Espreso. Global

If war can be ended, it will be without Russia's participation. Vitaly Portnikov's column

21 December, 2023 Thursday

To end the war without freezing the conflict, Ukraine needs security guarantees, otherwise it will last for many years and the West will not be able to avoid being involved

The British Financial Times talks about the changing mood of Western officials who support Ukraine and the need to change the narrative of Ukraine's victory in the war with the Russian Federation. The media emphasizes that such a change in narrative could be the recognition of the fact that Vladimir Putin's attempt to destroy the Ukrainian state has failed and that the victory is the preservation of the Ukrainian state on the political map of the world. The publication reminds us that in 2023, many believed that the Ukrainian Armed Forces' offensive against the Russian armed forces' positions in the occupied territories would lead to a dramatic change in the situation: some emphasized that such an offensive and the liberation of Ukrainian lands could lead to negotiations between Ukraine and Russia to end the conflict, while others even hoped that the liberation of Ukrainian territories would lead to the fall of Vladimir Putin's regime in Moscow.

As it turned out, both were too optimistic in their expectations, and now optimism is being replaced by disappointment, and the European Union and the United States are struggling to agree on new military aid packages. Previously, Western leaders have always said that they would support Ukraine as long as it takes, but at a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, US President Joe Biden proposed a new, much less ambitious formula: "as long as we can." Of course, Ukrainians could have made some kind of agreement with Russia, an agreement that would have included territorial concessions, if there was confidence that Russia would honor such an agreement. However, every Ukrainian official can give a huge number of examples of agreements that have been violated by the Russian Federation. So what is the way out? The only way out is to freeze the conflict when Ukraine takes a defensive position and restrains Russia's further advance. The fighting will not stop completely, but it will decrease, and both sides will only agree to stop the fighting, without solving any fundamental political issues.

Thus, the most striking example of such a change in narratives would be the end of the Korean War, which, in turn, points to a new theory of Ukraine's victory, because after the end of the Korean War, it was time for South Korea's rapid economic development and the actual economic decline of communist North Korea, which, despite its nuclear status, still remains one of the poorest countries in the modern world.

This solution, of course, could be considered theoretically, but a good question arises: why would Russian President Vladimir Putin agree to such a scenario? After all, it is absolutely clear that today the Russian president (as indicated by his statements during the so-called direct line with the citizens of the Russian Federation and his speech at the board of the Russian Ministry of Defense) is confident that he must continue to fight until he achieves his so-called goals of the special operation. And these goals, let me remind you, include not only Ukraine's recognition of the so-called territorial realities, that is, the Russian status of the occupied territories, but also the "demilitarization and denazification" of Ukraine, as well as its neutral status: that is, Vladimir Putin demands that Kyiv agree to such conditions of Ukraine's existence that will facilitate further Russian aggressive actions in the near future or even the political seizure of Ukraine without military force if Ukrainian society feels disoriented and demoralized after such an end to the war.

The Financial Times does not explain how it is possible to negotiate with Moscow to end hostilities and freeze the conflict. It can be assumed that the Ukrainian side, in the event of a significant decrease in Western military and financial assistance and if the allies say that such assistance will not increase, could in the future consider freezing the conflict as the best way to preserve both the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian nation. It is even conceivable that such sentiments could prevail in Ukrainian society at some point in the Russian-Ukrainian war, but the most important issue, as I have explained many times, is not related to Ukraine's position, which depends on its Western allies, on Western military and financial assistance, and therefore has to take into account the moods of Western political elites. When we talk about freezing the conflict and when we talk about finding ways that could lead to any agreement that would, if not end, at least suspend the Russian-Ukrainian war, we must always keep in mind the position of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin.

If we talk about the impact of such proposals as we see in the Financial Times on the position of the Russian president, we will understand that this is an additional incentive for him to continue the war with Ukraine - not to freeze the conflict, but to achieve what Vladimir Putin considers his victory in this war. And this is the disappearance of Ukraine from the political map of the modern world and the return of Russia to the so-called historical borders of the Soviet Union in 1991, which is the ambitious goal of Putin's sinister special operation.

And here the question may arise: how can this war be ended if it is impossible to reach an agreement with Russia? There is no question of freezing the conflict or any peace agreement, even if it is temporary. And at the same time, there is no clear military solution to the situation, because the Russians have built fortifications in the occupied territories and are gathering resources for a possible new offensive against Ukrainian positions.

Even if this offensive fails, it will not mean that the war between Russia and Ukraine is over, because there may be new plans to gather resources, new plans for aggressive attacks, and it will not mean a low-intensity war, it will mean a continuation of the high-intensity war between Russia and Ukraine.

I have repeatedly said that the only real conclusion that can be drawn today regarding the end of the war with Russia for Ukraine is real, not fictitious security guarantees, Ukraine's status in the North Atlantic Alliance, the need to provide Ukraine with the kind of guarantees that Finland and Sweden received when they applied to join NATO, even if it is the territory of Ukraine that is controlled by the legitimate Ukrainian government.

And this is an alternative to freezing the conflict with Russia's consent because if the war can be ended, it will definitely be without Russia's participation in such completion. In any other option, we have to count on a multi-year war, and the West, whether it wants to or not, will have to take an active part in this war: first with resources, and then, if Russia feels that the West is afraid of this aggressive behavior, the war may spread to new regions of the world, and Western countries will have to participate in so many conflicts that will eventually lead to a serious collapse of the political organism of the civilized world itself. That is why it is so important to end this war, although it cannot be done without risks on the part of the civilized world.


About the author. Vitaly Portnikov, journalist, laureate of the Shevchenko National Prize of Ukraine

The editors do not always share the opinions expressed by the authors of the blogs.

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