It appears that wherever one looks or reads there are calls for Russia to withdraw from Ukraine: no other event is called for; in other words, capitulation by Russia.
I have been troubled by this. It appears to me to demonstrate a failure to see the other side of the story: and there clearly is one.
One must commence with the cause of the war. There is little doubt that the eastward advance of Nato has been a matter of genuine and growing concern for Russia, which is seen as the primary – at the least – raison détre, for Nato. This eastward advance, and the installation of modern weapons threatening only Russia (remember – Cuban missile crisis) is something that Russia was promised, by previous US administrations, would not happen. It is a process which respected US advisers, such as Henry Kissinger, and George Kennan, warned against.
But so far as Ukraine is concerned one consideration that I believe has been totally ignored by Western governments and commentators is the sensibilities of the Russian people given the history of Ukraine and Russia. May we consider some aspects of that history.
The area that is Ukraine, Belarus and Russia is and was, of course, occupied by the Slav peoples, more particularly the East Slav peoples. It was the adoption by those peoples of Christianity in the 10th Century from Byzantium (hence Orthodox Christianity), which laid the groundwork for the modern Russian state. Before that, in the 9th Century, Viking raiders raided Byzantium, of which Constantinople was the centre of power. These raiders were known by the Byzantines as Rus. The 10th Century saw the principality of Rus gain recognition, and the principal centres of Rus were Kyiv (Kiev) and Novgorod, much farther north, but Kyiv was the more important.
10th Century Kyivan Rus determined Russia’s future. The 11th Century saw the two northern princedoms of Moscow and Novgorod begin to match Kiev. But the city of Kiev today forms a critical part of Russia’s history.
In the 18th and 19th centuries much of Ukraine was incorporated into the Tsarist Russian Empire and Ukraine commenced the 20th century as such. Following the October Revolution and the war with the Whites, Ukraine took its place as a founding member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This union was largely voluntary.
Might it not be thought that Russians today would have some sensibility over Ukraine becoming a tool of the United States in its determination to weaken Russia to protect its own hegemony over the world?
So too would news reports of battles in places like Kharkov (Kharkiv) and Kherson impact upon the emotional consciousness of today’s Russian, which consciousness embraces the knowledge of the deaths of thousands of young Russian men and women, boys and girls, in the period 1941-1944 when they struggled to protect these cities from the advances of Nazi Germany. Indeed, it is estimated that 600,000 Soviet, including substantial Russian, soldiers were killed or taken captive by the Wehrmacht in Kiev.
Following WWII Ukraine remained one of the most important republics of the Soviet Union. By way of example many top positions in the Soviet leadership were occupied by Ukrainians. Leonid Brezhnev, for example, was a Ukrainian who held the position of General Secretary of the USSR from 1964 to 1982.
On the dissolution of the USSR no consideration was given to Ukraine becoming a tool of the west for the undermining of Russia.
There is some awareness of recent history. Ukrainian nationalism brought on the coup d’etat of February 2014 which led to conflict resulting in the Minsk agreements. The Minsk II agreement of February 2015 called for, inter alia, a new constitution recognizing a decentralisation and special status for the Russian speaking regions of Donetsk and Luhansk (together making up the region known as Donbas). This did not occur but what ensued was an 8 year war (April 2014 to February 24, 2022) against the Russian speaking regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. The primary victims of that war were Russian speaking non-combatants and the war evidenced the refusal of Ukraine presidents Poroshenko and Zelensky to implement the Minsk Protocols.
Of course, one regrets the loss of life that is occurring today. One cries out for an end to it. But it will not be achieved by calling for Mother Russia to capitulate – and nor should it.
What is surely needed is a ceasefire to enable a negotiated settlement. Russia should cease all current operations to not only bring more territory under its control, but also to weaken the Ukrainian resolve by attacking infrastructure. Ukraine should cease all military operations to expel Russians from such territory as they are in control of. And third parties, particularly the US, the UK, European and Nato countries, Canada and Australia, should cease providing weapons and materials which enable the war to continue.
At the negotiating table it again cannot be a matter of Russia capitulating. No doubt the US and Ukraine negotiators will scream “sovereignty!, sovereignty!”. But it is interesting how the US has different conceptions of sovereignty. Can the Solomon Islands really exercise its sovereignty and enter into a treaty with China? Can China really exercise its sovereignty and seek the re-integration of Taiwan into its government structure? Can Syria seriously demand that its sovereignty be respected by the US ceasing to bomb it?
There can be no question of Russia ceding Crimea. There would have to be negotiation and mutual concessions over the Donetsk and Luhansk. The Minsk agreement would have to be re-visited. Ukraine would have to guarantee future neutrality, and that would mean foregoing any prospect of joining Nato. But that would be made irrelevant if Nato agreed to dissolve itself. Why is it needed? As for the US, it would have to withdraw all sanctions.
Finally, all parties could come together to agree the basis for reconstruction of damaged and devastated cities and towns throughout Ukraine.
And those who scream – what about Ukraine’s sovereignty? – will have to accept that sometimes there must be compromise.