After the recent terror bombing of the shopping mall in Kremenchuk, Ukraine — and the usual Russian lies (“We thought it was empty, we were aiming at something else, and it’s all fake news, anyway”) — even President Macron of France has stopped talking about appeasing Putin and trying to negotiate a settlement . . . at least for now.
|"War? What war?"|
The question that comes to mind might seem a little premature to some, but it is well worth discussing in advance. That’s because once Putin’s War is ended in Ukraine’s favor (and it really is only a matter of time and how much death and destruction Putin will inflict on his victims — including his own people — before he or someone else says “enough”) it will be too late to discuss this particular subject.
We refer, of course, to the matter of reparations: the indemnity that Russia owes Ukraine for its unprovoked attack, the deaths of thousands of people, and the immense other damage inflicted. That Russia owes Ukraine is beyond dispute, but how to handle it to prevent something worse is the question.
|Don't know nothing 'bout no war.|
First and foremost, the reparations must be seen as just by everyone, but especially the country paying them. The repercussions of injustice can go on for generations. Take, for example, the indemnity Prussia imposed on France in 1871 . . . after Prussia tricked France into declaring war.
The Fr.5 billion indemnity was intended by Otto von Bismarck to destroy France economically forever. One of the reasons it failed to do so was that Bismarck didn’t understand money; he thought it was a commodity, gold and silver, to be precise. That, however, is a story for another day.
|You mean "Special Military Operation"|
What we’re interested in today is what the indemnity succeeded in doing: building gigantic resentment against Prussia and a unified Germany. As a result, when World War I ended, allegedly in a draw, France was loudest in its demands that Germany and its allies be treated as conquered nations and be forced to pay for the entire cost of the war.
The Allied Reparations Commission gave in to France’s demands, Woodrow Wilson not being the man to stand on principle, and Germany and Austria-Hungary were stripped of virtually everything that wasn’t nailed down, and quite a few things that were. Entire factories were dismantled and shipped off to meet the demands for reparations.
|Bad to the bone?|
This, of course, rendered the German Reichsmark and the Austrian Krone worthless and kicked off the hyperinflation of the early 1920s. It also caused deep-seated resentment against the Allies, both for the mere injustice of reparations for a war presumably a draw (Germany, to do her justice, did not balk at paying an indemnity to Belgium for violating its neutrality, and paid in full, and in gold), and at the amounts demanded. The reparations issue was one of the leading factors in the rise of Adolf Hitler and Der Führer’s desire to Make Deutschland Great(er) Again.
This brings in the second issue: once reparations are accepted as just, they must be structured in a way that does not cause resentment, and payable in a way that does not harm the payee, or the situation goes right back to where it started.
|What good is a secret supervillain lair if you don't rise from it?|
That is why we think Ukraine and its allies might want to consider a “two-part” strategy. First, put Putin on trial and — if found guilty (don’t laugh, the basis of a just legal system is the presumption of innocence; the accuser must prove guilt, not simply assert it) — be stripped of every kopek, along with his buddies and other war criminals . . . always assuming just cause and due process, of course.
It is especially important to give equal treatment under the law to everyone when you are dealing with someone who appears to be outstandingly guilty, especially since one day someone may decide that you are guilty of crimes against humanity and should be put to death for no other reason than a psychotic hatred of your tie or the color of your skin. As the Thomas More character says in Adrian Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons, “I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”
After confiscating the wealth of Putin and his friends — assuming they’re found guilty — Russia will still owe a very large sum . . . but it would not be advisable on many counts to demand immediate payment. Instead, we would suggest the following:
· Determine a reasonable amount to be paid for damages, both to individuals and to the country as a whole.
· Prioritize reparations to individuals, probably to be paid as annuities to victims and survivors, with a de minimis amount to go to heirs if not paid out to victims and their families.
· Schedule reparations to Ukraine as a whole to be paid over a period no less than fifty years (we are talking a colossal bill for damages here), but probably going out for at least a century.
· Make it possible for Russia to pay by instituting the Economic Democracy Act as soon as possible.
|"Has anyone seen my shirt?"|
This last is very important. France was able to pay the indemnity owed to Prussia in less than three years in large part due to the fact that key French industries were broadly owned, and they were able to produce immense amounts of luxury goods for export. Broad-based capital ownership in Russia would not only allow for greatly increased production (and break the power of Putin and the other oligarchs), but generate the mass consumption power to create personal incomes that can be taxed to raise money to pay reparations without harming Russia economically.
It’s something to think about.