It is time to present Russia with our conditions. Ukraine, together with NATO and European Union members, must demand not just the immediate cessation of hostilities but also a complete, disciplined and prompt withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, including the whole of Donbas, Kalev Stoicescu writes.
Vladimir Putin's regime continues to table ultimatums. The hate speech of the Kremlin's propaganda machine has become extraordinarily garish. The art of lying on the administrative level exceeds the achievements of the Stalinist era. The weapons of mass tergiversation (trolls, fake news and accusations etc.) attack is in full swing.
Russia is continuing its barbaric campaign of destruction in Ukraine, threatening a humanitarian disaster (a new Holodomor), chemical attacks, nuclear strikes and the conflict spilling over. Naturally, the blame rests with others – Ukraine and the West.
The aim of ramping up psychological terror is to force Ukraine to surrender, split the West and leave it hesitant, save the Putin regime and shift the blame.
The Kremlin satrap is holed up in his secret bunker in the Urals, plotting his revenge on Ukraine and the whole of the free world for daring to stand up to Russia and punish it. Putin and his devoted followers cannot fathom the fact that Ukraine and its people exist, that they are not Russia or Russians, that they will fight and prevail.
The final collapse of the Soviet Union is taking place today
The final collapse of the Soviet Union did not take place in December of 1991 – it is happening now. Progressive communists did not pit Russians and Ukrainians against one another but handed freedom to both. The communists did not think to emulate the invasion and occupation scenario of fascist Germany that Putin is now trying to put into practice. This is not to praise Soviet Union communists but rather a realization of just how evil rabid and paranoid Great-Russian chauvinism can become.
Kremlin mirrors are curved. Moscow's political technologists are busy trying to find a justification for the aggression in hindsight, perhaps by thinking about the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction (or at least none have been found). Ukraine also doesn't have them. However, unlike the Americans in Iraq, Russia might nevertheless "find" weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine and use chemical or biological weapons against the Ukrainian people.
The situation in Mariupol is looking more like the siege of Leningrad with each passing say. Russian armed forces are attacking children's hospitals that they dub "military objects" and killing women, children and the elderly. People are fighting over food. Their cruel attack on Ukraine aimed at destroying the country and its people is completely unjustified and unprovoked. Who here needs to be denazified?
The Kremlin's butchers were not tried at Nuremberg. This left Moscow harboring illusions of impunity and a conviction that for the victors of WWII, whichever atrocities are permitted (and consequently "justified").
The fall of communism in Europe was not followed by a mental and cultural-ideological cleanse in Russia. Those are the bitter fruits we are tasting today. Many believed that Russia's (state) capitalism, ties to the global economy and freedom of movement, even in the conditions of "guided" democracy, would not allow the darkest pages of history to be repeated.
We need to be prepared to defend against cyberattacks
Let us return to the modern day. The cyberspace is eerily quiet before Russia's planned separation from the web. This means we need to be ready to ward off Russian cyberattacks.
Ukraine is trying to save as many innocent civilians as possible through negotiations. Russia maintains that Ukraine needs to submit and agree to a puppet regime, recognize Crimea as part of Russia and the independence of the so-called people's republics, and abandon plans to join NATO.
I'm sure this list would start growing as soon as Ukraine accepted even one of these ultimatum-like conditions. Moscow is saying nothing of its own plans, including as concerns cessation of hostilities, not to mention a full troop withdrawal.
It is clear by now that Russia's campaign in Ukraine is not progressing to Putin's liking. No patch of embattled Ukraine, no city or village is showing support for the occupants. But Putin is trying to put on an air of fortitude: Kyiv and Kharkiv need to be taken and a land connection to Crimea established. That is likely his minimum program.
Russia finds itself in a desperate struggle to save the ruble and its foreign exchange reserves, while it is tilting at windmills. Putin is likely considering – for the purpose of rallying the Russian people – the formation of Greater Russia by annexing (currently and ultimately) occupied territories in Ukraine, including the whole of Donbas, but also Belarus, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria into the Russian Federation.
He is also dreaming of the Baltics. If not in terms of occupation, then at least in the key of pro-Russian governments and status outside of NATO. [Russian Foreign Minister] Sergey Lavrov said that there is no threat to the Baltics. This means there is, should Russia succeed in Ukraine.
Western unity crumbling
The war is far from over and could drag on for some time, while it is all but lost from Russia's point of view, provided Western dialogue-lovers can refrain from repeating their 2008 mistakes and overcome the desire to return to "normality" as soon as possible, saving Putin's criminal regime in the process.
Unfortunately, Western unity that we have witnessed until now, and that has been dubbed unprecedented, is crumbling. Signals of weakness and indecisiveness are being sent. There is apparently no way of sending to Ukraine MIG-21 fighters, with messages attached that they wouldn't do much good anyway.
The Finnish defense minister said the time is not right to join NATO. When if not now? Their president fails to take a stand even if that is precisely what it expected of him. Germany and other EU member states say that independence from Russian gas will happen by 2030 (if we're lucky) …
Russia is also betting on millions of Ukrainian war refugees creating similar processes in Europe than Syrians have since 2015 – destabilization of the EU and international (and domestic) squabbling, activation of radical right-wing populist parties and movements.
Ukraine is disappointed that it won't be accepted into the European family immediately. Member states should assuage the Ukrainians and explain that the process takes time. We do not even know the borders of Ukraine as they would apply because the war is ongoing and there is no solution in sight. At the same time, we need to give Ukraine hope that the country will be rebuilt once the war ends and prepared for accession to the EU.
But the most important thing is that the time has come to present Russia with our conditions. Ukraine, together with NATO and European Union members, must demand not just the immediate cessation of hostilities but also a complete, disciplined and prompt withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, including the whole of Donbas.
Secondly, Russia must agree that its "special military operation" is a war of aggression and accept corresponding consequences in accordance with international law, including in terms of war crimes committed.
Thirdly, Russia must pay (for example, from frozen assets in the West) Ukraine reparations for material damage and people (Ukrainian residents) killed and wounded.
Fourthly, signatories of the 1994 Budapest memorandum will prepare a draft resolution on the status and demilitarization of Crimea that will be put to a vote in the UN General Assembly. Every state with a single vote and no veto privileges.
The West's Russian sanctions will remain in force until Russia complies with all of these conditions in full. There has to be motivation.
Only after that could we, in good faith, talk about the European security architecture and arms control, including measures of trust. Respecting, of course, every state's inalienable and equal rights.
These conditions might, of course, seem utopian and unpracticable, while they are entirely justified and right (from the point of view of international law). We have no reason to demand anything less from Russia.
To address Putin and Lavrov's reasoning for ultimatums
The indivisibility of European security stands for the attempt of European and Northern American states (OSCE members) to avoid a new Cold War and Europe being divided into spheres of influence. That has been the meaning of the principle since the Cold War was declared over (unfortunately, prematurely). It was supposed to be a single zone of influence, democracy and rule of law from Vladivostok to Vancouver. Russia left that zone during the Putin era.
On the other hand, no country can better its security at the expense of others. I agree, of course, but would ask Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu or Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov to explain whether the principle hasn't been consistently violated by Russia. Its aggression against Ukraine serving as the clearest example.
Finally, Moscow is observing the only obligation it has assumed in supplying Europe with gas. Why? Because it is in dire need of foreign currency to keep its war machine going. What conclusion should we draw from this?
Editor: Marcus Turovski