28th Sep 2023


A Ukraine land-for-peace deal should be off the table

  • For many, a bad-but-soon peace is preferable to a noble-but-long military confrontation (Photo: Markus Spiske)
Listen to article

Many observers around the world are annoyed by Kyiv's intransigence vis-à-vis Moscow. Ukrainian stubbornness regarding Russia's territorial gains is so inflexible that it appears unworthy of full support.

To many politicians and diplomats this east European confrontation is of only secondary importance. This leads them to argue that their government's financial, military, and political investment in Ukraine's defence, security, and infrastructure should be limited or even stopped.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Also for many, a bad-but-soon peace is preferable to a noble-but-long military confrontation.

Even politicians and governments indifferent to such values as justice, freedom, and self-determination can, however, not separate their behaviour toward Moscow and Kyiv from issues of global stability and security. Ukraine is part and parcel of the world's political and legal order. It is a full-fledged member of the international community of states.

The Kremlin's gauntlet

Moscow insists that the Ukrainian nation and state do not have full value. Eight years after the military seizure of Crimea, Moscow reaffirmed, in September 2022, its denial of Ukrainian statehood.

Again illegally and even more shamelessly than in 2014, Russia annexed four more regions, now in mainland Ukraine. Along with Moscow's escalating campaign of terror against Ukrainian civilians since 24 February, 2022, this has increased the explosiveness of Russian Ukrainophobia for world order.

The course, duration, outcome, and impact of the war are becoming increasingly destructive not only for Ukraine but also for the stability of the global system of sovereign states.

The Kremlin continues to provide putative explanations as to why Ukraine has no right to exist, at least not within its internationally-recognised borders. Moscow portrays selectively and sometimes outrightly falsifies Ukrainian history, politics, culture, etc. All of this is meant to bolster the Kremlin's claim that Ukraine does not, in fact, exist.

The problem with the Kremlin's disinformation campaign is not only and not so much its distortion of Ukraine's past. Moscow's fundamental challenge is that rhetorically similar stories could be told about many countries. Most states and territories around the world have had confusing histories, conflicting affinities, and contradicting episodes in their older and more recent pasts. Some have disputed territories and ambivalent identities to this day.

Despite the corrosive nature of Moscow's behaviour for the entire international system, the Kremlin insists that Pandora's Box is empty. Worse, Russia is not just any country in the world. It has inherited from the Soviet Union a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the status of an official nuclear weapons state under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Russia is thus one of those five members of the international community that have special rights and responsibilities to uphold the order of states, world security, and international law.

With its actions, Moscow undermines fundamental principles of the UN Charter. It is upending the logic of the NPT's regime and exceptional status of the five official nuclear-weapon states. In Russia's hands, the UNSC and NPT have become instruments not of stabilising the international order, but of expanding its territory.

Peace now?

Most of the peace plans currently in circulation either ex- or implicitly envisage a restriction of Ukraine's integrity or/and sovereignty.

Among the most popular proposals are keeping Crimea under Moscow's control or/and ruling out Ukraine joining Nato. Such a path to a truce would mean that the territory and independence of a full UN member would be violated not only by Russia. An internationally sponsored compromise would mean that other countries too would participate in undermining the international order.

What authority and legitimacy will the UN system and European security order have if Russia gets away with its violation of dozens of bilateral and multilateral obligations in various international treaties and organisations?

A partial satisfaction of Moscow's political and territorial demands might suggest to other countries that they want to behave as smartly as Russia. Why shouldn't they, too, try to do similar things to their neighbours, with a semi-plausible excuse, as Russia did to its southwestern 'brother nation'? Aren't there other areas in the world waiting as much to be brought home as 'Novorossiia'?

Why should, on the other side, relatively weak nations around the world continue to rely on international law and the UN to protect their borders and independence? As various states are now signalling that they cannot be relied upon as defenders of international order: Aren't other tools for self-defence necessary, such as, say, chemical agents or nuclear warheads?

A land-for-peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine would mean acknowledging that might is right. This would undermine the current order of sovereign nation-states. It would permanently damage the global non-proliferation regime.

As long as Russia's armed land grab and terror in Ukraine cannot be ended by peaceful means, there is no other way than to meet armed aggression with armed resistance.

Author bio

Andreas Umland is an analyst at the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS) at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI). This article was written as part of an SCEEUS project on various obstacles to Russian-Ukrainian peace.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

How the arms industry wins whether Ukraine wins or loses

In reality, the EU's Act in Support of Ammunition Production has little, if anything, to do with supporting Ukraine, and everything to do with guaranteeing the profit-driven interests of Europe's highly-lucrative arms industry.


How EU can push China to live up to its 2013 guarantees to Ukraine

Brussels can also go further and warn Moscow that any nuclear incident — for example, at facilities such as Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, under Russian control since March 2022 — will also be considered a nuclear attack.


What we learned so far from a short-lived mutiny in Russia

It actually did not take a great number of Wagner fighters to deal the greatest blow to Putin's authority so far. Prigozhin claimed that he had 25,000 fighters, but in reality the number was unlikely more than 10,000.

Ukraine's military advantage? How quick it treats its wounded

There's general agreement that Ukrainian losses are about one third of Russian losses. There are several possible reasons for this discrepancy — one reason that has gone under-reported is the way in which Russia and Ukraine treat their wounded.

How do you make embarrassing EU documents 'disappear'?

The EU Commission's new magic formula for avoiding scrutiny is simple. You declare the documents in question to be "short-lived correspondence for a preliminary exchange of views" and thus exempt them from being logged in the official inventory.


Will Poles vote for the end of democracy?

International media must make clear that these are not fair, democratic elections. The flawed race should be the story at least as much as the race itself.

Latest News

  1. Germany tightens police checks on Czech and Polish border
  2. EU Ombudsman warns of 'new normal' of crisis decision-making
  3. How do you make embarrassing EU documents 'disappear'?
  4. Resurgent Fico hopes for Slovak comeback at Saturday's election
  5. EU and US urge Azerbijan to allow aid access to Armenians
  6. EU warns of Russian 'mass manipulation' as elections loom
  7. Blocking minority of EU states risks derailing asylum overhaul
  8. Will Poles vote for the end of democracy?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators, industry & healthcare experts at the 24th IMDRF session, September 25-26, Berlin. Register by 20 Sept to join in person or online.
  2. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  3. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  4. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators & industry experts at the 24th IMDRF session- Berlin September 25-26. Register early for discounted hotel rates
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  2. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  3. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics
  6. EFBWWEFBWW calls for the EC to stop exploitation in subcontracting chains

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us