by Mark Neshta
In the early spring of this year, my friend asked me a seemingly simple question: why doesn’t Ukraine just make peace with Russia – or conclude an armistice at least? Certainly, this would be in both parties’ best interest.
Well, the situation is much more complicated. While Russia’s belligerence is quite understandable (after all, it was Russia’s decision to conduct a full-scale invasion of Ukraine), why does Ukraine itself seem reluctant to look for a quick ceasefire? Realizing that a simple friendly conversation might not be a suitable way to answer this question, I have decided to write this article. Here, I will try to provide an explanation of the exact reasons why both Ukraine’s leadership and its people are willing to fight a long war in order to secure a military victory over Russia – and why the world will not necessarily be better off with the war ending right here and right now.
First and foremost, we should address the elephant in the room: would Russia even agree to an armistice? A lot of calls on Ukraine to end the war seem to presume that Putin’s regime would be glad to make peace – even though this is far from assured. Four Ukrainian oblasts – Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Luhansk, and Donetsk – have been formally annexed into Russia in late September as a result of sham referenda, and recognition of Russian sovereignty over this territory became a non-negotiable demand. This position has been confirmed by Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister on December 28th, 2022, as well as by his deputy Mikhail Galuzin on May 27th, 2023. Considering that Russia does not control any of these regions entirely, Ukraine would have not only relinquished its sovereignty but also withdrawn its troops if it was to make peace with Russia. This demand is disproportionate to Russia’s actual gains on the battlefield and would be nothing short of a capitulation – clearly not a compromise that could lead to an end of the conflict.
However, let us assume that Russia does agree to stop fighting with the frontline staying where it is now. What next?
Well, this solution is not guaranteed to terminate the conflict at large – like the previous Minsk agreements that ended up being unacceptable for both sides and ultimately not being able to prevent the war in Donbas from escalating into a full-scale war between Ukraine and Russia. It could already be seen (from the initial attack on Kyiv at least) that Putin’s designs go much further than the four previously mentioned regions. The ceasefire might give him an opportunity to take a shot at them again in several years. If the fighting stops, his army, now badly battered, can be rebuilt and its stockpile replenished using the extensive Russian military-industrial complex. The mistakes made during the initial invasion can be analysed and a better strategy crafted. Some sanctions may be taken off as a part of the peace process.
On the other hand, Ukraine would have to rebuild its arms industry (and, indeed, its entire economy) sometimes from the ground up – and with a significant part of its territory and access to the Azov Sea lost. Emergency arms shipments from the West would be ended, and any military help during peacetime would likely be limited compared to wartime deliveries. Finally, demobilization would have to be conducted, shrinking the armed forces of Ukraine back to their initial number.
In general, a significant de-escalation of the war would likely put a lot of pressure on Russia, while the military situation for Ukraine would not improve. I believe that Putin would not waste such a chance for revenge. Admission of Ukraine into NATO would most likely deter him – but neutrality for Ukraine is almost guaranteed to be one of the main terms of any armistice, removing this option.
Moreover, the main argument in favour of a ceasefire – that it would end human suffering – is also questionable.
It is certainly true that the end of the fighting would improve the humanitarian situation in the frontline areas. The soldiers of both armies would no longer be dying as well. However, those about whom the people praising the «peaceful solution» seem to forget, are the civilians in the Russia-occupied territories. Numerous reports about the brutality of the Russian military administration have surfaced since February 2022. These extreme actions could be attributed to the martial law and expected to go away with a termination of the fighting – but the precedent of the long-term occupation of Crimea and parts of Donbas disproves this presumption. United Nations reports in 2014 and 2016 have identified many instances of human rights violations by the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. These «republics» have been described as highly authoritarian and oppressive, and their «elections» as unfair. Moreover, the UN, Human Rights Watch, and other human rights groups have voiced their concern about the treatment of the indigenous peoples of Crimea (mainly the Crimean Tatars) by Russia, citing cases of discrimination and unlawful detainment by the occupational authorities.
This way of administration is most likely to continue on the newly captured territories as well. Therefore, a ceasefire would not be a relief for many – instead, it would merely cement a situation that already exists today and prolong it for years. This is exactly what happened in the Donbas – and Ukraine is determined to not let this happen again.
And finally – the implications that the precedent of a Russo-Ukrainian ceasefire might have internationally. It would show to the world that a conquest of a sovereign nation’s territory is still possible – even if costly. An aggressor would go unpunished and keep the land it was able to grab previously. Importantly, this would be possible due to Russia’s status as a nuclear power. Seeing that a nuclear-armed nation may be able to openly challenge the international order and succeed would prompt many nations to try and create a nuclear deterrent of their own – endangering the Treaty on Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Overall, the sanctity of national borders and the limits on nuclear weapons are some of the most important pillars of the post-WW2 «rules-based international order» – the very same order Putin undermined in many of his speeches since the beginning of the war. Even if he is not able to capture any more territory and realize any more of his goals, by securing a ceasefire on his terms, the Russian dictator would still win – by distorting what he sees as an American-led world order. Organizations such as UN and IAEA would be put into jeopardy – and this might have far-reaching consequences for many regions. Most importantly, seeing a more or less successful conclusion of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China might become much more willing to undertake armed action against Taiwan.
We can conclude by quoting Oleksandra Matviichuck, head of the Ukrainian 2022 Nobel peace prize-winning Centre for Civil Liberties: «People of Ukraine want peace more than anyone else in the world. But peace cannot be reached by a country under attack laying down its arms. This would not be peace, but occupation». This sums up my argument the best: any «peaceful solution» to the war in Ukraine would almost certainly be tipped heavily into Russia’s favour – mostly, due to the extent of Moscow’s goals and her unwillingness to revise them. Simply folding to Russian demands would not give Ukraine a basis for a stable and sustainable peace and would not solve the Russo-Ukrainian conflict at large. For this reason, Ukrainian President Zelensky’s peace plan calls the removal of Russian troops from the territory of Ukraine one of the main conditions for the termination of the war. At this point, this can only be done by military means. Unfortunately, sometimes peace is a thing that has to be fought for.
 “He reiterated Moscow’s stance that for talks to resume Kyiv should recognize the annexation by Russia of four Ukrainian regions” – https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/12/28/moscow-to-achieve-ukraine-goals-thanks-to-patience-lavrov-a79830
 For example, the 30.09.2022 speech on the annexation of four Ukrainian oblast’s, the 21.02.2023 address to the Federal Assembly