THERE was a moment of frightening clarity in the Prime Minister’s statement on Ukraine last week.

The Labour MP for Norwich South, Clive Lewis, rose to pledge the people of Norwich’s solidarity for the people of Ukraine in their moment of extremity, but then asked the Prime Minister to back the view that the conflict should end by negotiated settlement, not by military escalation.

He was slapped down by the Prime Minister, who abruptly reminded him that President Putin had blown his chance at negotiation and was now embarked on bloody destruction. We had all to accept that reality, boomed Johnson at his pseudo-Churchillian worst.

They say that truth is the first casualty of war. It isn’t. The first casualties are the people who die. There are hundreds so far – Ukrainian civilians, women and children and soldiers under arms from both sides. Tragically, we are heading towards thousands.

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Johnson thought that negotiations were all over. They are not now. They have been taking place on the Belarusian border. We should pray for their continuation and not accept the “reality” that further escalation is inevitable.

The strategy of the West is to arm the Ukrainians but to avoid direct military confrontation with Russian forces. Instead, the confrontation is to be economic where the West enjoys overwhelming superiority. While Ukrainians do the fighting and the dying, the USA, the European Union and the other liberal democracies will attempt to strangle the Russian economy until the pips squeak.

That is certainly less apocalyptic to, let’s say, a thermo-nuclear exchange devastating the continent of Europe for our children’s children’s children. However, wars are fiendishly difficult to contain and, in any case, economic warfare brings with it its own complications and casualties.

The first of those complications is the chance of success. Sanctions have a pretty dismal record in bringing countries to heel. Even in South Africa, sanctions of various kinds were in place from the first UN resolution in the early 60s until Mandela walked free in February 1990, finally heralding the end of apartheid.

Of course, for much of that time, various countries were allowing these sanctions to be in name only, rather like the UK’s pretendy sanctions on Russian oligarchs over the last few years.

Now things are to be different. Unrestricted financial warfare is being proposed, except that it is hoped the gas will keep flowing through Ukraine and the wheat will keep moving onto world markets.

There is little doubt that the disengagement of Russia from world finance will indeed hit the Russian economy and hit its people hard. It will also result in a further surge in energy costs here, with families struggling with an all-time high in fuel bills. Bad enough, but for much of the developing world, it could mean not just discomfort and a choice between eating and heating, but no choice and no food.

It is clear that no effective preparations have been made in increasing gas production, reducing stockpiles, releasing food onto world markets or even slapping a windfall tax on those oil majors making billions out of family misery. Contingency planning has been non-existent.

The point is this. Sanctions are no free bus pass for us and still less for others on this planet, much more vulnerable.

Despite the Prime Minister’s words in Poland yesterday, the response by the UK towards refugees has been to date slow, grudging and inadequate. It does not auger well for how responsibilities will be faced to the many casualties of this war. Under current circumstances, the door should be wide open to those displaced and fleeing in terror, but still it is not.

Just about everybody in the West condemns the Russian invasion of its weaker neighbour, as do I. But it is possible to deplore the aggression, salute the courage of Ukrainian defenders and still be sceptical of the attitude of too many who see conflict as irrepressible. It is not.

It is a needless conflict and a tragic war.

There are those in the West, plausible people and well-funded organisations, who actually see this war as necessary. The deaths, they say, are unfortunate but the fighting is for the greater good. It is the opportunity, they believe, to finally tame the Russian bear so that the liberal democracies can stand as one for the final conflict, which will be against China.

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Similarly, there are those in Russia who can only see the prospect of Ukraine in Nato as an existential threat to their very survival. Their posture is not so much one of military adventurism, but paranoia and desperate resolution.

Between these two extremes lies the battered and mutilated bodies of the dead and the injured, the prospect of thousands more to come and of knock-on destabilisation of the economic impacts around the globe.

Which brings us back to the talks on the borders of Belarus. It will not be easy. Peace isn’t. It is difficult. If President Zelensky makes concessions, he will be denounced by ultra nationalists. If the Russians back down, it may provoke abrupt leadership changes as their final gambit will have failed.

But there must be room for a settlement and avoiding yet further bloodshed and catastrophic escalation. After all, it is the peacemakers who are called the children of God.