Not Your Pawns: A CLE Examination of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict
by Sonja Morin
“But if you remember nothing else, please remember this: Chess is just a game. Real people aren’t pieces, and you can’t assign more value to some of them than to others. Not to me, not to anyone. People are not a thing that you can sacrifice. The lesson is that anyone who looks on the world as if it was a game of chess deserves to lose.” (Harold Finch, from the TV series Person of Interest)
This quote came to mind as I reexamined the recent news of Russia’s building military pressure on Ukraine. It was especially striking when I read the following from Alexander Lukashevich, Russia’s representative: “Russia is a peace-loving country. But we do not need peace at any cost. The need to obtain these legally formalized security guarantees for us is unconditional.” Even the most brief study into what led us into this position makes it clear that the cause is the use of human lives as mere pawns to forward violent and power-hungry plans. It should be cause for us to demand our international leaders adhere to principles that will recognize those caught up in the threats as humans, not objects for use.
Russia has continued to escalate its military presence against Ukraine. Not only have they positioned troops and weaponry on the Russia-Ukraine border, but they most recently conducted military exercises with short-range ballistic missile crews within the western part of Russia. The Putin-led government has been working to keep former Soviet satellite states from joining NATO (an international partnership formed to counteract Soviet actions during the Cold War). In other words, Russia is attempting to retaliate to prevent Ukraine from allying itself with countries such as the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and other Western powers who have had difficult relations with Russia in the past.
These fraught alliances were created out of war. The Soviet Union assumed rule in countries that were left devastated after World War II, especially those that had been taken over previously by the Nazi Third Reich. NATO was created in reaction to this multi-country conglomerate. Decades dragged on as the United States and the Soviet Union waited for the other to strike. And what finally led this Cold War to its end? Military spending: the two international giants tried outspending each other in weapons development until the Soviet economy finally collapsed.
Now we are in the same conflict as we were in during past decades. War has only begotten more war.
In all these conflicts, there was no prioritization of the people whose lives would effectively turn into pawns of the state. At best, the people on the ground were an afterthought for those in power—and it took considerable efforts by antiwar activists to make the powerful pay even that much attention. While the pro-war arguments have been presented as being in the best interests of security and peace, they have accomplished neither. Human lives continue to be used as pawns to provoke military action.
If we are to undo this cycle of fear-mongering chaos, we must not resort to the violence that started it in the first place. The first priority must be the protection of all those who are currently living in Ukraine. Countries and non-affiliated organizations should seek out solutions that will prioritize the safety of those who are in danger. We have the insight, knowledge, and technology to accomplish it; all that is missing is the resolve among leaders to do so. They must be reminded of their duty to stand up for the defenseless, and come to the aid of those in need.
The second priority must be peaceful negotiations through appropriate channels. It’s clear that the militarization of the US-Russia tensions has accomplished absolutely nothing for either country. The threats are not only unproductive but dehumanizing to the people who would be most affected by war. Countries must work together – be it between their staff, or through alliances such as the United Nations – to stop the escalating military action. Ukraine must be recognized as its own nation, and must be free from the fear of attack. We’ve already lived through one fruitless century of weapons against weapons, poised to strike at a moment’s notice. At all costs, we must avoid another one.
The roots and results of this conflict are drenched in violence. We must thoroughly wash ourselves of the dehumanization that led us here, and move forward in a way that protects and promotes peace for all people.
See more of our posts on war policy:
Seeing War’s Victims: The New York Times Investigation of Civilian Casualties in Iraq and Syria