No one should be under any illusions that Ukraine is about to join the EU or NATO. If this war is to end in a lasting peace, Ukrainians will have to accept a new position on the world stage and a new approach. The famously "neutral" and multilingual Switzerland could be a model.
BERLIN — Without a doubt, Vladimir Putin’s deadly war in Ukraine deserves the nearly universal condemnation it has sparked. But in order to understand the conflict, we must also look at the history of political miscalculations that has led up to it.
Efforts at diplomacy ended in utter failure, including the approach of foreign policy leaders in Germany and elsewhere in the West. Politicians have allowed tensions to simmer away, ignoring the very real threat that they could develop into an explosive situation.
Instead of looking for a viable solution, the West has encouraged the Ukrainian government to believe that the country could one day become a member of NATO. In September last year, NATO carried out joint military exercises in Ukrainian territory.
Advice for Kyiv
Politicians in Moscow, as well as Washington, London, Paris and Berlin, would all have done well to heed Henry Kissinger’s call for leaders on all sides to focus on concrete outcomes rather than posturing. He suggested that Ukraine should give up its ambitions of NATO membership, and reach a compromise with Russia. But this advice was ignored.
No one will "win" this war.
Faced with the current devastation in Ukraine, we must offer all possible help to the country, except for measures that would risk setting off a Third World War. Perhaps the best way we can help is to offer constructive ideas about Ukraine’s place on the world stage, ideas that are acceptable to all sides and offer the possibility of long-term peace in the region.
It’s encouraging to see media reports that French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Chinese President Xi Jinping are seeking to work together to find a political solution to the Ukraine crisis. For that to happen, all those involved need to recognize that – unless we are prepared to see thousands of deaths and widespread destruction – it is impossible for the war in Ukraine to be “won” in a military sense.
However, even after a “victory,” peace would be a political impossibility, given the far-reaching, long-lasting global economic and political devastation that will inevitably result from the war.
If the search for a political solution is to be more than just empty words, we must ask: what structures need to be in place for Ukraine to remain a free, democratic society and a sovereign state, but at the same time maintain peaceful relations with Russia and other neighboring countries?
EU heads of state met at the Versailles summit to discuss further sanctions against Russia
The Swiss solution
Given Ukraine’s ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity, it could take the Swiss constitution as a model. Over centuries, Switzerland found a way to successfully develop its democracy in which decisions are made at a local level, a society built on mutual respect for the different cultures, ethnicities and languages in the population.
Switzerland’s special situation means it is committed to military neutrality, but that does not mean it has had to compromise its political values.
If Ukraine were to emulate the Swiss model and structure itself as a neutral, multilingual state divided into cantons, that could allow it to enjoy better relations with both Russia and the European Union, both politically and economically.
The Russian-speaking Donbas region could be treated as an autonomous canton. It remains to be seen whether negotiations could succeed in reversing the annexation of Crimea. However, if all sides acknowledge the potential of cross-border economic and political cooperation, the Crimea question could become less important, and we may be able to find a pragmatic solution.
If Ukraine adopted this approach, it’s unlikely that the country would be able to join the European Union in the future, as the EU would be protective of its own interests and wary of overreaching itself. However, the EU, Ukraine and Russia could agree on a free-trade zone, which would bring economic benefits for all sides.
This means letting go of the anachronistic, nationalistic desire for power.
Of course, it would take courage and determination for Ukraine to seek to achieve peace through adopting a “Swiss constitution,” as it means letting go of the anachronistic, nationalistic desire for power. It would require a willingness to compromise and forego ultimatums.
For the closely related, peace-loving people of Ukraine and Russia, the Swiss model could offer a path to a promising future in which Ukraine could fulfill its rich cultural and economic potential as it never has before, bringing advantages for the country itself and for the wider world.
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