Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Stephen Blank Headshot

How Not to Negotiate With Vladimir Putin About Ukraine

Posted: Updated:

Usually states resolve international crises by negotiations. In that context we must remember that by any standard Russia's invasion, occupation, and annexation of Crimea are premeditated acts of war and aggression. On March 30 Secretary of State Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to discuss Ukraine's future. Unfortunately, these talks cannot represent a basis for resolving the crisis. We should remember that Secretary Kerry repeatedly warned Moscow that annexation of Crimea would close the door to negotiations. So we may ask what there is to talk about unless the invasion, occupation and annexation of Crimea are revoked and Ukraine fully participates in any negotiation.

Russia requested these negotiations in an obvious effort to gain Western and especially American support for Russia's acts of war against Ukraine. And its proposals that Ukraine simultaneously become a kind of Finland that pledges not to join any alliance (i.e., NATO or the EU) and a federated state like Switzerland cannot be accepted. There are many reasons why those proposals are unacceptable. On both moral and strategic grounds we cannot and should not accept that Moscow and Washington can decide Ukraine's sovereignty, integrity, and fate over its head and without its participation. Acquiescing in such a process constitutes a sellout of Ukraine that resembles Czechoslovakia's fate at Munich and betrays the achievements that ended the Cold War in 1989-91. The indivisibility of European security represents the great achievement of the post Cold War settlement.

Moreover, in Eastern Europe the principle "nothing about us without us" must now apply to all discussions of security there. Putin's proposal that Russia keep Crimea, that Moscow and Washington jointly impose a virtually disarmed and federalized system upon Ukraine while Russia refuse to deal with or recognize Ukraine must therefore be rejected.

Moscow's demand for federalization represents the purest kind of imperialism and double standards since it, though nominally a federation, refuses to accept those European standards it demands from Ukraine for itself regarding its treatment of minority nationalities. Specifically Russia proposes establishing a federation granting every region of Ukraine wide powers in the economy, culture, language, education, economic and cultural ties with neighboring countries or regions and guaranteeing minority rights. Furthermore, it demands that Russian be the second official language of Ukraine, and that Ukraine ensure the rights of minorities in every constituent entity in accordance with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages a code that it regularly violates every day at home. Clearly this proposal aims to make the West complicit in the destruction of Ukraine's sovereignty and the creation of a permanent set of levers of pro-Russian forces in a weak state that Moscow can eternally manipulate. The result is neither a Finland that could defend itself even if Moscow imposed that reduced status upon Finland at the height of the Cold War nor a truly neutral Switzerland.

The ensuing result of any such accord would actually be an entity with no sovereignty or territorial integrity that could never be even a truly neutral or non-aligned country in Europe. It would represent a Western political ratification of Moscow's acts of war while destroying the foundations of Ukrainian sovereignty, integrity, and statehood as well as the fundamental principles of the post Cold War settlement in Europe. It would open the door to endless security threats to every other European state. And we can also ask, given the number of international accords and treaties that Russia violated in invading, occupying, and annexing Crimea of what values are Russian guarantees?

Therefore, unless Moscow is prepared to negotiate with Ukraine, no negotiation, let alone an agreement on sovereignty or neutrality should even be considered. These are issues for Kyiv alone to decide on its We should also remember that Ukraine's existing constitution barred foreign militaries in Ukraine and the Russo-Ukrainian treaty with Russia in 2010 allowing the deployment of Russian forces in Sevastopol till 2042 broke that principle so Russia can hardly demand Finlandization even if it had not invaded and annexed Crimea. Moreover, NATO has not represented a threat to Russia at any time since 1989. Indeed, Moscow's western frontier is its most secure one for all the fulminating about western threats and Moscow knows it. So there is no need for such declarations. Finally because it annexed Crimea, Russia essentially burned its bridges making any diplomatic resolution short of the full return of Crimea to Ukrainian sovereignty and iron guarantees of Ukraine's security impossible. Of course, since such a "retrocession" of Crimea would now decisively undermine Putin's position at home it is quite unlikely without continuing and escalating sanctions, political isolation, and the strengthening of Ukraine's defenses.

Thus the annexation of Crimea makes a genuine and proper diplomatic resolution of this crisis virtually impossible. We can hope that Secretary Kerry pointed all this out to Mr. Lavrov. Furthermore, he might have noted that while Moscow habitually demands "equal security" with the US it actually wants "unequal security" here. Any "settlement" that negates Ukraine's sovereignty and integrity and that legitimates acts off war only invites further crises and trials and not only in Ukraine or Europe. Meanwhile Ukraine fully display Putin and Lavrov's hypocrisy as Putin wrote in September, 2013. "We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today's complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression."

If Putin cannot live by his own conditions why should we ask Ukraine to abide by them?