Vladimir Putin does not want, nor can he conceive, of Ukraine as part of the European world order. Proof of this has not only been his continual rhetorical doubting of Ukraine’s right to nation status, but his illegal and criminally aggressive war whose strategic end is Ukraine’s destruction, for it to cease to exist as a functioning nation and culture.
There can be no doubt that Putin has employed genocidal actions to reach this strategic end. For this, he, and the entire nation of Russia must be condemned, regulated to pariah status and forced into international isolation.
And yet, Henry Kissinger’s latest pronouncement at the recent Davos World Economic that Ukraine cede land to an imperial Russia, and French President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to pursue such a tactic, strongly suggests that is not for the purpose of a just peace, but for the promulgation of an outdated European order based on the assumption that historic empires are the basis for peace, European security and stability.
Ukraine’s aspiration to affirm its nationhood is an inconvenient truth for those still trying to argue for a world order framed in the language of “empires” and that only developed empires can provide world stability. Ukraine’s freedom and democratic rhetoric coupled with its prowess on the battlefield directly challenges these imperial assumptions of these purveyors of an old world.
What is unfortunate is the simple fact that Kissinger is still listened to because there yet remains a black hole for what a new security framework could look like. Western democracies must not react to Russia’s propaganda and selfish geo-political manuevers, but must conceive of an approach that ultimately transcends a Putin-led Russia. This should be done not for the purpose of humiliating Russia, but to chasten it for its behavior.
If the civilized world, but especially its values, such as human dignity, the rule of law, the predominance of free and competitive markets, are to be realized, Putin’s Russia must be isolated. It is only the blind who thinks that Russia shares its values or wants to pursue mutual goals.
The criminal actions of Russia against Ukraine makes its status within Europe’s security framework and international institutional structures unacceptable. For how can criminal behavior be rewarded, as suggested by Kissinger, by those who aspire to the principles of the rule of law? It simply doesn’t make any sense.
Because of Russia’s morally unacceptable and morally reprehensible crimes in Ukraine, its participation in international bodies must be suspended, if not, ultimately be terminated. The questions facing western leaders are quite straightforward: can normal relations exist after Russia’s genocidal behavior in Ukraine? Second, should a return to pre-war realities even be contemplated?
There can be no doubt that the framework and assumptions of western relations with Russia must be changed. For if a secure, stable and long-term relationship is to be re-established, Russia must be held accountable for its criminal actions and genocidal practices in Ukraine. There can be no order, nor a justifiable pursuit of peace if a process of accountability is not established and pursued.
This means that Russia must be subjected to international criminal courts, not only for its aggressive war in contravention of international law, but for its multiple war crimes committed against the Ukrainian people. Genocidal behavior on European soil, cannot be allowed to stand. Lack of action by the world’s democracies will only be perceived by Russia as weakness and a lack of resolve to both protect and fight for fundamental human and national rights. At the same time, it may undermine the support for Ukraine in its cause for resistance against Russia’s authoritarian and imperial ambitions.
Ukrainian investigators began documenting Russian war crimes from the outset of Moscow’s invasion on February 24.
Any potential for European peace and security must be based on a solid and uncompromising pursuit of the affirmation of international rule of law and the demand for national accountability within this framework. The pursuit of peace must take place within the context of national and individual justice.
For Ukraine to cede land to Moscow is a preposterous notion. Facts are facts, and any resolution to Russia’s war on Ukraine must, from now on, be seen through the prism of genocide and unprovoked criminal acts committed against a distinct culture and its people. “Normal” relations with a perpetrator of genocide are untenable. It would be like doing “business” with the Nazis in the midst of its “extermination” of Europe’s Jews. Has the civilized world learned nothing from recent European history, or has it forgotten these lessons? Have we become so blind that we cannot accept the fact that such diverse approaches to the dignity of human life and the pre-eminence of the rule of law can coexist?
Those proposing any “solution” to the present state of affairs must be required to present a case that answers this one fundamental question: can the international order accept Russia’s genocidal behavior in Ukraine as a basis for normal relations? There can be no civilized order, let alone security, that denies Russia’s behavior in Ukraine and the need for it to be held accountable.
No civilized nation which purports to support the primacy of international law and fundamental human rights can, in good conscience, support the normalization of relations with Russia.
The Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine is a result of deliberate decisions to not follow international norms of civil behavior. In its illegal aggression, Russia has revealed that it neither shares, nor are informed by the values, that have governed international order for over half a century.
As a society, the whole of the Russian nation has shown that it is both philosophically and psychologically unreasonable and an irrational partner does nothing to contribute to European security and stability. It has, instead, shown itself to be a pariah. Based on its actions, and should thus be treated as such. Its isolation affirmed by the international community.
Russian “values” are a verifiable disease in the international body politic. Moscow’s isolation would be a form of quarantine which would not only limit its effects on the international body politic, but would act at limiting its spread.
Isolating Russia would signal its rejection by the world order. It would force it into a national reflection of itself – especially its people- who, must come to terms with the crimes committed by its political leadership. And, like the Germans, potentially lead the Russian people towards a national repentance – a deliberate and conscious act of admitting regret and expressing remorse for the perpetration of such heinous crimes done in their name.
A Western secular mind wouldn’t fully understand the meaning and the relevance of repentance, but the Russian mind does.
Suggesting such a pursuit is not an act of forced humiliation.
Kissinger’s pronouncement at Davos that Ukraine must cede parts of its territory to placate and prevent Russia’s humiliation does not guarantee the cessation of its hostilities against Ukraine or any other nation that wishes to break away from Moscow’s imperial orbit, nor is it a precursor for peace. For Ukraine, such a move is unacceptable because better than anyone else, it understands Russia. It should not even be coerced to consider such a “solution” considering the catastrophic losses that it has endured as a result of Russia’s military aggression.
Kissinger’s proposal shows his total disrespect for Ukraine’s aspiration for national sovereignty and its desire to become a modern democratic nation. In its very formulation, it assumes Russia’s supposed “right” to determine the fate of a nation within the outdated notion of its “sphere of influence”. It assumes the validity of the Russian Empire and neglects to accept the fact of Ukrainian national sovereignty.
Even worse, it essentially denies that Russia is attempting to destroy Ukraine through genocidal actions. Russia does not have the right to dictate that Ukraine become and exist as a neutral buffer state. Ukraine has the right to decide who its security partners should be.
The solution to the war, or at least its starting point, must begin with Russia’s international isolation and not with some whimsical reaction that “rewards” its genocidal and geopolitical gambling tendency.
Western security and stability, along with Russia’s, will only be assured on the reaffirmation of a world order based on the proclamation and pursuit of a rules-based order. Russia’s war with Ukraine is the cause of destabilization. The result of its own actions, cannot, and should not be rewarded. Western democratic nations must not react to Russia’s arrogant ways with fear and thus allow Putin to sue for peace on the Kremlin’s own terms and within the framework they suggest.
Ukraine cannot be forced to accept peace without justice. This will not lead to a just solution, nor contribute to the long-term security of its people or the rest of the European continent.
This is both a transformational and transitional time, requiring visionary thinking and leadership which cannot seek ‘solutions’ that assume an expired and no longer valid world view based on the prominence of empire thinking.
However, only in establishing a stable security framework based on proven idealistic principles such as human dignity, the respect for the sovereignty and the independence of nation-states, within an accountable framework inspired by the rule of law, will a sound and secure foundation be rebuilt to ensure a true peace.
This will take time, effort, ingenuity and sacrifice by Ukraine’s Western partners, but it would be worth it for a new partner that has suffered genocide, destruction, and a massive dislocation of its citizens, as it fights for its freedom and those in Europe who want to continue to live in liberty.