Bringing Russia Back From the Cold at Ukraine’s Expense (Part Three)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 90

(Source: The Jerusalem Post)

*Read Part One here.

*Read Part Two here.

Under the Council on Foreign Relations’ imprimatur, Washington and its allies should grant Ukraine a final chance to regain some Russian-occupied territory in one last “fighting season” this summer (Foreign Affairs, April 13). The authors expect this counteroffensive to result in only limited gains, to then be followed by an armistice-in-place along existing frontlines cutting across Ukraine’s own territory, permanently “ending the war” in this way (see EDM, June 2, Part One and Part Two).

This prescription would, if followed, result in a second territorial amputation of Ukraine, as would earlier recommendations from the RAND Corporation (see EDM, February 10, Part One and Part Two). The authors from the Council on Foreign Relations additionally invoke the partitions of the Korean peninsula and the island of Cyprus as possible models for an armistice in Ukraine by agreement with Russia.

“Ideally, the cease-fire [in Ukraine] would hold, leading to a status quo like the one that prevails on the Korean Peninsula, which has remained largely stable without a formal peace pact for 70 years. … Cyprus has similarly been divided but stable for decades. … This [partition] is not an ideal outcome, but it is preferable to a high-intensity war that continues for years.”

These analogies are untenable, however. Those earlier cases differ from Ukraine’s situation in fundamental respects, hence any “models” that Korea or Cyprus may or may not have set are inapplicable to dealing with Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The Korean peninsula had been a Japanese possession, was divided into occupation zones at the end of World War II and de facto divided into two states even before the Korean War broke out. The 1953 armistice that ended the active hostilities in Korea (though not the state of war) sealed that pre-war situation. By contrast, Ukraine is an independent state with its borders enjoying full international recognition, disputed and violated by Russia only. The Western allies’ main declared rationale for supporting Ukraine in this war is the inadmissibility of territorial conquests and border changes through force. Ceding Ukrainian territories to Russia under the guise of an armistice-in-place would nullify that rationale. Nor is it necessary to take this course of action given Ukraine’s proven ability to regain Russian-occupied territories if properly armed.

South Korea refused to sign the armistice agreement because it opposed the partition (Seoul later accepted it de facto). United States military commanders co-signed the armistice (alongside China and North Korea) ending the hostilities and US participation therein. By contrast, an armistice in Ukraine is inconceivable without Kyiv’s free consent. And Washington has no intention to become a party, let alone a guarantor, to an armistice in Ukraine.

North Korea was not annexed by a great power but continued as a state in its own right (a rogue one at that). By contrast, the territories that these and some other analysts (Foreign Affairs, June 5) propose trading off at Ukraine’s expense would not become a state but merely parts of Russia.

From a geopolitical standpoint, no great power maintains troops and bases in North Korea from which to threaten other countries. (North Korea poses threats on its own.) By contrast, Russia is a great power whose forces would continuously threaten Ukraine and the wider region, on land and at sea, from Ukraine’s Russian-occupied territories.

Washington guarantees South Korea’s security by treaty, with powerful ground forces in that country and naval forces in that theater. By contrast, the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization do not offer anything comparable to Ukraine to mitigate at least in part the consequences of ceding Ukrainian territories to Russia.

Cyprus has been a divided island since the 1974 Turkish military seizure of Northern Cyprus. But the analogy with a de facto partition of Ukraine is untenable; the respective geopolitical implications could not differ more starkly. The partition of Cyprus directly affects the interests of Greece and Turkey, two NATO members. Beyond this thorny bilateral context, no part of Cyprus is a source of threats to other countries or the international order. Cyprus hosts military bases of a third NATO country, the United Kingdom. Moreover, the US wields strong influence in that theater. And the Greek-controlled, internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus is a member of the European Union.

By contrast, Russia is using the territories it occupies in Ukraine to attack the remainder of the country and impose Russian military control over the Black Sea basin. Its occupation of the Crimean peninsula allows Russia to drastically reduce or interdict Ukrainian and international access to Ukraine’s ports, which had carried some 80 percent of the country’s international trade prior to the war. Possession of Crimea would also allow Russia to continue dictating or manipulating the conditions of international maritime and air transport in much of the Black Sea region to the detriment of riparian and non-riparian countries as well as that of Ukraine. In total contrast to the Cyprus situation, Russia would rule supreme there.

An armistice that would end the active hostilities while leaving Crimea under Russian military occupation would hold Ukrainian foreign trade permanently hostage to Russian blockade, render Ukraine’s economic recovery impossible, discourage international investment in Ukraine and compromise its candidacy for EU membership. Unlike the Republic of Cyprus, a rump Ukraine could not join the EU while facing continuing threats to the core homeland from the Russian-occupied territories.

Beyond the Korea and Cyprus armistice analogies, these same analysts suggest a conflict-resolution “precedent” eventually to apply to Ukraine: “The `2+4` talks [in 1990 on the reunification of Germany] provide a good precedent. East and West Germany negotiated their unification directly, while the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union negotiated the broader post-Cold War security architecture.”

Again, the differences here could not be starker. “East Germany” (the Soviet occupation zone) was nominally a state in its own right, neither annexed to the Soviet Union nor de-nationalized, hence the two German states could negotiate their reunification. By contrast, the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine have been directly annexed to Russia and “de-Ukrainianized,” hence Kyiv neither would nor could “negotiate” with those territories’ representatives. Such negotiations had been the intent of the Minsk “agreements” regarding Donetsk and Luhansk, but Russia killed those “agreements” by declaring the annexation of both regions—and subsequently the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces—directly to Russia, according to the Crimean model.

Furthermore, those four great powers acted in 1990 based on their status as occupying powers in Germany. The Soviet Union was on its way out, while the three Western powers maintained their presence in unified Germany with the latter’s eager consent. None of these factors exist in Ukraine now or in the foreseeable future. Invoking such analogies or “precedents” can only serve as window dressings for an armistice that would in fact cede Ukrainian territories to Russia for generations to come.