The path to a diplomatic resolution of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine remains unclear and, at this stage of the fighting, there is not yet a definitive picture of the borders on which the fighting could end. At this point, it is at least clear that Russia will not turn Ukraine into a puppet state. Beyond that, however, the chances of Ukraine militarily reestablishing its borders as they were when Kyiv gained independence in 1991, including restoring sovereign control over Crimea, appear dim. It is also uncertain whether the two sides will end up accepting the borders as they existed on February 24, namely with Russia occupying Crimea and the separatists controlling the Donestk and Luhansk oblasts in the Donbass region. At the start of the conflict, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky proposed a potential opening to neutral status. Since then, with his recent successes on the battlefield, he has abandoned this position and expanded his war aims. Recently, for example, an elder Ukrainian general called for expelling Russia from Crimea.
The diplomatic framework within which serious peace talks will be pursued is just as murky as how the fighting might end. The real negotiations will belong to the warring parties: Ukraine and Russia. It is far from clear at this stage exactly what roles other European countries or the United States might play in the process, and no plausible format has emerged as to how outside parties might be involved in the process. of negotiation.
If history can be any guide, it is worth considering the approach adopted by the European powers at the Congress of Vienna. The Napoleonic Wars ravaged Europe for more than a decade until peace was restored in 1815 in Congress. Under Napoleon Bonaparte, the French Grande Armée invaded many states, conquering the Netherlands and West Germany. France established satellite kingdoms in Italy, Spain, Poland and parts of Germany. Finally, Napoleon invaded Russia, reaching Moscow before being forced to retreat and suffering his ultimate defeat at Waterloo on June 18, 1815. Historians have estimated that until seven million people have perished in these wars.
Despite the suffering and destruction inflicted by these French invasions, when it came to making peace, the victorious powers were generous. The Quadruple Alliance, the victorious coalition of Britain, Austria, Russia and Prussia, imposed no retribution or vengeance on France. Instead, he decided to create a better structure to maintain stability between European nation states. France was not forced to pay crushing indemnities to the victors, and its borders were restored to what they were in 1789, uncut by the occupying forces. In 1818, a defeated France was welcomed into the Holy Alliance (successor to the Quadruple Alliance). French King Louis XVIII, who was restored to the throne after Napoleon’s defeat, even appointed Talleyrand as his foreign minister, the same position the cold-eyed realist had held throughout the French Revolution and under Napoleon. As a result of the agreements made at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the Holy Alliance engineered the longest period of peace that Europe had known, based on the principles of the balance of power. With the exception of the Crimean War of 1854, Europe enjoyed general peace for the first forty years after the Congress. Peace then lasted another sixty years without a general war until 1914.
Today, Western efforts are aimed at holding Russia accountable for the invasion of Ukraine and ensuring that it never engages in such barbaric actions again. NATO and the European Union have mobilized strongly to support Ukraine, both with military-logistical support and sweeping economic sanctions that have isolated Russia from Europe and crippled the Russian economy.
What is not as well recognized at this point is that in addition to holding Russia accountable for its actions, another strategic challenge looms. It is not enough to restore Ukraine’s borders to where they were before February 24, when Russia launched its attack, or to where Ukraine’s original borders were when it entered independence in 1991. It is now clear that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of the Cold War did not lead to the creation of a stable security environment for Europe. Russia, licking its age-old historical insecurities and grievances, has grown increasingly hostile and frustrated with NATO’s eastward expansion and incorporation of the former Warsaw Pact countries into the European Union.
Moscow invaded Georgia in 2008, annexed Crimea and fomented civil war in the Donbass region in 2014, intervened militarily in Syria in 2015, interfered in the 2016 US presidential elections, poisoned a former Russian officer and his daughter in England in 2018, and repeatedly threatened his neighbors with power supply cuts. More worryingly, as Moscow has moved away from the West, it has gradually turned towards China. During Putin’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, the two leaders said that their countries’ relations “goes beyond an alliance and that there are no prohibited areas of cooperation.“China has gone as far as express formal support for Russia’s demands for longer-term security guarantees in Europe for the first time.
The United States and the West have nothing to gain by pursuing policies that push a cornered and humiliated Russia into a closer strategic relationship with China on the Eurasian continent, where the two countries share the sixth-largest border in the world. world, 2,600 miles long. Russia’s long-term economic isolation will only strengthen China’s strategic position vis-à-vis the United States. Washington and NATO will not benefit from a growing alliance between the two major nuclear and conventional military powers on the Eurasian landmass. Economically, Russia’s long-term isolation with Western sanctions will only encourage Moscow to look East for business. With less oil and gas to sell to the West, Russia will likely develop new fossil fuel pipeline networks with China. China’s strategic dependence on oil from the Middle East, which must be transported through militarily vulnerable choke points such as the Strait of Moluccas, will be reduced.
The West is going to have to figure out how to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian war while simultaneously bringing lasting stability to Ukraine and Europe without pushing a paranoid Russia further into the arms of China. A Congress of Vienna-type approach could be an option within the multilateral framework of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), founded in 1975. Based in Vienna, more than fifty-seven countries are members of the OSCE, including Russia, NATO countries, Finland, Sweden, as well as peripheral Eurasian states such as Mongolia. The OSCE may be the only realistic diplomatic framework in which all parties involved can try to begin to address the age-old problem posed by Russia’s deep-rooted fears of the West. Creative diplomacy, reminiscent of the Congress of Vienna, will be needed with less emphasis on simply punishing Russia, however justified. If Washington and its allies are reluctant to follow this path as long as Putin remains in power, preferring to maintain sanctions and isolation policies until regime change occurs in Moscow, the blockage may be as indefinite and open. than waiting for leadership changes in the North. Korea and Cuba have been for the past six decades. Europe cannot afford to wait so long to achieve a stable security situation with Russia.
Ramon Marks is a retired international lawyer from New York.