Russia is destroying the world order: the West faces a dilemma

According to the majority of Ukrainians and other Eastern Europeans, negotiations with the Russian government for a peaceful agreement are considered a futile waste of time. They believe that only after a devastating defeat of Russia it will be possible to achieve any understanding between Moscow and Kyiv. Just as in Tsarist and Soviet Russia, a military catastrophe can lead to fundamental internal changes within the country.

Currently, the world faces another dilemma. Some countries may have ambiguous attitudes towards Putin’s actions, the future of Russia, and Ukraine’s sovereignty, but Western governments do not need to worry, unlike Kyiv, about the long-term prospects of a ceasefire or a peaceful agreement. Electoral cycles in democratic states dictate that politicians running for office must seek quick solutions today rather than engage in prolonged conflicts.

A challenge for cynics

In Washington, Brussels, Paris, or Berlin, as well as in countries across Asia, Africa, or Latin America, the Russian-Ukrainian war may be viewed as a distant regional, post-Soviet, and/or Slavic dispute. Some politicians openly state that this Eastern European confrontation holds little significance for them. Ukraine is geographically, culturally, historically, and politically distant from the homelands of most Western players. For their governments, this could imply that investments (financial, military, political) in Ukraine’s defense, security, and reconstruction should be reduced or even halted. It may also suggest that hastily reaching a peaceful agreement is better than prolonged military confrontation.

See also: The foundation is crumbling. Is Russia ready to remove Putin?

However, even governments that may not prioritize justice, freedom, and independence cannot separate their stance towards Moscow and Kyiv from the issue of global security. Ukraine, just like Russia, is an integral part of the world order and a full-fledged member of the international community.

Between 1945 and 1991, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, unlike the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, was a non-sovereign member of the United Nations. After gaining independence in August 1991, Ukraine not only became a full-fledged member of the UN as a completely independent state but also joined the Council of Europe, OSCE, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as well as many other international organizations, conventions, and agreements.

The Kremlin’s gauntlet

Russia’s illegal annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula in 2014 has already created a fundamental problem for the international community, which is concerned about the fate of the Ukrainian people and the state. Moscow insists that the Ukrainian nation and state are not fully legitimate, contradicting the notions of international order, security systems, and cross-border cooperation.

Eight years after the armed seizure of Crimea, Russia has once again intensified its efforts aimed at denying Ukrainian statehood. It illegally annexed four regions in the southeast of Ukraine, blatantly violating international law. The escalation of terror against Ukrainian civilians since February 24, 2022, comes with its price. The war in Ukraine increasingly threatens consequences not only for Ukraine but also for the stability of all sovereign states.

Nine years ago, the Kremlin’s narrative about the disputed status of Crimea was partially accepted by the international community. Today, few politicians, diplomats, and experts would agree with the Kremlin’s justifications for aggression against Ukraine. The Kremlin continues to support a narrative that denies the existence of Ukraine, at least within internationally recognized borders. Moscow persists in falsifying Ukrainian history, law, politics, culture, and more, all in an attempt to legitimize its actions concerning Ukraine.

International order, adieu?

The problem with the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign lies not only in factual inaccuracies and selective presentation of events in Ukraine’s history. The real challenge for Moscow in its narrative about Ukraine is that similar stories could be told about many countries. Most countries and territories in the world have complex histories, contested legitimacy, and peculiar episodes in their ancient and recent past. Some of them still have disputed territories and ambiguous identities. Like Ukraine, all states in the world once did not exist, were not nation-states, and had different borders.

See also: Devil’s advocates: how international mediators act for peaceful resolution of the war in the Kremlin’s interests

Despite its violations of the international order, the Kremlin insists that Pandora’s box is empty. Even worse, Russia is not a minor player in the world after the Cold War. According to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it inherited a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the status of a nuclear state from the Soviet Union. The Russian Federation is one of the five members of the United Nations Security Council with special rights and responsibilities for maintaining order in national states and international security and law. However, through its actions, Moscow undermines the most fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter. It turns upside down the principles of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the unique status of the five “nuclear states.” The UNSC and NPT have become tools in Russia’s hands for undermining, rather than stabilizing, the world order.

Peace despite everything?

Most of the self-proclaimed pragmatists and pacifists advocating for agreements like “land in exchange for peace” are not on the Kremlin’s payroll. Perhaps they don’t even sympathize with Putin and his company. Some express sympathy for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. Their proposals for ceasefire and peace are made with the belief that they serve the interests of the Ukrainian nation.

However, these same pragmatists seem unwilling or unable to consider all the consequences of their pacifist plans. Firstly, striking a deal with Moscow for “land in exchange for peace” raises questions about what kind of ceasefire in southeastern Ukraine it could lead to. The local population in the occupied territories by Russia faces deportations, torture, executions, property confiscation, and other human rights violations. Many supporters of a ceasefire are prone to moralizing. However, they often overlook the fundamental ethical problem of continuing Russian occupation of Ukrainian territory.

Secondly, various peace plans, whether directly or indirectly, involve temporary or even permanent limitations on Ukraine’s territorial integrity or sovereignty. Among the most popular proposals are leaving Crimea under Moscow’s control or excluding Ukraine’s entry into NATO. However, this would create a problem not only for Ukraine but also for the entire world.

Following such a path means that the territory, freedom, and independence of a full-fledged member of the United Nations would be restricted not just by Russia. The compromise pushed at the international level would signify that other countries are accomplices in undermining the international order. Such a course of action would repeat the failure of France and Germany in the notorious Normandy Format from 2014 to 2021. Allowing Russia to reap the rewards of its aggression after widespread military aggression and nuclear blackmail would be repeating the same mistakes.

Uncomfortable questions

What authority and legitimacy will the UN system and the European security order have if Russia can get away with violating dozens of bilateral and multilateral agreements it committed to under international treaties and organizations? If the majority of the international community accepts an agreement that leads to a clear victory for Russia, it will not only show disrespect for Ukraine’s political sovereignty and territorial integrity but also contradict the obligations of these countries under international law not to recognize gains achieved through military means. Why shouldn’t other relatively powerful states take actions against their neighbors similar to what Russia did to its south-western “fraternal people”? Aren’t other territories equally contentious and waiting to be reclaimed just like “Novorossiya”?

Not only some, but even many countries in the world might want to ensure they do not end up in a situation like the Ukrainians. Why should governments of relatively weaker states continue to rely on international law and international organizations to protect their borders and independence? If Western and other influential governments imply that they cannot be relied upon as defenders of the world order, perhaps other instruments will be needed?


The slow and fragmented response of the international community to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, the hybrid war in Donbas from 2014 to 2021, and the large-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, have already caused damage to the global security system. The implementation of a well-prepared peace plan could have temporarily halted the hostilities in Ukraine. However, it would have deepened the already troubling cracks in the world order.

Making a deal of “land in exchange for peace” would mean recognizing the legitimacy of Russia’s actions. This would undermine not only the international liberal order but also global security and stability, causing long-lasting harm to the global non-proliferation regime of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine and its campaign of genocide against the Ukrainian people cannot be stopped by purely non-military means. There is no other way but to defeat force with force. This is fully consistent with international law, in particular Article 51 of the UN Charter. Compromises, concessions and other benefits to the aggressor state are not the way to lasting peace in Eastern Europe and other regions. A “land in exchange for peace” deal would cause lasting damage to the norm-based international order and the future rule of international law.

Originally posted by Andreas Umland on Nowa Europa Wschodnia. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: How Russia is attacking the European Union with disinformation



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