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No middle ground: Compromise with Russia not an option, Chatham House report concludes

Ceding Ukrainian territory for peace only emboldens Russian aggression and endangers Western security.
The town of Borodianka in Kyiv Oblast was destroyed by Russian troops. April 2022. The Russo-Ukrainian War. Credit: Dattalion
The town of Borodianka in Kyiv Oblast was destroyed by Russian troops. April 2022. The Russo-Ukrainian War. Credit: Dattalion
No middle ground: Compromise with Russia not an option, Chatham House report concludes

As Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine enters its 19th month, some Western countries still hesitate to choose between taking responsibility for a war that threatens global order and fear of a Russian defeat, according to a June report from Chatham House, a London-based think tank. Euromaidan Press reporter Olena Mukhina provides an in-depth look into the report’s findings.

Western countries must consider the war in Ukraine as their struggle to defeat Russia, according to a June report from Chatham House, a London-based think tank. If the world hesitates, tyrants will rewrite the global order, say the report’s authors.

Ukrainian resistance has given the West a historic opportunity to strike a deadly blow to Russian imperial ambitions. This can only be achieved through comprehensive military support, consolidating all Ukrainian allies, and abandoning the fear of Russia’s defeat.

Half-measures will only prolong the conflict, resulting in more Ukrainian deaths and blurring the security prospects for Europe. The West should rethink its policy towards the Russian war and understand that Russia and Ukraine are unlikely to meet at the negotiating table—and why that is a good thing.

Focus on victory, not negotiations 

Calls by some Western politicians to reach a settlement rest on a common belief: Wars should end with negotiations and compromise.

However, if Russian troops are not driven out of Ukraine by force, they are most unlikely to leave because this war is an existential one, said James Sherr, Chatham House associate fellow of Russia and Eurasia Programme.

In similar wars where the stakes are absolute, as in the Second World War, armed conflicts end with the triumph of one side and the defeat of the other.

This means that Western policy must be based on a sustainable definition of victory, not on a search for negotiations.

Supporting Ukraine’s aspirations for NATO and EU membership

Rather than offer Ukrainian territories in exchange for peace, the West must enhance the effort to drive up the costs of Russia’s deluded strategy. The West must also support Ukraine’s aspirations for NATO and European Union membership, wrote Simon Smith, Chatham House chair of the Steering Committee of the Ukraine Forum.

Territorial concessions, in particular, related to Crimea will encourage, not end, attacks on other countries as it will reward Russia for its aggression.

Peace negotiations based on ceding territories to Kremlin control will confer legitimacy on unjustified wars against peaceful nations.

Also, Russia will likely use Crimea as a military base to launch future attacks on Ukraine.

Any temporary solution that preserves the battlefield status quo will buy time for Russian troops to regroup and prepare for the next attack while leaving Ukraine enfeebled.

Providing security guarantees

Many commentators have proposed that, to end Russian aggression, Ukraine should adopt a neutral status and abandon its aspiration to join NATO. Calls for Ukraine to become “neutral” ignore that Ukraine was already neutral when Russia first attacked it in 2014. For Russians, a “neutral” Ukraine means it would become defenseless regarding its territorial claims, said Orysia Lutsevych, Chatham House head of the Ukraine Forum.

In the early weeks of the war, when Kyiv was at risk of being occupied, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was ready to put neutrality on the table. However, Russia’s actions during the war, including atrocities in Bucha, have made that option a nonstarter.

To secure Ukraine and Europe, the West must ensure the Ukrainian Army has all the necessary weapons to defeat Russia. In addition, NATO’s leadership should offer Kyiv a clear pathway to membership in the alliance.

Another necessary step is inviting Ukraine to join the EU. This would strengthen Ukraine’s economic alignment with the West and “allow mutual defense assistance from external threats.”

Ukrainian soldiers with a Ukrainian flag. Source: Ukraine General Staff

Ensuring equal security policies

One of Russia’s main pieces of propaganda it has used to justify its war against Ukraine is the false statement that the West ignored Russian “security concerns.” Russia claims NATO’s expansion forced Moscow to militarize its foreign policy.

However, meeting Russian demands would put Ukraine and other countries at risk. Despite Russia’s claim that it supports the idea of equal security for all, the Kremlin actually believes its own security is more important than its neighbors’ security.

Western countries must show Russian leaders that they are committed to providing the required support to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and ensure the country can be rebuilt in peace.

The longer-term goal for Western policymakers should be convincing post-Putin leadership that Russia must de-imperialize its approach to security to feel secure, wrote Chatham House’s John Lough.

Russia’s defeat will make the world a safer place

Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Western policymakers have expressed fears that the defeat of Russia would lead to immediate retaliation from Moscow or longer-term revanchism. However, reducing Russian military capacity would increase the time and resources it needs to launch another attack on neighboring countries, according to Chatham House’s Keir Giles.

Only a substantial defeat will lead to a change in Russia’s foreign policy attitudes. Russia’s leaders must realize their invasion of Ukraine is a huge mistake.

The worst scenario for many in the West would be the collapse of Russia into fragments, resulting in the loss of control over its nuclear weapons.

Further political instability in Russia should be avoided at all costs, according to this logic. Russia’s armed forces must not be allowed to suffer a catastrophic defeat in Ukraine.

Yet fears of Russia’s fragmentation are baseless and counterproductive for Western policy. The country’s opposition leaders have been jailed or have fled the Kremlin regime.

Waiting for Russia’s imagined collapse is a way to delay facing the challenges Russia presents now, said Chatham House’s Kataryna Wolczuk.

Reducing economic dependency on Russia

Since February 2022, Ukraine has received $46 billion in Western budgetary support and $50 billion in military aid.

The war has also increased inflation in Europe by between 5 and 6 percentage points. Some experts argue the West cannot afford to support Ukraine further because the financial costs of deterring Russian aggression are high.

However, if Russian aggression is not stopped in Ukraine and it initiates conflict in other European countries such as Poland, the West would have to spend much more on defending its borders.

NATO’s best and cheapest strategy for ending the war is stopping Russia in Ukraine now. Defense spending and budgetary support for Ukraine represent just 0.2 percent of the combined gross domestic product of the Western alliance supporting Ukraine.

The West also must reduce its economic dependence on Russia and limit Russia’s ability to use economics as a blackmail tool, said Chatham House’s Timothy Ash.

Ensuring the defense of Ukraine is the best investment the West can make in its security and, ultimately, the best way to reduce future defense spending.

Investigating Russia’s war crimes 

Backing comprehensive justice for Ukraine strengthens access to justice for atrocity victims globally. Positing that  Ukraine’s pursuit of justice undermines peace is spurious.

Russia aims to establish its control in Ukraine and occupied territories with brutal neo-imperial methods and a policy of terror targeting civilians. Atrocities are a central part of the Kremlin’s tactics, as they were in Chechnya and Syria. Unless the West breaks Russia’s cycle of impunity, Russia will continue to commit its crimes throughout the globe, said Chatham House’s Kateryna Busol.

Edited by Mike Cronin

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