Staunton, February 24 – The conflict in Ukraine is not one conflict but three: it is a conflict between the eastern and western portions of Ukraine, it is a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and it is a conflict between Russia and the West, Vladimir Pastukhov says. And to resolve all three will require a new Congress of Vienna.
That does not mean that attempts to address one of these conflicts while not addressing the other two are wrong: when one can’t treat an illness, one should treat the symptoms, the St. Antony’s College analyst says. But one needs to keep clear in one’s own mind that doing so will not be enough to achieve stability let alone peace.
Moving in that direction will not be easy because it will require a new approach by all the participants in this conflict; and consequently, it is likely that “the Ukrainian crisis is going to be long term.”
But until it is, Pastukhov argues, palliative measures are all that can be hoped for because “blessed are the peacemakers — even when the peace involved is only illusory.”
The Russian scholar argues that the sides in the conflict, “including Ukraine, Russia, Europe and America long ago lost control over the situation” because their differences in understanding what is going on and willingness to act are so great that they are “paralyzing one another” and thus creating a dangerous situation one might call “’a perfect storm.’”
The conflict in Ukraine bears certain elements of a civil war as Moscow insists, but it would never have exploded as it has were it not for Russia’s intervention, as Ukraine argues.
And consequently, the conflict is acquiring as well the shape of “a war between Ukraine and Russia,” a war “undeclared” but nonetheless very real.
But behind these conflicts is another and more serious one, Pastukhov argues, that between Russia and the West and one “not so much ‘a battle for Ukraine’ as about an attempt by Russia to revise the international ‘rules of the game’” it doesn’t like and recover albeit only partially “those positions which the USSR occupied before its collapse.”
Consequently, he continues, “any peaceful resolution must take into account these three levels of the political landscape, the civil war, Russian intervention, and the global competition of Russia and the West.” Addressing one without the other will lead only to short-term fixes that will quickly break down.
At the moment, Putin has “the keys to peace” in his pocket, Pastukhov says, and thus, “the main question” is when and under what conditions he might be prepared to take them out. At the moment, the Russian analyst says, Putin has little reason to make any major changes in what he is doing.
But that situation may not last. Indeed, it is almost guaranteed not to, Pastukhov suggests. That is because “Putin cannot be certain that in the future everything will be as good as it is now.” And once he reflects on that, he may be less interested in continuing the war and be prepared to stop it.
According to the Russian scholar, “Russia and the West are historical opponents, but there is no antagonism in their relationships, and they found a means up to now over a lengthy period of time to coexist on the continent without war.” And if they could agree at Yalta and Potsdam with “communist Russia,” they can certainly do so with “a post-communist” one.
But to do so, he continues, they must not deceive themselves about what is taking place by calling any agreements “’a partnership’ or the construction of ‘a larger Europe.’ Undoubtedly, this peace will be a return to a cold war. But a cold war is all the same better than a ‘third world war.’” In brief, he argues, there must be a new Yalta but not a new Munich.
Russia under Putin has thrown itself “several decades backward on the scale of history,” he says. And “correspondingly, its relations with the West must now be organized” on the basis of those times and not the ones that the West thought had arrived irreversibly and be about “’coexistence’” rather than “full-scale cooperation.”
In addition to everything else, the cold war secured “’a golden age’” for Europe, “the most length period without major destructive wars.”
And “its poitical and legal basis became the Helsinki Accords which despite everything still have significance for contemporary Europe” because they provided the basis for coexistence.
“Peaceful coexistence in today’s conditions presupposes the achievement of a new strategic and not tactical agreement of zones of influence,” something that may sound “somewhat cynical” but which is exactly what the West did at Yalta and Potsdam. And that means the West and Russia must discuss “not the fate of the Donbas but the fate of Ukraine.”
Such a new “strategic agreement” will have to address all three levels of the conflict: “local (Ukraine-Donbas), regional (Ukraine-Russia) and global (Russia-the West),” with all the participants making some compromises and accepting a new set of fundamental principles, Pastukhov argues.
Despite its current “imperial hysteria,” he says, Russia will have to acknowledge and legally confirm Ukrainian statehood and the right of Kyiv to choose its own foreign and economic policies. The West will have to agree that Russia has some voice in Ukraine’s clearly-expressed desire to turn westward, a voice but not a veto.
And most critically, Pastukhov says, “the West one way or another will have to discuss with Russia a much broader circle of questions than it is prepared to do today.”
Obviously, addressing Ukraine’s problems will be the most immediately difficult because it will require that Ukrainians slow down their drive toward the fulfillment of their dreams. “For the sake of peace, it will have to recognize that breaking with the colonial past is not a one-time act but a length and at times difficult multi-stage process.”
The fate of Crimea is an especially sensitive area, Pastukhov says, but he notes that the earlier Cold War provides a model for this one: Neither Ukraine nor the West should ever accept as legitimate the Russian occupation of Crimea just as the West did not accept the occupation of the Baltic countries. Such an approach did not prevent contacts, but they did preserve principles.
To achieve all this will require a large international conference, “something like the Congress of Vienna” and the adoption of something like “a second edition of the Helsinki Final Act.” Discussions among only a few of the powers involved will never be sufficient because too many interests are involved.
In the remainder of his article, the Russian historian outlines some of the compromises that such a meeting might entail, but the most important part of his argument is that such a meeting needs to take place and that all sides will have to make compromises. Whether some of the potential participants can or will do so, of course, is far from clear.