Whoever wants to accommodate Putin is ignoring a fatal consequence

Many observers in Washington, Brussels, Paris or Berlin – not to mention those in the capitals of Asia, Africa or Latin America – have no sympathy for Kiev. Ukraine’s uncompromising attitude towards Russian territorial conquests appears unwise and unsupportable. Some have sympathy for the Ukrainians. However, they see the Russo-Ukrainian war as a distant regional, post-Soviet and/or intra-Slavic dispute.

A number of politicians and diplomats therefore argue that this Eastern European confrontation is of little importance to them. For their governments, this may mean that financial, military and political investments in Ukraine’s defence, security and infrastructure should be limited or even halted. It may also mean that a poor but soon-coming peace is now preferable to a noble but prolonged military confrontation.

However, even politicians and governments who are indifferent to justice, freedom and self-determination cannot separate their behavior towards Moscow and Kiev from issues of global stability and security. Ukraine is part of the world political and legal order. It is a full member of the international community of states.

Already in 1945-1991 the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, unlike the Russian Soviet Republic, was a non-sovereign participant of the United Nations. After independence in August 1991, Ukraine, now a sovereign state, not only became a full member of the UN. Today it is also a full participant in the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the Non-Proliferation Treaty and many other international organizations, regulations and agreements.

The Kremlin’s gauntlet

For this reason, Russia already created a fundamental problem for the international community with the illegal annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014 – including for those governments that do not care about the fate of the Ukrainian people and state. Moscow insists that the Ukrainian nation and state have no full value. However, the structure, logic and functionality of the international order and cross-border cooperation rests on treating Ukraine as a full-fledged state.

Eight years after the military occupation of Crimea, Moscow has once again reiterated its denial of Ukrainian statehood in word and deed. Again illegally and even more shamelessly than in 2014, Russia annexed four more regions in 2022, now in southeastern mainland Ukraine.

This further demonstrative violation of international law and Moscow’s escalating terror campaign against the Ukrainian civilian population since February 24, 2022 have increased the security policy explosiveness of Russian Ukrainophobia. The course, duration, outcome and effects of the war are becoming more and more disastrous not only for Ukraine, but also for the stability of the world order of sovereign states.

Nine years ago, the Kremlin narrative about Crimea’s supposedly disputed status was partially believed by the international community. Today, however, few politicians, diplomats and experts would accept the bizarre justifications for Russia’s scandalous behavior in Ukraine.

The Kremlin continues to provide supposed explanations as to why Ukraine has no right to exist, at least not within its internationally recognized borders. Moscow continues its selective portrayal and outright falsification of Ukrainian history, politics, culture, and so on. All of this is intended to support the Kremlin’s claim that Ukraine doesn’t really exist.

International order, goodbye?

The problem of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign is not only and not so much its distortion and falsification of Ukrainian history. Moscow’s fundamental challenge with its Ukraine narrative 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 strange episodes in their ancient and recent past. Some have disputed territories and ambivalent identities to this day.

Despite the explosiveness of Moscow’s behavior for the international state system, the Kremlin continues to insist that Pandora’s box is empty. Worse, Russia is not just any country in the world. It inherited from the Soviet Union a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and official nuclear-armed state status under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The Russian Federation is thus one of the five members of the international community that have special rights and responsibilities for maintaining the state order, world security and international law. With its actions, Moscow is undermining fundamental principles of the UN Charter. Russia is turning on its head the logic of the world regime to prevent nuclear proliferation and the exceptional status of the five official nuclear-weapon states. In the hands of Russia, the UN Security Council and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are not instruments of stabilization, but of undermining the international order.

Nevertheless: peace now?

Most of the peace plans currently in circulation either explicitly or implicitly provide for a restriction of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and/or political sovereignty. The most popular proposals include keeping Crimea under Moscow’s control and/or excluding Ukraine from joining NATO. However, this would not only be a problem for Ukraine. It would also send out an ambivalent global signal.

Such a path to peace would mean that the territorial integrity and state independence of a full UN member would not only be restricted by Russia. An internationally promoted compromise would mean that other countries would also participate in undermining the state order. What authority and legitimacy will the UN system and European security order have if Russia gets away with violating dozens of bilateral and multilateral obligations in various international treaties and organizations?

Satisfying Moscow’s political and territorial demands, even partially, may suggest to other countries that they want to be as smart as Russia. Why shouldn’t they, too, try, with a halfway plausible excuse, to do similar things to their neighbors as Russia did to its southwestern “brother people”? Aren’t there other areas of the world waiting to be brought home as well as “New Russia”?

On the other hand, why should relatively weak nations around the world continue to rely on international law and the UN to protect their borders and independence? Since Western governments and other influential states are signaling that they cannot be relied on to defend the international order, aren’t other instruments necessary for self-defense and ensuring state integrity, such as chemical warfare agents or nuclear warheads?

Conclusion: There is currently no other way than to meet violence with violence

A land-for-peace deal between Russia and Ukraine would mean recognizing Moscow’s power of the fittest. This admission would undermine the security and stability of the entire world of states. It would do lasting damage to the global non-proliferation regime of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

Russia’s armed land grab and terror in Ukraine cannot be ended peacefully. There is therefore currently no other way than to counter violence with violence.

Hank Peter

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