Prominent German philosopher Jürgen Habermas urges West to initiate peace talks with Russia

Habermas offered his thoughts on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine in an article for the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper

February 16, 2023

The West must “take its own initiatives” for peace talks with Russia independently of the Ukrainian government, urged German philosopher Jürgen Habermas in an article for a German newspaper.

Writing for Süddeutsche Zeitung, Habermas, who is widely regarded as one of the world’s most famous contemporary theorists, suggested that while Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed no willingness to negotiate an end to the war in Ukraine, the West should still seek a negotiated agreement based on mutual concessions.

The German thinker argued that Western countries supporting the Russian offensive with arms supplies could easily find themselves “sleepwalking on the edge of a precipice,” as they have not defined the exact purpose of the aid and are putting the responsibility for deciding when to start negotiations to end the fighting on Kyiv. There may come a point where they therefore must either abandon Ukraine or join the war themselves.

Two vague and competing definitions of the purpose of arms transfers have emerged, he wrote. One is that Ukraine cannot lose and the other is that Russia must be defeated. Failure to specify the exact objective of Western support is a fatal error, and it is inconsistent and irresponsible to leave it to Kyiv to decide when to negotiate an end to the war and what the basis for negotiations should be.

“I am concerned with the preventive character of timely negotiations, which prevent a long war from claiming even more human lives and destruction and ultimately confronting us with a hopeless choice: Either actively intervene in the war or, in order not to unleash the first world war among nuclear-armed powers, leaving Ukraine to its fate,” he wrote.

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Habermas underlined that Ukraine’s ability to fight for as long as it can depends on the support of the West; he explained that the West also bears moral responsibility for the destruction caused by the weapons it provides.

He added that the delivery of more and more modern weapons has set in motion a dynamic that could push us imperceptibly over the brink of a third world war.

According to Habermas, this shows that the West must take the initiative for peace talks. However, there is still no sign that Vladimir Putin is willing to negotiate, and the occupation of territory in eastern Ukraine has created an unacceptable situation for Kyiv.

This, however, is perhaps a response to the Western allies’ mistake of deliberately leaving Russia in the dark from the outset as to the purpose of military support, as the ambiguity left open the possibility of interpreting the West’s real objective as regime change in Russia, which is unacceptable to the Kremlin, he added.

In addition to the loss of human life, war consumes more and more material resources every day, which cannot be replaced indefinitely. Habermas explained that this fact alone is an indication that the West must press hard to open negotiations.

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