How to End Russia’s War on Ukraine, by Timothy Ash et al

Second paragraph of third chapter (“Fallacy 3: ‘Ukraine should adopt neutrality'”, by Orysia Lutsevich):

Imposed neutrality would leave Ukraine exposed to a continued existential threat. It would invite more aggression from Russia and is contrary to a fundamental principle of international law – the sovereign right to choose international alliances. Russia itself formally recognized this principle as a co-signatory of the Istanbul Declaration of 1999.

In line with my commitment to blogging more about my work-related reading, this is a report from Chatham House which came out last month, in which ten authors look at some of the underlying principles of the current conflict – the title is slightly misleading, in that it doesn’t mean “By adopting these recommendations, the war can be brought to an end”, it’s more “This is the intellectual framing in which the end of the war should be imagined”.

There are nine chapters, each by a different writer, book-ended by pieces from James Nixey, who has ceded to Tim Ash the distinction of being first-named contributor, I guess on alphabetical grounds. Each chapter tackles a particular fallacy – and these are not straw men, these are arguments I have actually seen and heard people make, including some who surprised me. In general I agree with the writers of the report, and disagree with the following propositions:

  • ‘Settle now: all wars end at the negotiating table’
  • ‘Ukraine should concede territory in exchange for peace’
  • ‘Ukraine should adopt neutrality’
  • ‘Russian security concerns must be respected’
  • ‘Russian defeat is more dangerous than Russian victory’
  • ‘Russia’s defeat in Ukraine will lead to greater instability in Russia’
  • ‘This is costing too much, and the West needs to restore economic ties with Russia’
  • ‘Ukraine’s pursuit of justice hinders peace’
  • ‘This war is not our fight, and there are more important global problems’

Several of the authors presented it last week at a thinktank in Brussels, and I was really rather shocked that a couple of audience participants made the argument that we have to find a way to let the Russians off gently. Fundamentally, it’s important to help Ukraine to win, and not to impose external limits on what that victory is going to look like. What the Russians do is their responsibility. They chose this war, completely without provocation, and they can sort themselves out afterwards.

You can get the Chatham House report here.