A New Idea to End Putin’s War

From: How to End the War in Ukraine, by Alfred McCoy

Alfred McCoy is Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of A Question of Torture, and In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power (Dispatch Books). His newest book, just published, is To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change. Full post at TomDispatch.

As the war in Ukraine heads for its third month amid a rising toll of death and destruction, Washington and its European allies are scrambling, so far unsuccessfully, to end that devastating, globally disruptive conflict. . . . [Their efforts] range from economic sanctions and trade embargoes to the confiscation of the assets of some of his oligarch cronies and the increasingly massive shipment of arms to Ukraine. Yet none of it seems to be working.

So while the world waits for the other combat boot to drop hard, it’s already worth considering where the West went wrong in its efforts to end this war, while exploring whether anything potentially effective is still available to slow the carnage. . . .

Given all the exemptions, sanctions have so far failed to fatally cripple Russia’s economy or curtail its invasion of Ukraine.  . . .  “As long as Russia can continue to sell oil and gas,” observed Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson International Economics Institute, “the Russian government’s financial situation is actually pretty strong.” And he concluded, “This is the big escape clause of the sanctions.”

In short, the West has seized a few yachts from Putin’s cronies, stopped serving Big Macs in Red Square, and slapped sanctions on everything except the one thing that really matters. With Russia supplying 40% of its gas and collecting an estimated $850 million daily, Europe is, in effect, funding its own invasion.

Following the failure of both Washington’s pressure on China and Western sanctions against Russia to stop the war, the international courts have become the sole peaceful means left to still the conflict. While the law often remains an effective means to mediate conflict domestically, the critical question of enforcing judgements has long robbed the international courts of their promise for promoting peace — a problem painfully evident in Ukraine today.

Even as the fighting rages, two major international courts have already ruled against Russia’s invasion, issuing orders for Moscow to cease and desist its military operations. . . .

With surprising speed, on day five of the invasion, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) at Strasbourg ruled in the case of Ukraine v. Russia (X), ordering the Kremlin “to refrain from military attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including residential premises, emergency vehicles and… schools and hospitals” — a clear directive that Moscow’s military continues to defy with its devastating rocket and artillery strikes. . . .

But matters need not end there. The Court is also responsible for enforcing the European Convention on Human Rights, which reads in part: “Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions.” Under that provision, the ECHR could order Russia to pay Ukraine compensation for the war damage it’s causing. Unfortunately, as Ivan Lishchyna, an adviser to Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice, points out: “There is no international police or international military force that can support any international court judgment.”

As it happens, though, there is a blindingly obvious path to payment. Just as a U.S. municipal court can garnish the wages of a deadbeat dad who won’t pay child support, so the European Court of Human Rights could garnish the gas income of the world’s ultimate deadbeat dad, Vladimir Putin. In its first five weeks, Putin’s war of choice inflicted an estimated $68 billion dollars of damage on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure (its homes, airports, hospitals, and schools), along with other losses worth about $600 billion or three times that country’s total gross domestic product.

But how would Ukraine collect such a sum from Russia? Any Ukrainian party that has suffered damage — whether individuals, cities, or the entire nation — could petition the European Court of Human Rights to enforce its judgement in Ukraine v. Russia (X) by awarding damages. The Court could then instruct the Council of Europe to direct all European corporations buying gas from Gazprom, the Russian state monopoly, to deduct, say, 20% from their regular payments for a Ukraine compensation fund. Since Europe is now paying Gazprom about $850 million daily, such a court-ordered deduction, would allow Putin to pay off his initial $600 billion war-damage debt over the next eight years. As long as his invasion continued, however, those sums would only increase in a potentially crippling fashion.

Though Putin would undoubtedly froth and fulminate, in the end, he would have little choice but to accept such deductions or watch the Russian economy collapse from the lack of gas, oil, or coal revenues. Last month, when he rammed legislation through his parliament requiring Europe’s gas payments in rubles, not euros, Germany refused, despite the threat of a gas embargo. Faced with the loss of such critical revenues sustaining his economy, a chastened Putin called Chancellor Scholz to capitulate.

With billions invested in pipelines leading one-way to Europe, Russia’s petro-dependent economy would have to absorb that war-damage deduction of 20% — possibly more, if the devastation worsened — or face certain economic collapse from the complete loss of those critical energy exports. That might, sooner or later, force the Russian president to end his war in Ukraine. From a pragmatic perspective, that 20% deduction would be a four-way win. It would punish Putin, rebuild Ukraine, avoid a European recession caused by banning Russian gas, and prevent environmental damage from firing up Germany’s coal-fueled power plants.

Paying for Peace

Back in the day of anti-Vietnam War rallies in the United States and nuclear-freeze marches in Europe, crowds of young protesters would sing John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s hope-filled refrain, even though they were aware of just how hopeless it was even as the words left their lips: “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” But now, after weeks of trial and error over Ukraine, the world just might have a chance to make the aggressor in a terrible war at least begin to pay a price for bringing such devastating conflict back to Europe.

Perhaps it’s time to finally deliver a bill to Vladimir Putin for a foreign policy that has involved little more than flattening one hapless city after another — from Aleppo and Homs in Syria to Chernihiv, Karkhiv, Kherson, Kramatorsk, Mariupol, Mykolaiv, and undoubtedly more to come in Ukraine. Once the world’s courts establish such a precedent in Ukraine v. Russia (X), would-be strongmen might have to think twice before invading another country, knowing that wars of choice now come with a prohibitive price tag.

European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France

2 thoughts on “A New Idea to End Putin’s War”

  1. Every single bit of broken plaster, cement, lamp posts, railroad line, all the shattered infrastructure down to every pane of replacement glass, and the wages for workers to fix, not to mention the human damages, must come out of Russia’s coffers for the next 30 years.

  2. Settle Ukrainian refugees in Russian owned properties, including Putin’s, that stand empty across the globe. Settle refugees in those yachts. Transfer property.

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