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It has been clear for the past 8 years that Ukraine is unlikely ever to recover either Crimea or Donbass from Russia. Russia is being (rightly) hauled over the coals for recognising Donbass and Lukhansk as independent statelets (notwithstanding their lack of a historical pedigree for independent existence). They have been lost to Ukraine ever since 2014, and under the Minsk accords Ukraine is not supposed even to try to recover them until a wider settlement that seems to be unreachable is reached. The reality on the ground is that they haven't been part of Ukraine since 2014. 


At the same time, the escalation of a wider Russia-Ukraine conflict still further, could lead to a general war between Russia and NATO as a whole. A general war between Russia and NATO risks going nuclear, possibly via the tripwire of the Iskander tactical nuclear weapons known to be in Kaliningrad, wedged between Poland and Lithuania. The use of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe could all too easily lead to the use of strategic nuclear weapons, destroying hi-tech civilisation globally and replacing worries about global warming with the reality of nuclear winter.


And, the very arguments that can be used to show that Ukraine has a non – negotiable right to independence – as it undoubtedly does – apply also to parts of Ukraine that may not actually wish to remain parts of Ukraine, namely Crimea and Donbass. Unpopular, heretical, unsayable, as it may be to say this, if the citizens of Ukraine have a right to sovereignty, so too do those of Donbass and Crimea. If Russia should not force Ukraine to be part of Russia, (which it undoubtedly should not), then too, Ukraine should not force Donbass to be part of Ukraine. (especially if doing so would preserve the rest of Ukraine from occupation and prevent WW-III).


At the same time, while the Ukrainian armed forces HAVE conquered large parts of Donbass and Lukhansk, (Contra the Minsk accords), current Russian claims of a Ukrainian offensive seem to be without foundation, as do claims of 'genocide'. 


Lesser claims of discrimination however, may have real foundation. 


Putin has stated that he is asking Ukraine to give up its claim to Crimea. Ukraine has responded that theres no way it will do that. Could that be a mistake? What if Ukraine had responded by saying they would consider this possibility seriously but wanted security guarantees? 


The big question instead is: Would Vladimir Putin simply stopat annexing Donbass and Crimea, or would he then find an excuse to invade the rest of Ukraine anyway?


Will he understand that having sliced off Donbass, he should then respect the security and sovereignty of the rest of Ukraine?


This surely is a more critical question than sticking to ideological and rigid certainties that are anyway wrong, over what does and does not constitute part of Ukraine.


Are there perhaps more formal arrangements that could be made to guarantee Ukraine’s security and sovereignty if it renounced Crimea and Donbass? How to make such arrangements stick?


Putin has said in that historical essay so often quoted that Ukraine 'has no real historical separate existence'. Neither of course, do Donbass and Lukhansk whose 'independence' he has just recognised! 


Ukraine has had in fact a separate historical existence as the Grand Principality of Kiev, over a number of hundreds of years, separate from, and in parallel to, the Grand Principality of Vladimir, which became the Grand Principality of Moscow. So Putins claim is historically untrue. Ukraine has at various times led an independent existence in parallel with (and in competition with) Moscow, been ruled by the Mongols, been absorbed in the Poland/Lithuania confederacy, and been part of the Russian empire.


Crimea of course was not part of Ukraine until Khrushchev made it part of Ukraine in 1954. It has been both part of the Grand Principality of Kiev and attached to Moscow at various times. It has also been ruled by the Byzantine empire, the Cumans, the Mongols, the Turks, the Tatars, and again by Moscow. 


More to the point however, is that – especially if there are disputes over sovereignty – the will of the people who live in an area ought surely to be the biggest single factor in deciding which country they will be part of. 


Could there be a process of deciding via referenda who wanted to be part of which country? Perhaps supervised by the OSCE?


These questions have not been asked, yet they should have been.


It is to be hoped that the tanks will stop at the line of contact.


It is to be hoped that diplomacy is not done yet.


It is to be hoped that Putin will recognise the costs and sky – high risks that a wider conflict – either an invasion of ALL of Ukraine, or of larger portions of it that have given no indication that they wish to be part of Russia – will entail. While a Ukraine-Russia conflict MIGHT be over and the Ukraine collapse in days it might also grind on with a colossal body count for years. Does Russia/Putin really want what will be a running sore forever?


Even as it is, Putin, supposedly the master chess player, while winning short term tactical victories (and not always winning those) has succeeded in uniting pretty much the entire world against him.


He has bought Europe to the brink of general war.


And he has also bought back the risk of global thermonuclear war.


He has (not alone – the US has much of the blame also in this) re-ignited the global nuclear arms race. 


Those of us who imagine they are wiser than he is should take decisions that: 


--Lower the risk of an immediate conflict


--Lower the risk of a general war between Ukraine and Russia that could result either in a protracted stalemated resistance (or even Russian defeat?), or in a contested occupation and an insurgency that never goes away


--Lower the risk of a wider war involving NATO forces in conflict with Russia, a conflict that could escalate to global thermonuclear war.


Would a renunciation by Ukraine of claims to Crimea and Donbass achieve that?


Or would it be simply 'another Munich?' Fear of being seen as engaging in 'appeasement' is undoubtedly a reason for Biden not to have seriously engaged in negotiations with Putin. Was this wise really? Should we really be afraid of another 'Munich'? Or is this very fear another terrible mistake?


Could we then lay a foundation for negotiations on a nuclear weapon and missile – free central East Europe? (Including Kaliningrad)?


Could progress be made on other matters such as exercises close to borders with nuclear – capable forces?


Should we perhaps negotiate in true earnest and find out? 


John Hallam

People for Nuclear Disarmament

Human Survival Project

Co-Convenor, Abolition 2000 Working Group on Nuclear Risk Reduction

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