Kissinger is wrong: surrendering territory to appease Russia would have terrible consequences for the whole world
3 Jun 2022
We Ukrainians want peace more than anyone in the world. For about 100 days, we have been fighting Russian forces on the ground, in the sky, on the sea, and in cyber and information spaces. Defence experts originally gave us little hope of success. They changed their position when we showed our ability to resist. Now we need to demonstrate the strength to hold our course and resist the temptations of a false resolution.
In this existential battle for our future, ostensibly friendly or consoling pundits and politicians persistently suggest we should surrender to achieve peace more quickly. Of course, we do not want a war to take longer than necessary, but we will not get trapped into a bogus deal which will only make things worse.
Among those who advised a quick fix was the former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who suggested we should cede territory in exchange for ending the war. His intervention was appalling and, for a well-known strategic thinker, he was amazingly non-strategic. Conceding territory will not end the war. It will reinforce it. Russia has not abandoned its primary objective of getting rid of Ukraine, wiping us off the map. Any concessions would reward and legitimise its strategy. Far from stopping Russia’s pursuit of its broader military goals, it would feel emboldened.
Responding to force with territorial concessions would also have tragic global consequences. It would open the door to similar cases around the world. We do not want to live in a world where brute force decides which country we live in and which regime we belong to. We do not want to live in a world where only large countries can be truly sovereign.
Receiving that suggestion from a renowned expert was very surprising. However, the idea was immediately picked up by the Russians, who cynically blamed Ukraine for a desire to continue an unnecessary war. Some media commentators also started to debate the need for a compromise to secure peace. This is manipulative and wrong.
Imagine the harrowing scenario of your home being invaded by a street gang which then occupied part of your house. What peaceful compromise is possible? None. You would expect the police to deal with it. Suggesting that compromising with a criminal act leads to peace is ridiculous. It is similarly absurd in the case of the Russian invasion.
Many armed conflicts do end with a compromise, but it would be illogical to assume all of them should. The only reason for this invasion was Putin’s obsession with subjugating Ukraine. What compromise is possible when your adversary’s goal is that you should not exist? The unspeakably brutal way in which Russians treat our occupied towns and villages is known throughout the world. True peace can only be secured when the invader leaves our country.
As the old saying has it, the night is darkest just before the dawn. Russia is now applying maximum available force, but the evidence of 1960s tanks being dusted off for battle, use of conscripts and the patching up of new military units without collective training demonstrate that it has exhausted its options. That is why Russia is pushing the idea of a compromise. It needs a pause to show gains to the Russian public and to give itself time to recover before moving on further with its attempt to subjugate Ukraine.
Ukraine’s forces are more efficient than Russia’s. With more equipment and ammunition, pushing Russia back and out of the country is a realistic prospect. The flow of western help is only beginning and will increase. Putin’s desperate attempts to intercept the supplies from the west by bombing rail lines and fuel depots are strikingly similar to Hitler’s attempts to attack allied convoys in the Atlantic. But they are failing to affect the overall situation, and equipment is successfully getting to the frontline. US weapons from the unprecedented $40bn aid package, which we expect will include much-needed multiple rocket launch systems, will start arriving soon.
The free world has decided to stop accepting Russia’s bullying behaviour, but it must be consistent in its application of that approach. For many years, western leaders tolerated Russian aggression: invading Georgia; invading Ukraine; occupying Crimea; occupying the Black Sea; carrying out targeted assassinations in the UK; carrying out cyber-attacks; allegedly meddling with elections; abusing human rights. Every time it was said: “It is Russia. It has always been like that.”
It is time to stop accepting such injustices. How often have people been told to tolerate something because “it has always been like this”? Racial discrimination, sexual abuse, domestic violence, corruption, social inequality and organised crime have been endemic in societies. The only time things have changed is when people have challenged the old ways and refused to accept them any more.
We cannot allow past approaches to dominate the way we live now. Kissinger may have played a significant role in creating the world as it was – a less than perfect world, I must say. But no longer we will accept an unjust and unfair past defining our future.
Andriy Zagorodnyuk is a chairman of the Centre for Defence Strategies, and a former Ukrainian defence minister