For anyone wishing for an early end of the nearly 10-month Russia-Ukraine conflict, the message from the two-day NATO foreign ministers' meeting that ended in Bucharest, Romania, on Wednesday was not very encouraging.
This is because the world's largest security alliance, rather than exploring the possibilities to realize a negotiated settlement of the crisis by trying to create conditions for peace talks at an early date, seems to be intent on prolonging the hostilities despite the sufferings in Ukraine and the fact the conflict-induced global food and energy crises are pushing more people around the world into extreme poverty and hunger.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday pledged to drum up support for Ukraine aimed at ensuring the defeat of Russia, "because we know that the only way to achieve an outcome of this war which ensures that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign independent nation is to strengthen its position on the battlefield". He also said Moscow cannot stop the alliance's expansion to include Ukraine.
Given that NATO's continuous eastward expansion has been at least partly responsible for the ongoing conflict, Stoltenberg's remarks only serve to make a settlement at the negotiation table even more difficult.
Moreover, NATO's confirmation at the meeting that deliveries of more sophisticated missile systems such as Patriot missiles are being considered risks escalating the war into a direct military conflict between NATO and Russia. Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, said on Tuesday on his Telegram channel: "If, as Stoltenberg hinted, NATO supplies … Patriot complexes along with NATO personnel, they will immediately become a legitimate target of our armed forces."
Instead of prolonging and escalating the conflict by supplying Ukraine with weapons, the US, NATO and the European Union should conduct comprehensive dialogue with Russia with the aim of not only bringing an end to the conflict in Ukraine but also resolving their differences with Russia so that a stable security architecture can be established in Europe.
All parties concerned should work to realize those goals no matter how dim the prospects are. Continuing on their present course risks turning a Cold War vendetta that is long past its sell-by date into an even broader and more catastrophic hot war.
Most pressingly, peaceful settlement of the crisis as soon as possible is the only way to end the sufferings of people in Ukraine, and others around the world who have been impacted by the spillover effects of the hostilities.
The conflict has devastated Ukraine's infrastructure and economy, and forced around 6 million people to flee Ukraine in one of the fastest-growing refugee crises in recent history. Even Stoltenberg admitted, "the price we pay is in money, while the price Ukrainians pay is a price paid in blood."
That should be on his conscience, and all those who are intent on prolonging the conflict.