The Only Path To Peace With Russia? A New Iron Curtain On Ukraine's Eastern Border
With a decisive deal with Putin out of the question, the only way to create a lasting peace is to recreate some fundamental dynamics of the Cold War.
BERLIN — Volodymyr Zelensky was allowed three minutes, but he spoke for 20. In his speech at the G20 summit in November last year, the Ukrainian president laid out, in greater detail than ever before, how peace with Russia can be achieved – and maintained.
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His main point: “Ukraine is not a member of any of the alliances. And Russia was able to start this war precisely because Ukraine remained in the grey zone – between the Euro-Atlantic world and Russian imperialism. Now, we do not have any security assurances either ... We need effective security assurances.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz echoed these words in parliament recently. “At the G20 summit, President Zelensky set out his suggestions for how to achieve a lasting, fair peace,” Scholz said. “We will help Ukraine to achieve such a peace. That is why we are talking to Kyiv and other partners about future security assurances for Ukraine.”
Scholz did not specify precisely what kind of “security assurances” he meant. But Zelensky was very specific in his G20 speech.
He referred to a draft agreement called the Kyiv Security Compact, which his government had prepared over the previous year, with the advice of former Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Agreements with Moscow are useless
Kyiv believes the document should be signed at an international conference, and that it should form the basis of a long-term security alliance between Ukraine and the West. The suggested security assurances are twofold: firstly, Ukraine’s allies should provide arms over the long term, to deter a Russian attack.
Secondly, the guarantors should commit to stand by Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion. They must commit “to use all elements of their national and collective power” to enable Ukraine to stop the attack – “which may include diplomatic, economic and military means.” These security assurances, which include military assistance, would essentially amount to expanding NATO to Ukraine's eastern border. It is only logical that Olaf Scholz and other Western leaders are now responding to the idea of providing such security assurances.
After two decades of Putin’s rule, everyone must acknowledge that peace with Russia is not possible, only peace despite Russia. Agreements with Moscow are useless, because there is no trust.
Minsk failed because of Moscow's shameless dishonesty
Looking back, the first document to make Ukraine’s security dependent on Russia keeping its word was the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. In this agreement, Ukraine gave up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons, and in exchange, Russia and the West agreed to guarantee the country’s territorial integrity. But when Russia broke the memorandum in 2014, Ukraine was left defenseless.
Then came the Minsk Agreement in 2015, which failed because of Moscow's shameless dishonesty. The Minsk Process was supposed to gradually re-establish Ukraine’s territorial integrity after Russia's 2014 invasion, but for years Moscow’s representatives maintained, with a cold smile, that Russia was not involved in a conflict in Ukraine. In some ways, both parties hindered the Minsk Process – but the reason for its failure was Russia’s insistence on denying reality. Germany and France believed that they could act as honest intermediaries, but Moscow was acting in bad faith. When Putin swept Minsk off the table, Ukraine was left alone.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz standing beside one another in light of Ukraine applying for an EU membership.
Now, Russia has its own tale of broken promises. The Kremlin has repeatedly claimed that the West disregards Russian security interests. This is not untrue. The U.S. promised the Soviet Union, at least verbally, that as compensation for German reunification, NATO would not expand eastward.
For years, U.S. President Bill Clinton repeated this promise to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, while at the same time negotiating NATO membership for Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
Echoes of this history could be heard when, in late 2021, two months before the invasion, Putin demanded “security assurances” from NATO: that there would be no new members, that NATO infrastructure would be returned to how it was in 1997 and that US nuclear weapons would be removed from Europe. The Kremlin demanded that NATO’s eastward expansion be rolled back, which would considerably weaken the Eastern members and leave Ukraine defenseless. NATO refused, and Putin marched his troops into Ukraine.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the West was not honest with Russia. That may have been a missed opportunity. But there is no point dwelling on these questions now, because there is no longer any chance of reaching an agreement with Putin’s Russia.
Just as the U.S. protected Germany, now Germany has a responsibility to guarantee the existence of Ukraine.
Putin sees German reunification and NATO’s eastward expansion as a kind of betrayal, and in his revanchist policies, he seeks to push the Iron Curtain as far back towards the West as possible.
Today’s Russia is a totalitarian, imperialistic state. Putin no longer clings to the logic of the Cold War, but the logic of the Second World War. He wants to bring Ukraine back into his empire, and to use his illegal war to re-draw internationally recognized borders.
Now, a lasting peace can only mean a new Cold War. Only an Iron Curtain on Ukraine’s eastern border – created through robust security assurances – can stop Putin.
There is one alternative: to sacrifice Ukraine and allow it to become a protectorate of Putin’s. That is not an acceptable outcome for Germany, which owes its freedom and prosperity to American promises to protect Europe.
To be safe from Stalin, West Germany chose ties with the West, including security assurances from the U.S., which continues to protect the country from Putin. Just as the U.S. protected Germany, now Germany has a responsibility to guarantee the existence of Ukraine.
This would mean a new Cold War. But that would be step forward. It would bring about what is now lacking: security for Ukraine and stability for Europe.