Only one young life snuffed out—for what?

For the Russian-occupied Donbas enclave. That is to say, for nothing.

I can understand, intellectually, at least, dying for your family or friends, for your country or city or community, for democracy or peace or your nation.

But dying for a piece of crummy land populated by 3 million inhabitants, the vast majority of whom hate Ukraine and everything it stands for? That makes no sense.

Most Ukrainian policymakers and most Ukrainian people appear determined to win back the Donbas territory occupied by Vladimir Putin’s troops and proxies. At the same time, they appear to be equally determined to lead normal lives, as if the war—and make no mistake, it is a war—were taking place in some distant land.

As Ukraine’s restaurants and cafés are abuzz with customers, as policymakers squabble over irrelevant minutiae, as Ukrainians gripe about the declining value of the hryvnia, soldiers who never asked to be sent to the front are dying or, if they’re lucky, only losing their legs.

For what? For the 35,000 thugs in Putin’s proxy army? For the broken down industries and bankrupt coal mines? For the devastated cities and ruined infrastructure?

Or perhaps they’re fighting and dying for Ukraine? For Europe? For democracy? For human rights?

The supreme irony is that Ukraine can survive only without the occupied Donbas. Europe couldn’t care less about the Donbas.  And Ukraine’s democracy and commitment to human rights can flourish only if the reactionary occupants of that increasingly Putinized region are kept at arm’s length.

The sad truth is that these poor young men are being sacrificed for nothing.

Ukrainians should ask themselves two questions.

Are they willing to throw away 5-to-10 human lives per week every week for the next twenty years—or even longer? And if they are willing to throw away 250-500 lives every year, would they be just as willing to augment that number by sending their sons and daughters—and grandchildren—to the front?

Ah, many Ukrainians will say, “We need to keep the Donbas, because, if we let it go, Putin will be emboldened to take more territory.”

No, he won’t. He would be emboldened if he defeats the Ukrainian armed forces and does so in a cakewalk. He would not be emboldened if the Ukrainian army engages in a strategic disengagement that strengthens Ukraine’s ability to resist a Russian onslaught. He would be emboldened if the occupied Donbas were an economic boon for Russia. He would not be emboldened if, as is the case, it is, and remains, a massive drain on Russia’s resources.

Sacrificing young lives for the defense of a strategically vital redoubt whose loss would spell defeat would make hard-nosed geopolitical sense. Sacrificing young lives for the defense of a strategically irrelevant cesspool of decay and corruption makes absolutely no sense.

Which brings us back to the ultimate rationale invoked by Donbas-integrators: “It’s sacred Ukrainian territory and we won’t give it up.”

Fair enough, but then go to the front yourself and take your sons and daughters with you.

Just don’t let others do the dying for you.

Alexander J. Motyl's blog

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