Give peace a chance,
there will be no winners
Russia’s Ukraine policy, including its military intervention, is driven both by Moscow’s goals in Ukraine itself and its longstanding desire to force a revision of Europe’s security order. Western responses are similarly driven by both Ukraine-specific and Europe-wide interests. A sustainable peace plan must address both sets of factors.
Efforts to make peace in Ukraine by solving problems specific to Ukraine only will fail, because the causes of the conflict are both local and geostrategic. A truly sustainable peace should address European security as a whole to make Russia, its neighbours and the entire continent safer.
The war in Ukraine is a war in Europe. It is also a war about European security. Russia’s military intervention on its neighbour’s territory was undertaken in large part to guarantee that Ukraine did not align with Western economic and security institutions. Russia’s belief that such alignments would do it tremendous damage is rooted in its overall dissatisfaction with the European security order as it has evolved over the last three decades.
Although any peace settlement will need to address Ukraine-specific matters, it also needs to address broader European-Russian security concerns in order to be sustainable. The EU, Nato and their member states, including the US, should begin exploring new approaches to European security with Moscow, including new arms control measures, even as they support Kyiv’s efforts to end the fighting in Ukraine.
Since the end of the Cold War, the Kremlin consensus has held that Western countries represent a hostile US-led bloc, intent on limiting Russian power and influence and encroaching on what Moscow considers its natural sphere of influence, defined as most of the countries on its immediate periphery. Russia has been most neuralgic about Ukraine, with which it shares a complex and intertwined history.
Although the popular uprising that resulted in the 2014 overthrow of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych surprised Brussels and Washington as much as it did Moscow, the Kremlin saw it as one more Western attack. In response, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and supported a violent separatist movement in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, beginning a war that today has flared into Russia’s attempts at a total invasion of Ukraine, seizure of its capital Kyiv and regime change.
For Ukraine, Western support has been crucial to withstanding Russian aggression as repeated efforts to negotiate with Moscow to end the war have yielded scant results. Maintaining that backing, however, has meant accepting at least one component of Moscow’s argument: that the war in Ukraine is a standoff between East and West, and that if Western states do not resist Russia in Ukraine, they will eventually face Russia elsewhere.
Western states, uninterested in getting directly involved in the armed conflict itself, have sought to compel Moscow to back down mainly through the use of sanctions. Washington and Brussels both argue that once the commitments Moscow made by signing onto the Minsk agreements are fulfilled, those sanctions will be lifted. Russia, for its part, sees the Minsk implementation as Ukraine’s responsibility, and the sanctions as another instance of Western aggression. These competing interpretations have contributed to the impasse, and the ongoing war.
Hundreds of innocent Ukrainian civilians including women and children are being killed in the ongoing war. Infrastructure is being destroyed and it will require hundreds of millions, if not billions of euros, to rebuild. Even if Russia wins the war, it is inevitable that it will lose the peace and Ukraine will remain a republic. And despite the sanctions and all the hoopla, Russia will remain a regional superpower, and chances of toppling President Vladimir Putin or effecting regime change in the Kremlin will remain unlikely, but probable if the war drags on for long.
Therefore, nations like China that can talk to both Ukraine, the West and Russia should step up and make a case for a de-escalation of the conflict, getting the warring sides to sit down at a table and talk and reach an agreement. There will be no winners in this war. Only losers