Despite suggestions that the only end to the war in Ukraine would be a negotiated settlement between a Zelenskiyy presiding over a rump state, Putin as the neocolonial aggressor, both Zelenskiyy and his foreign minister Andriy Yermak have again ruled out any territorial concessions.
This seems prudent, as since the start, representatives of Putin have been appearing to be negotiating in bad faith, including demands for the disarmament of Ukraine, which would leave them defenseless against an expansionist neighbor, right in the aftermath of one of the most brutal wars so far conducted in the 21st century.
The notion that with a negotiated settlement for some small territorial concessions, downsized after Putin’s original war goals were the annihilation of Ukraine as an independent nation state, would be enough to justify the invasion for a country that will largely see no benefit, strategic or otherwise is ill founded.
Putin’s original aim was apparently to remove a democratic post-Soviet alternative to Putin’s rule from government in a state just neighboring Moscow. What the changing goalposts do suggest is that this war was conducted for reasons other than territorial capture, that it now aims to delegitimize and corrode the power of Zelenskyy. This represents a goal inconsistent with a premature end to the conflict in a negotiated settlement that would leave Zelenskyy even approaching a status equal to Putin.
The war will almost certainly be ended unilaterally, on Putin’s terms, and will include the near total destruction of Ukraine in its economic, civil, and political capacities. Anyone who questions this need only look at Mariopol. This city is a target for Russian annexation, and yet after three months of shelling, the population has been reduced to less than a quarter of its former status, its ports destroyed, and its industrial centers utterly annihilated. This does not represent an invasion aimed at integrating and capturing parts of Ukraine for the benefit of Russia, this represents a move to gradually destroy Putin’s adversaries.
Still, the ramblings of hucksters who are often the puppets of fellow autocratic regimes and have no concept of the value of democracy gladly make the suggestion that the solution to peace in Ukraine is through concessions, essentially buying peace through accession to dictatorship, making the same argument for Taiwan.
Such citations of Kissinger’s take on Ukraine misunderstand the fundamental argument he made, that using force to annex Ukrainian territory was an untenable move that could not be accepted within the existing world order, and that any attempt to unilaterally disturb the status quo would lead to a new cold war.
Had Putin cared about restoring Russian glory or shoring up Russian security, he would have ensured that the corruption endemic in the Russian military had been rooted out before invading another sovereign state, or double-checked the intelligence reports which apparently suggested that Ukraine would not resist and would welcome him with open arms.
Had Putin been afraid of NATO expansion, he would not have launched the first interstate invasion with the attempt to annex another nation state in Europe since WWII, driving every one of his neighbor states to rearm and apply for membership.
Had Putin been satisfied with the East of Ukraine, he would not have sacrificed 15,000 troops and economic integration with the entire world to try to seize Kiev, and his troops would never have crossed the Dnieper.
The logical basis for the farcical assertion that his aims are limited is nonexistent, but in the aim of preserving global autocracy, the cynical fraud that Zelenskyy should concede is based off of the grandest lie, that an autocrat’s ambitions have limits.
Putin’s aim has never been to restore Russia, from which he has reportedly pilfered more than two hundred billion dollars. It was not to prevent NATO from expanding, which it will almost certainly do now to include Finland and Sweden, and reportedly perhaps even Georgia. It was not to capture and hold parts of Ukraine, which he has left depopulated, destroyed, and mined, an uninhabitable wasteland which would cost far more for Russia to rebuild than it could ever earn for Putin.
His aim was first to annex, and now apparently to utterly destroy Ukraine.
No peace treaty could ever accomplish this, but the words of appeasement uttered by those who prefer to blame the victims of atrocities, and coddle tyrants through appeals to “realism,” as if modern “Russia” is truly a state and not just the whims of a single man, might just buy Putin the time and space he needs to erase Ukraine from the map.