The sheer plethora of information about the war in Ukraine makes it hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. For example, many who take a more favorable stance on Russia agree with the argument that Ukraine did not uphold the Minsk agreement (which, of course, Russia also violated). Others rightly evoke the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, under which Ukraine gave up its atomic weapons to Russia in exchange for assurances on its security and territorial integrity. One side accepts the official Russian version of history – that Ukraine has always been Russian – and the other that for centuries it was part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Poland, Austria-Hungary, etc.
I could write an endless list of facts that would support either point of view or even an approach of equal distance. Science and politics, however, cannot be limited only to the compilation of lists of facts. Instead, their purpose is to answer fundamental questions, such as the following:
First, is war justified? The main question when it comes to any war is who is to blame and, even more importantly, is it or is not a justified war? The issue here is not a debate about events of the past, but who caused the war and who invaded who. In this case, it is clear that the war was the result of Russia’s choice to invade Ukraine. It may have been a just war if the latter had previously tried to invade the former or had carried out military exercises in its territory. This was not the case.
Russia waged war against Ukraine to make it change: Either to become “Finlandized,” or to become a Russian protectorate as Poland was in the 18th century, when Russian chopped it up four times. Which raises the question: Does Russia have a right to want its neighbor to adopt a different policy? Yes, it can want it, but it does not have the right to force its will. Was Russia vexed by NATO expansion and rising insecurity? Yes, and justly so. But an invasion does not add to security; it detracts from it.
In conclusion, Russia’s war against Ukraine is aggressive and unjust, and Ukraine’s resistance is the definition of defensive and just. It is defending its very existence, its sovereignty and its territory. It must be noted that an unjust war contains a high risk of spreading beyond the initial target.
Second, can Russia be part of European security policy or should European, specifically European Union security policy, be aimed against Russia, the troublemaker? With his recent actions, Putin has certainly lost the support of those who argued that a European security system would fail without Russia. With his blatant violations of international law, he gave credence to those who claim that Russia cannot be a partner in any such structure. On the other hand, if the West had made an effort to find common ground with Russia these past 20 years instead of promoting NATO expansion, maybe things would be different today.
So how can the situation be managed from here on? It is my belief that the only right political choice is an immediate termination of the war, the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, restitution for war damages, ensuring a positive future for the people of both countries and punishing the guilty parties. Once this is achieved, systematic discussion and exploring a new security architecture in which Russia would feel safe but would not have the right to determine peace in Europe and to act as it likes.
Putin will seek a victory come what may. But even if he wins now from a military standpoint, it will be nothing but a Pyrrhic victory
Third, can the current Russian leadership extract itself from the madness of war? I find this incredibly unlikely. For starters, time is not its side. Every day that goes by and more photographs emerge showing the horrors of war, Western governments are coming under increasing pressure from their citizens to take harsher measures against Russia. And the more steadfast the Ukrainian resistance will grow. Every additional day of war will mobilize Russian society further and intensify discord at home, even within the regime. As a result, Putin will seek a victory come what may. But even if he wins now from a military standpoint, it will be nothing but a Pyrrhic victory.
You cannot govern a country as big as Ukraine with soldiers alone. Especially as it has developed such a strong national conscience in recent years and differentiated itself from Russia.
It is Russia that will ultimately pay the price for a “victory,” because it is certain to face such resistance that it will not be able to prevail. It is likely that, aware of this risk, it will seek to divide Ukraine and integrate (formally or informally) its eastern part into the Russian Federation, a part that has been at odds with its western part for the past 300 years. Overall, I believe that Putin underestimated the Ukrainian’s increasingly strong national sentiment and that this will come at a great cost to Ukraine.
The great Karl Liebknecht, who opposed the unjust war Germany was preparing to unleash in 1913-1914, said with incredible foresight that there are some defeats that are actually victories and some victories that are actually more shameful than defeats. I believe that even if Putin wins the war in Ukraine, it will be a fleeting victory, and shameful to the Russian people, but also to the Russian military, heir of the army that liberated Berlin from fascism.
I would like to add that I am opposed to the war on Ukraine. I am opposed to invasion and destruction. But we love and admire Russian literature and music, dance and art. Certain Greek government ministers appear to be unaware of the difference between the two stances. They seem to be lacking in any sense of political culture.
Nikos Kotzias is a former foreign minister.