So Close We Were

There seems to be little contact between Russia, Ukraine, and the West to end the war, and the UN remains powerless.

Sondre Lerche (41) is a pop­ular and productive Norwe­gian songwriter and singer, who lives in USA and Norway and writes in the languages of both countries. In 2023, he released a thought-provoking song called ‘So Close We Were’ (in Norwegian, ‘Så nære vi var’) about a young couple’s relationship, drawing attention to their closeness, yet, also being care­less about it, letting things drift till it ended, and it all became sweet and sad memories without fulfilled potential.

In my article today, I shall let the song text be a background for our thoughts about broader social, political and other issues, indeed such at the international level in this time with several violent con­flicts and wars, between countries and peoples that earlier were, or could have been, close and like brothers and sisters. Rather than focusing on cooperation and sup­porting each other for common prosperity, many countries let disagreements and aggressions grow, over a shorter or longer time, and become icy and frozen. Opportunities and possibilities get lost, not necessarily on pur­pose, but because of carelessness and lack of positive approaches, and in addition, there may be neg­ative outside forces, wanting con­flicts to escalate.

In the article, I shall especial­ly draw attention to the over two-year-long war between Russia and Ukraine. Well, in East Ukraine it started at a close-to-war level over a decade ago, and Russia’s annex­ation of the Crimean Black Sea peninsula of Crimea took place in 2014. Ukraine’s confrontational policies towards Russia, drawing it closer to the West, were encour­aged and shaped by the West. We do not know if Russia would have agreed to negotiations rather than the invitation of Ukraine, but it is not entirely impossible. Historians will provide analysis in the future.

In line with the lyrics of the song I mentioned above, I would like to underline that the relationship be­tween Russia and Ukraine should have grown towards prosperity, as it mostly was before the current outright conflict, in spite also of some serious disagreements in the past. In the Soviet time, Ukraine was an important country in ag­riculture and advanced techno­logical development, and the two lands were important to each oth­er during the Soviet time. In the future, that will eventually happen again, but it will take a long time to heal the serious wounds and nor­malise relations. Ukraine is the smaller of the two big countries with less than a third of Russia’s population. Yet, Ukraine is one of Europe’s largest countries. Again, rebuilding Ukraine, and its rela­tions with Russia will take time and resources, and it requires gen­erous new, mindsets and actions in Ukraine, Russia, and the West.

The war situation between Rus­sia and Ukraine developed be­tween two countries and peo­ples who are like close relatives, not hostile strangers, with com­mon or similar languages, reli­gions, cultural traditions, ethnic backgrounds, and more – and fu­ture aspirations. There were op­portunities in the last decades to improve the peaceful coexistence. Sadly, the opportunities were not taken advantage of, and both coun­tries must carry their share of the responsibility for that. None of the countries has a democratic histo­ry and aspirations, but Ukraine seems to have more of it.

There were opportunities for peaceful talks, and such should also have been closer and broad­er between the West, Russia, and the Commonwealth of Indepen­dent States (CIS). The West should indeed have supported the devel­opment of democratic thinking and the establishment of institu­tions in lands with little democrat­ic experience. That also includes Ukraine. In the future, the rela­tions between the West and the Russian sphere must be brought back to dialogue and cooperation – before it becomes too late.

It is easy to see that there were opportunities for entirely different developments in the West-Russia relations in the three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Russia-Ukraine war should not have happened, also becoming a war between the West and Rus­sia/the East. It is more difficult to explain why the situation was al­lowed to go off-track as it did, be­coming a regional and global cri­sis. The West’s massive military build-up is worrying, and it takes away resources and attention from real, positive development in other fields. The West, both USA and Eu­rope, and their NATO military al­liance will in the future be judged hard by historians – and so will Russia. I am less certain about how China will be judged, the emerging superpower next to USA and Eu­rope, which also develops closer cooperation with Russia.

Still, we must hope and pray for peace for all. My words may have little power, and certainly less than those of Bob Dylan (83), the winner of the Nobel Prize in Liter­ature in 2016. Let us reflect on a few lines from his song ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, which he wrote in 1963.

‘How many years can some peo­ple exist before they are allowed to be free? Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see? And how many ears must a man have before he can her people cry? Yes, and how many deaths will it take ‘til he knows that too many people have died?’

Atle Hetland
The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and develop-ment aid. He can be reached at

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid

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