The restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty over all its territory has been widely accepted as a part of the “Ukrainian terms for a just peace.” This works on the assumption that the war automatically ends when Ukrainian forces expel the last Russian from their territory. That’s misleading and — worryingly — it takes almost no account of Russian history.
Russia tends to regard war as a game of two halves with defeat merely marking the end of the first period. This is precisely what happened with all the conflicts that Russia lost during the 20th century: that is, the wars with Japan, Afghanistan, and Chechnya.
An older generation of Americans remembers the bloody Korean war (1950-53) that took more than 50,000 US lives. It is less known that the roots of this war date back to the end of the 19th century. The endeavor of the Russian empire to capture Korea culminated in the Russia-Japan war of 1904-05, one of the most shameful wars in Russian history. Czarist Russia’s defeat was overwhelming — it won not a single battle and two of Russia’s most modern fleets were completely destroyed.
Yet, that was not the end of it. Russia returned to the issue when Stalin saw a chance to conquer Korea as the US victory over Japan approached in 1945. Seeking to end World War II as quickly as possible, the US and UK made a deal with the devil, allowing him to take swathes of east Asia, including northern Korea as far as the 38th parallel.
From 1994, Chechen paramilitary groups of farmers, shepherds, and oil-field workers were running rings around the Russian regular army after its December invasion until August 1996, when Russian General Alexander Lebed signed the Khasavyurt Accord. The subsequent peace treaty, signed in May 1997 by President Boris Yeltsin, gave all possible freedoms to Chechnya and made it, de facto, a semi-independent state.
Yet, this was only a pause. Two years later in August 1999, the Russians returned to launch the second Chechen war. This time they were determined to get a better outcome, something they achieved through the utter devastation of the republic, the razing of towns, and the massacre of civilians; in other words precisely the same tactics they employed against Ukrainians following their defeats following their failure to conduct modern, combined arms warfare.
Ten years of the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979-1989) ended in defeat and the formal withdrawal of troops. However, Russian involvement in the conflict continued. By supporting various warlords, Russia continued to undermine the regional peace process for many years. The fact that Taliban representatives were among the few “true allies” of Russia at the Saint Petersburg international economic forum in June 2022 says a lot about the role that Russia played in Afghanistan after 1989.
It should be clear from these examples that defeating Russia is only the first step toward peace. Is there any reason to expect that Ukraine will be an exception? None at all.
A long-lasting peace in Europe is hardly possible without a serious transformation of the continent’s entire security architecture. What should this be? It could mean NATO membership for Ukraine, or its special status as a non-bloc ally, or some other option.
But what really matters is that this new security arrangement provides Ukraine with clear and practical guarantees which can be implemented in times of crisis. Ukraine remembers the Budapest memorandum of 1994, which deprived it of the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal in return for empty promises. The failure to make good on that document got us where we are today; with Ukraine fighting for its national existence.
Oleksandr Moskalenko is an academic researcher focusing on European politics. He is an In-resident Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA, Washington, DC). He is a Ph.D. in European Law .
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.