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Precluding Peace in Ukraine Leads to New European War

Russia's peace proposal marks a departure from the original goals of the SMO. It expresses a commitment to reach a definitive resolution of its existential conflict against the West by making sure that Russia's western borders will never be safe.
Published by Dr Jiulin Teng on 19 Jun 2024
Keywords: russiaukrainewar
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Recently, Vladimir Putin announced the latest Russian peace plan. What concerns me is not the substance of this proposal or the reactions from the West; rather, I am concerned with the tribalism of pro-peace activists.
If lasting peace is really the goal of any party in this conflict, the peace proposal should demand an internationally recognized demilitarized zone, consisting of the four regions in Eastern Ukraine where war is currently being fought, with its administration overseen by the United Nations, possibly with international peace-keeping forces. However, the two sides view this conflict as a proxy war with Ukrainian lives as the price that both sides are all too willing to pay: The West demands that Russia relinquish all its interests in Ukraine and expose its borders to increasingly hostile neighbours. Meanwhile, Russia demands that Ukraine cede not only the lands that it occupies but also the remainder of the regions that it has laid claims to. It threatens to occupy and annex more land from Ukraine if such terms are not accepted.
What really disappoints is that many pro-peace activists, including the many speakers on Judge Napolitano’s podcast, expressed support for this Russian proposal: It does not matter that Ukraine used to be part of the Russian empire. It does not matter that a third of the Ukrainian population is ethnically Russian. It does not matter that there are neo-Nazis in the Ukrainian military. Territorial expansion through military conquest is old-fashioned imperialism.
This demand is a departure from the goals that Putin laid out when Russia started the “Special Military Operation” over two years ago. Russia has legitimate security interests that Ukraine and the West should respect. Ethnic Russians have human rights that Ukraine and the West should protect. European civilization has the duty to rid itself of neo-Nazism that Ukraine and the West should share. However, no nation should cede land for peace in the 21st century.
Unfortunately, principled commentators are rare these days. Many unhappy with the illiberal shift in the West have let a romanticized version of Russia set in. Some otherwise “courageous” dissidents almost chuckle at the idea of a thousand dead soldiers a day from the side that they do not support. Reality is much more complex, and it is fruitless to judge which political or military force is morally superior. It is always the ordinary civilians and unwilling soldiers that needlessly die.
In my opinion, there have been two missed opportunities for peace in this war: Early 2023, as Ukraine carried out a surprisingly effective counterattack, it could have sued for peace by proposing the aforementioned demilitarized zone in the Donbas. This summer, Russia could have done the same, extending the zone to include the Zaporizhian and Kherson regions. Neither did this, because ultimately both sides want war: the West to defeat Russia and break it up, and Russia to defeat NATO and expand its territory.
Many activists would say that Russia is demanding the land to ensure its security. This cannot be a serious argument, because it guarantees increasing hostility along Russia’s western borders the farther it expands. Russia could secure its western borders only if it could push to establish a demilitarized zone between it and the West. By occupying and annexing this land, Russia guarantees an existential conflict between it and Europe.
This is true regardless of American commitment after the November election or the political change of wind in Western Europe towards populism. Poland, Finland, Sweden, and the Baltic states have histories that remind them of what follows when Russia turns expansionary. It may not happen immediately, but the domino theory should be considered an outlandish idea only before the first tile falls: If Ukraine sues for peace and Russia annexes the four regions in whole. Within years Western Ukraine will become a hotbed of anti-Russia hostility of the hybrid kind. Russia will not feel safe, and it will launch another round of SMO. In quick succession, Germany will be at Russia’s borders. Knowing this, the Europeans are left with no choice but to double down, now.
Even though it was the West that goaded the Russians all along, and it was the West’s continued provocations and escalations that aroused Russian nationalism, Russia has always had choices in its responses. Now, it is virtually inconceivable that Europe would not fall into another “Great War”. The duty is on the shoulders of non-European leaders whether this turns into a world war.

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