4th Mar 2024


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)
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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.

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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.

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