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No Peace at Any Price in Ukraine

4 267 18
08.06.2022

As Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its fourth month, calls are growing in Western Europe and the United States for a diplomatic push to end the war. In late May, Italy proposed a four-point peace plan for Ukraine that would culminate in sanctions relief for Russia. Not long after, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, speaking at Davos, called on Ukraine to cede territory to Russia and to begin negotiations immediately. And at the beginning of June, French President Emmanuel Macron repeated his call to not “humiliate” Russia. In the halls of power, a consensus seems to be emerging: give Moscow land in exchange for peace.

In Ukraine, however, the opposite view has taken hold. Speaking directly to Kissinger’s comments, President Volodymyr Zelensky retorted that “those who advise Ukraine to give away something to Russia . . . are always unwilling to see ordinary people.” He is joined in this view by most Ukrainians—82 percent of whom, according to a May poll, oppose any territorial concessions. Not surprisingly, a population attacked so brutally and unjustly is decidedly uninterested in rewarding the bully with pieces of its homeland.

Zelensky and the Ukrainian people are right: pressuring Ukraine into a negotiated settlement with territorial concessions would not lead to long-term peace and stability in Europe. Rather, it would reward Russian military aggression in the short term, create a new swath of instability in the heart of Europe, and effectively condone Russian war crimes. A peaceful settlement sounds reasonable in theory. But in practice—in this war, at this moment—it would yield no lasting peace.

For starters, proposals that Ukraine give up territory to Russian control create a moral hazard. The war in Ukraine is not akin to an eighteenth- or nineteenth-century conflict in which a province might be handed from one country to another without catastrophic consequences for most of the people who live there. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war is a war of national extermination. He has made no secret of his aim to destroy Ukraine’s cultural and national identity. In the parts of Ukraine they occupy, Russian forces have established “filtration camps” where they question Ukrainians and deport them against their will to Russia. They have committed mass killings and rapes. They have destroyed Ukrainian culture, targeting historical sites, looting museums, and burning books. These tactics are reminiscent of the Stalinist methods employed against Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1940, when the Soviets occupied the Baltic states and sought to erase national identity through mass deportations and forced Russification. Russia’s crimes in Ukraine today are not excesses of war committed in the heat of battle but expressions of national policy.

Those who call on Ukraine to give up territory therefore need to own up to the consequences. Millions of people would never return to their homes. Thousands of civilians would be killed, tortured, and raped. Children would be taken from their parents. The Ukrainians remaining under Russian occupation would be stripped of their national identity and placed under permanent, hostile submission. Professors, teachers, writers, journalists, civic leaders, local activists, and anyone else with what Putin has termed a “Nazi” (read: Ukrainian) identity would probably be harassed and perhaps imprisoned or deported. Accepting further Russian occupation of Ukraine would mean accepting these inevitable moral and ethical consequences. The atrocities........

© Foreign Affairs


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