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Patrick Cockburn Warns the West’s “Triumphalism” in Ukraine Could Prolong Conflict Indefinitely

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As fighting continues in Ukraine, we speak with journalist Patrick Cockburn, who says Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is peddling a “vague triumphalism” which is “obscuring just how dangerous and how bad the situation has become.” His recent CounterPunch piece is headlined “London and Washington are Being Propelled by Hubris — Just as Putin was.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

In Ukraine, fierce fighting continues to rage around the besieged industrial city of Severodonetsk, where sustained Russian artillery attacks this week have killed at least six civilians. Russian forces are also advancing on the city of Lyman in the southeastern Donetsk region. The war began three months this week, but there appears to be little progress on peace talks.

We’re joined now by Patrick Cockburn, award-winning journalist and columnist. He’s the former Moscow correspondent for The Independent. Recent piece for CounterPunch is headlined “London and Washington are Being Propelled by Hubris — Just as Putin was.”

Patrick, welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain.

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, this war began with a tremendous act of hubris, of arrogance, by Vladimir Putin, who thought that his newly equipped army, which wasn’t that big, in fact, would be greeted by the Ukrainian population, that the Ukrainian government would collapse, that the Ukrainian army would surrender. And we all know that exactly the opposite happened, that this was a ludicrous gamble never likely to succeed.

But now what’s so worrying is that I think you see hubris on the other side, with the U.S., with Britain, other NATO states and, to somewhat less a degree, the Ukrainian government also in a triumphalist mood. They are gloating over the very real Russian defeats in northern Ukraine. And the policy objective has changed from defending Ukraine to a rather sort of messy objective, which sometimes is regime change in Moscow, or it’s fighting until Crimea is returned, not to the situation before 24th of February, when the war began, but the situation before 2014. The Russians will never give this up, so this is really an endless war.

So, what worries me is that — I spent a lot of time in Syria and wars the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq. It’s becoming very like — more and more like the Syrian situation, that Ukraine is becoming the arena for a war between Russia and, in the distance, the U.S., the NATO powers. And this war, there’s no reason this war should end. And while this war goes on, the whole country gets devastated. The infrastructure gets destroyed. Millions of refugees flee. This is more and more like Syria was after 2011. But I think the sort of vague triumphalism is obscuring just how dangerous and how bad the situation has become.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Patrick, could you talk about — I mean, your assessment seems, like others, very similar, in fact, to what Kissinger said, basically, quote, “pursuing the war beyond that point” — that is to say, the point of attempting to go to the status quo ante, that that should not be an attempt, that it would not be — that it would not be about the freedom of Ukraine but a new war against Russia itself. But could you explain what incentive — given that Ukraine was in fact invaded, what incentive do the Ukrainians have to give up? And equally, what incentive does Russia have, having carried out, as you say, this audacious invasion?

PATRICK COCKBURN: I don’t think anybody is suggesting for a moment that the Ukrainians give up in the sense of surrender. I think that, you know, they’ve heroically defended their independence. The Russian invasion really failed in the first few days. The question is, rather: Do you say that we should return to the status quo ante with guarantees to Ukraine, with Russia still going to be there — we did long-term guarantees for Ukraine — and to bring this war to an end with an independent Ukraine capable of defending itself?

Once you go beyond that, you actually are acting against, to my mind, the interests of Ukraine, and you put Ukraine in the position of an all-out war with Russia, which is a greater power, is not going to go away. And that’s why I think you’ll end up with a war very similar to the wars one’s witnessed in the Middle East, from Libya to Afghanistan, in which the country which is — each country has, in turn, been sort of devastated and has never recovered.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Patrick, what about the status of possible negotiations, with Zelensky saying earlier this week that he would only negotiate with Putin?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, you know, if there are negotiations, it will probably end up like that. I mean, there were serious negotiations at the — somewhat over a month ago in Turkey, in which the Ukrainians made very serious offers that the whole issue of Ukraine [sic] should be pushed forward, I think it was, 15 years, and should be — would not have to be resolved immediately. That means they don’t have to accept they’ve lost Crimea. And the — sorry, the whole issue of Crimea should be pushed forward 15 years, so that means they don’t have to discuss or give up Crimea, and the Russians don’t have to say, “We’ll never leave.” So, there is room for negotiations there, which — well, one has to say the Ukrainians are not being offered that at the moment. And both sides think they can still make gains on the ground, that the battlefield still has things to offer them.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Patrick Cockburn, do you think that the weapons flow from the U.S. and the West to Ukraine is exacerbating, prolonging the war?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, you know, the Ukrainians need weapons. Then people try to distinguish between defensive weapons and offensive weapons. You know, that, there isn’t a great dividing line between the two. Ukrainians should clearly be armed. But then one gets to the situation of what will happen if there are lots of anti-ship missiles firing at the Russians in the Black Sea.

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, I mean, the problem is that this war is becoming another endless war, like we’ve seen in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and elsewhere and all over the world. And most wars don’t end with a decisive victory. But if it becomes an endless war, then Ukraine will be devastated.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. Patrick Cockburn, award-winning journalist and columnist. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Stay safe.

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