of major power, and its only remaining cards to play are nuclear weapons?. The Russian response might not be surrender or admission of defeat, but a further nuclear escalation to try to deter further US attacks, that could lead to global nuclear war.

A Possible Compromise

Any peace deal will require compromise by both sides. This would likely mean Ukraine formally ceding Crimea, as Sevastopol is the only deep water port Russia has access to as a black Sea naval base giving Mediterranean access. No Russian government will give it up any more than the UK would give up Gibraltar, or the US Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Guaranteed water supplies from the Kherson region on would also be required, though Kherson oblast should be returned to Ukraine. Ceding only areas held by separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014 would complete a fig leaf for Putin to hide his defeat behind, without letting him gain new territory from the invasion (14).

The Ukrainian side of course will, completely understandably, object to the idea of negotiating with Putin after what he’s done, and to ceding any territory, even territory Putin or Russian backed Ukrainian separatists, took over in 2014 rather than since the February invasion. But the lives of millions of people dying in famines cannot be ignored when making decisions. Nor can the risk of escalation to nuclear war, which, along with nuclear winter, would kill a third of the world’s population through starvation, on a conservative estimate (15).

NATO countries are supplying most of Ukraine’s most advanced weaponry and ammunition for it. This gives them considerable negotiating leverage over Ukraine should they wish to use it behind the scenes to try to get an end to the war that quickly restores as much food aid as possible to people starving around the world, and eliminates the threat of nuclear war.

This kind of pressure on allies would not be pleasant for anyone involved, but the alternatives to it may be worse. NATO governments may already be limiting supplies of advanced weapons to Ukraine to try to ensure Putin neither wins nor is so completely defeated that he turns to the nuclear option. That’s far from an exact science though and risks miscalculation too.

Putin’s agreement to give up all territory except that he and his allies held in 2014 can’t be guaranteed of course. His latest Address to Russians included ambivalent statements that could be interpreted either way on whether he thinks Ukraine and Russia are separate countries or not. He said “Russians and Ukrainians are actually one people” but “we ended up in different countries unfortunately” (16).

But if he’s seeing a serious risk of total defeat and losing power in the long run, which for him could mean exile, jail or even being killed by allies of those he did the same to, he might accept it as preferable to total defeat.

It wouldn’t be as satisfying as seeing Putin completely defeated, but complete satisfaction that comes at the cost of millions more people starving to death, many of them children, let alone global nuclear Armageddon, is the kind of satisfaction that we should forgo.

What you can do

You can donate to the World Food Programme who are getting food aid to people everywhere from Ukraine to Somalia.



(1) = World food Programme 15 Sep 2022 ‘'This war must end': The Ukraine crisis seven months on’,

(20) = see (1) above

(3) = Wall Street Journal 19 Oct 2022 ‘Ukraine’s Grain Exports Recover to Near Prewar Levels’, (article says analysts say agricultural exports may well fall below pre-war levels again soon due to destruction of crops, disruption of harvesting, Russian attacks on storage facilities)

(4) = Carnegie politika 26 Jul 2022 ‘What’s in the Ukraine Grain Deal for Russia?’, (on Russia getting informal easing of exports or Russian grain and fertiliser from the deal)

(5) = Politico.EU 13 Oct 2022 ‘Moscow threatens to exit Black Sea grain deal’,

(6) = See (3) above

(7) = Al Jazeera 18 Jun 2022 ‘How did the Russia-Ukraine war trigger a global food crisis?’,

(8 ) = Responsible Statecraft 10 Oct 2022 ‘Former Joint Chiefs chair calls for talks to end Ukraine war’,

(9) = Kyiv Independent 20 Oct 2022 ‘Blinken says Putin has no interest in 'meaningful diplomacy'’, ;
3rd paragraph ‘On Oct. 7, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine won't negotiate with Putin. “We are ready for a dialogue with Russia, but with another president of Russia,” he said after Putin declared the annexation of four Ukrainian regions – Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia oblasts.

(10) = Space News 19 Apr 2022 ‘Op-ed | Get the Bullseye Off GPS’,

(11) = C4ISRNET 22 Jul 2022 , Why isn’t Russia doing more to jam GPS in Ukraine?  ,

(12) = Popular Mechanics 01 Feb 2018 ‘The Air Force Turned Off GPS To Rehearse a War Without It’,

(13) =

(14) = Responsible Statecraft 18 Oct 2022 ‘Why Crimea is the key to the Ukraine war’,

(15) = LA times 15 Aug 2022 ‘Even a limited nuclear war could kill a third of world’s population, study shows’,

(16) = TASS 27 Oct 2022 ‘Putin partially agrees to view special military operation as ‘civil war’’,

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