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From stopping the invasion to winning the war

Media outlets across the world continue to discuss the chance that the war in Ukraine may soon be ended with a peace treaty. Despite this, the security of Ukraine and Europe as a whole can only be guaranteed if Kyiv is allowed to secure a decisive victory with help from its allies.

April 26, 2022 - Volodymyr Valkov - UkraineAtWar

Illustration by breakermaximus / Shutterstock

The Russian invasion has resulted in catastrophic consequences for Ukraine. Unfortunately, the destruction will only continue until Russia is forced to leave. Many European leaders talk about ending the war with a peace plan. Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, for example, visited Kyiv on April 9th and Moscow on April 11th, where he spoke to Putin and expressed his hope that the Istanbul peace talks could end the war. This view also exists within the analytical community. American commentator Thomas Friedman suggested on April 13th that Putin should end the war with a “dirty, face-saving deal”. This was based on the assumption that Russia can “give” Ukraine so-called “security guarantees against another Russian invasion”.

Ending the war without winning it is not going to bring justice or protect Ukraine’s right to exist. This conclusion is based on the Russian government’s own goals laid out in Putin’s July 21st pseudo-historical treatise, his subsequent statements on February 21st and 23rd, and the informal policy paper published by the state-controlled media on April 3rd. This final document has become known as the “Russian genocide handbook for Ukraine”. The horrific consequences of the Russian invasion so far indicate that Russia is fully determined to implement its vision to eliminate Ukraine as a nation. Hopefully, Russia’s goals can be prevented in a timely manner. But simply stopping Russia, especially with a “face-saving” peace deal, cannot keep the authoritarian Russian regime from attempting a similar, or even stronger, attack again in the near future.

The effects of the invasion cannot be undone. Russia has already caused terrible suffering. Ending the war through peace talks, which appeared somewhat possible in the first days of the war, is no longer a viable option. This strategy would not guarantee the lasting security of Ukraine specifically and Europe as a whole. There can be no peace without justice.

Since Russia will not voluntarily agree to prosecute itself for its crimes, the war must be won. The West must focus on supplying Ukraine with sufficient weapons to win the war in order to protect the European security order, which both Russia and China seek to destroy. There will be no peace in Europe if the war in Ukraine ends by satisfying Russian demands. A victory, on the other hand, will deliver security for the rules-based order. It will also offer hope for a special tribunal for Russia’s crimes and genocidal ideology, reparations, the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and limitations on the deployment of offensive weapons in proximity to Europe and specifically Ukraine’s borders. A reduction of the available quantities of these offensive weapons and long-term restrictions on Russia’s ability to manufacture them should also be pursued following a victory. 

Europe’s good faith attempts to integrate Russia into the democratic system through trade have clearly failed. The economy alone, as this experience shows, cannot bring democracy. An authoritarian political regime can make sure that the benefits of trade do not reach the citizenry. The political irony of Russia is that it uses a share of its government resources, which are controlled exclusively by the corrupt elite, to stimulate unrest in democratic societies by financing populist and ultra-conservative movements within the population. The benefits of liberal trade relations with Russia enrich its belligerent elite, perpetuating their authoritarian rule. Moscow must accept Europe’s democratic norms and principles in order to be eventually reconnected with the continent’s wider market. Only a victory over the Russian invasion can lead to such cooperation in the future. 

Winning the war, not just stopping it, will enable the implementation of requirements that Russia hold democratic elections, revoke its authoritarian laws, adopt a legal framework for freedom of speech and make a permanent commitment to respect individual rights and freedoms. All of this should be overseen by the International Court of Justice. The country must also agree to reform regarding veto power at the UN Security Council. 

Russia’s key objectives, such as capturing Kyiv, changing the Ukrainian leadership, and masking its invasion with a variety of false allegations, are failing each and every day. Symbols of its military might, such as the flagship Moskva missile cruiser of the Black Sea Fleet, are crumbling and sinking. At this decisive moment, Europe must unite for maximum support for Ukraine. The continent must also articulate strategic demands for Russia’s profound political and security transformation. This must be done if democratic nations want to remain free and avoid living under Russian ultimatums. The war can be won through sustained large-scale military assistance to Ukraine and increasing sanctions, especially on Russian oil and all Russian banks. Winning the war means equipping Ukraine with weapons sufficient to force Russia to leave its territory. Europe must also maintain the most severe sanctions with its allies until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored and Russia accepts new conditions for the security of the continent.

Volodymyr Valkov is a foreign policy expert and political analyst based in Kyiv, Ukraine, focusing on Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration and countering Russian aggression. He previously served as a deputy director of a grassroots human rights NGO in Lviv. He studied Political Science at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse in the United States, and received a master’s degree in International Relations from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) in Geneva, Switzerland. Volodymyr is an alumni of professional programs Warsaw Euro-Atlantic Summer Academy, Riga Graduate School of Law, European Academy of Diplomacy in Warsaw, International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and Capital Semester at Georgetown University. He writes here in a personal capacity.


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