Caracciolo: “Work immediately for a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine”

Interview with the director of “Limes” about the ongoing conflict: if it happens, this truce “could last a long time and be a first step towards peace”.


A truce, a halt to the fight. A “non-war”, a situation very far from peace. But at least the bombings and the continuing loss of life would stop. This is what Lucio Caracciolo, director of the magazine “Limes” proposes, is a respected reference in geopolitical analysis. Since the beginning of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, “Limes” has offered insights to understand what is happening also in the light of recent history. Vatican media interviewed him based on Francis’ words.

At the angelus On Sunday, July 3, Pope Francis called for a peace that is no longer “based on the balance of armaments, on mutual fear”. Why does it seem so difficult today to reach a negotiation?

There is a difference from the Cold War period, when communists, liberal democrats, capitalists, etc. they condemned each other morally, but they respected each other more. Today there is no ideological difference, but there is an almost total reciprocal distrust: one does not trust one another, whereas in the Cold War era, paradoxically, one did. It often happens today that something is said something that is understood in another way by the interlocutor: there is no longer that common language that somehow guaranteed peace at the time of the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. Americans and Soviets understood each other much better than Americans and Russians understand each other today.

Russia prepared and unleashed this war and now it seems difficult to stop it.

Certainly – and you only have to read the newspapers to understand this – there are those who want Russia, which wanted it and started it, to come out of this war weakened. And that it be discouraged from taking further war initiatives, in the hope that this Russian weakening will favor the United States in competition with China, given the current alignment between the Russians and the Chinese. To understand the context, we must also consider a whole range of countries in Central-Eastern Europe, practically from the Scandinavian peninsula through Poland to Romania, which for reasons linked to the history of their peoples consider Russia a mortal danger.

In the meantime, the race for rearmament began again, which the Pope described as madness. What do you think about it?

I have a different idea. Although it may seem a paradox, it is actually a fact: a certain degree of mutually recognized weaponry is considered a deterrent, that is, a system for the maintenance of peace or at least “non-war”. Of course, in an ideal world – which I hope will one day become a reality – the Pope’s call against rearmament represents the goal. However, as we live in a rather imperfect world, which tends to become that way each time, I would settle for a “no war”. And today this “no war”, given the lack of mutual trust and the lack of communication I mentioned earlier, can only be based on some form of deterrence. The problem is that at this stage it can be doubted that deterrence still exists, because a new idea of ​​the use of the atomic bomb is emerging through the so-called tactical atomic bombs: as they are a little less powerful, one wants to justify their eventual use. That would be really shocking! In other words, if that happened, if these atomic devices were used, we would be facing a total massacre.

What negotiating solutions do you see possible, for the present and for the future, to stop the war in Ukraine?

Unfortunately, there is an inertia of wars and there is also a war economy. There is a lack of communication and hatred that suggests that this war will not end soon. My impression is that the conflict is destined to last a long time. But I am also convinced that in the next two or three months we can and must try to achieve the objective of a ceasefire. Attention: I’m talking about a truce, not a peace treaty or a decision that calls into question borders and territorial divisions. I’m just talking about stopping the fighting, so there’s no more shooting and no more bombing. With the hope that this truce can then become, for lack of alternatives, if not a permanent datum, at least a very prolonged datum, along the Korean lines.

What you propose, however, would somehow mean “freezing” an order, which is the current war situation and which sees the Russian army controlling a part of Ukrainian territory after invading it…

Yes, but the “freezing” I speak of would not be an end in itself, but a means to reduce tension and thus avoid the loss of other human lives and material goods. However, it could also become a first step towards finally starting a dialogue and achieving peace. However, I would like to add that, in my opinion, peace is very difficult under current conditions: there is a lack of trust and also a lack of certainty, both for Putin and for Zelensky, about their future after the eventual negotiation. With these premises, even a ceasefire by itself will not be easy to accept, either for one or the other. However, at this point, the truce is both a necessity and a possibility: both countries are indeed quite exhausted from a military point of view.

What more could Europe do to achieve this result?

Unfortunately, there is an absence… it is a fact that we tend to mimic the rhetoric of Europe, which, however, ends up confronting reality: it lacks a European geopolitical subject. As a matter of fact, never as in this case, unfortunately, we see how different are the positions and interests that divide European countries. There is certainly an anti-Russian bloc. And then there is a bloc that it would be a mistake to call pro-Russian, but which seems more inclined to enter into negotiations and which includes Italy, France, Germany and, in general, Western Europe. Then there is the Hungarian position which is openly pro-Russian. Again, there is the English position which is similar to the American one, but a step forward. And finally, do we want to talk about Turkey? In short, in the European space and specifically in the European Union and NATO, there are many different positions. However, I am convinced that none of this can really be conclusive. Because I believe that the United States is the one who can really persuade Russians and Ukrainians to peace.

Would a unitary position on the part of Europe, however, be desirable?

It is not a time of auspices, but of facts. So one day, who knows, maybe we will see a united Europe speaking with one voice. But as this objective does not seem to be on the horizon, at least for the next few years, I believe that we must act immediately and then each European country can play a role. Turkey is certainly playing one too. But, ultimately, I am convinced that, from a strategic point of view, what was unleashed with the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army can somehow be considered an indirect and undeclared war between the Russians and the Americans, taking into account the mean also China as an opponent of the United States and aligned with Russia. And therefore its solution is a matter for the great superpowers and not for the middle powers or in any case for the European powers. I believe that only the phone calls between Putin and Biden and between Biden and Zelensky, in short, a triangulation with Washington, could give the green light to a negotiation.

Do you think the current Russian government could implode, as some analysts claim?

The issue is more complicated than one might believe, because when a government implodes in Russia, so does the state. We saw it in the October Revolution, we saw it with the Gorbachevian end of the Soviet Union. It is never just a simple regime change: the state in the strict sense of the term changes, borders change, institutions change, structures change. So, if by hypothesis Putin lost power due to a war and not simply because he was defeated in the elections – this last circumstance which at the moment seems a little difficult to me – at that point it would be likely that the collapse of the Federation would follow. We must not forget that the Russian Federation was not created by anyone for any purpose: it is simply the result of the decomposition of the Soviet Union. Basically, Russia and Ukraine are two post-Soviet states that, at the end of that USSR dismantling operation that took place between the late 1980s and early 1990s, found themselves in a condition that both consider temporary.

Do you agree with the decision of Western governments to send weapons for defensive purposes to the attacked Ukraine?

I believe that it was right to send arms to the attacked Ukraine and that it is right to continue to do so, within certain limits and under two conditions. The first is that through this fact of practical, pragmatic solidarity, that is, arming the weakest and most attacked part of the field, we can somehow influence who we are helping. And the second condition is that Ukraine must not, in my opinion, ask for weapons and then use them to directly attack Russia or another country. To defend yourself, fine, but other than that, no. Finally, I would like to add that, despite all the military aid that we Westerners have sent, it has not proved decisive. Because now, what Ukrainians need, in addition to weapons and even more weapons, are men, they are soldiers. And these arrive in limited numbers and essentially in the form of mercenaries.

However, we continue to buy Russian gas, without which we would have difficulty heating our homes. So in fact, as Gaël Giraud pointed out in the previous interview, we indirectly finance Putin’s war…

There are no doubts. But it is also true that we have to live, and if there is no gas, our countries are practically finished. The situation in Germany is particularly serious; in Italy perhaps less, but clearly energy is absolutely existential for our countries, it is not a superfluous good. On the other hand, Ukraine also buys gas reserves from the Russians. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and European NATO countries sold and bought gas. In short, this is not so much the point. On the other hand, a ceasefire must be reached quickly, which also implies a reduction of sanctions and counter-sanctions. Because there is not only war on the ground, there is also an economic war that risks having devastating effects for humanity as a whole, and for the weakest parts of humanity even more than the causes of the war.

The Pope, quoting a head of state, spoke of “NATO barking at Russian borders”, words that provoked discussion. What is his reflection on this?

I believe that what characterizes this war is the total prevalence of propaganda over realistic analysis. Realistic analysis in no way means justifying the aggressor. Instead, it means trying to put yourself in his shoes, trying to reason how he thinks, and understanding why he does certain things and not others. Now, there is no doubt that when we decided to bring NATO into the post-Soviet space and perhaps even close to the Kremlin walls, we did so for two main reasons. The first is that, from our point of view, having empty spaces between us and Russia was not ideal. And the second is to have thought that in this way permanent pressure could be created on Russia, without, however, a basic clarity on what was really wanted to achieve. We expand NATO knowing how the Russians think. Regardless of the regime that rules it – be it tsarist, democrat, fascist or communist – Russia has felt and feels somehow surrounded by the West and without natural borders. The Russians believe that a fairly large gap between Moscow, or St. Petersburg, and possible “invaders” is indispensable. We knew this and didn’t consider it. But I want to say very clearly that the above cannot in any way justify – and in fact make it even more stupid and criminal – the aggression against Ukraine, which ended up reducing Russian power instead of increasing it.

Vatican media publish insights into Pope Francis’ words about the war in Ukraine and possible solutions to a negotiation: respondents express their views that are not attributable to the Holy See

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