Status quo ante bellum: what does it mean for the war in Ukraine

by John Q on September 26, 2022

Back in 2011, I wrote a post arguing that

self-defense (including collective self-defense) is justified only to the extent of restoring the status quo ante bellum. That is, having defeated an aggressor, a country is not justified in seizing territory, unilaterally exacting reparations or imposing a new government on its opponent. Conversely, and regardless of the alleged starting point, countries not directly involved should never recognise a forcibly imposed transfer of territory or similar attempt to achieve advantages through war.

What does this claim mean in the context of the war in Ukraine? In my view, it means that the Ukrainian government and its international supporters should seek a ceasefire in which Russia withdraws its forces to their positions of 23 February, without conceding any Russian claims regarding annexations or (if they still operate after the sham referendums) the Luhansk and Donetsk separatist republics.

It is already evident that the Russian army can’t hope to secure a better outcome than this. Judging by hostile leaks and popular opposition, lots of Russians, including in the military have recognised this, even if Putin hasn’t. But, on current indications, it will take a long time before the Ukrainians can recover all the territory currently occupied since the invasion. An early Russian withdrawal would liberate tens of thousands of people from a brutal occupation, as well as preventing vast loss of life on both sides (bearing in mind that the Russian army will increasingly be made up of conscripts, including Ukrainians). And more of the aid flowing to Ukraine could be used for rebuilding, rather than expended in fighting.

A ceasefire wouldn’t imply that Zelensky was going back on the pledge to recover all the territory of Ukraine, including Crimea. The Ukrainian position would be the same as it was before the invasion. But it was clear then that the areas under occupation couldn’t be recovered by force and that is probably still true, particularly as regards Crimea.

An obvious question is whether a ceasefire would give the Russians the chance to rebuild for another attack. In my view, the opposite is more likely. By next year, Russian energy exports to the EU will have ceased, and Russia’s technical capacity will have degraded further through the effects of sanctions and the flight of skilled workers. Meanwhile, Ukraine will have the chance to train its enlarged army, and reorient its economy towards the EU.

Of course, wars change things and an exact return to the status quo ante bellum is impossible. The dead are still dead, the crimes committed during the war will not be absolved, the aggressor can rarely be made to pay full reparation, and so on. Both sides will be worse off than if the war never happened.

I’d be interested in thoughts. However, anyone thinking putting forward a pro-Putin, or anti-anti-Putin position should stay quiet. No comment of this kind will be published, and the commenter will be permanently banned. If you’re in doubt, that probably means you shouldn’t comment.

{ 104 comments }

1

Chetan Murthy 09.26.22 at 5:15 am

Doesn’t this assume that Feb 23 2022 was “ante bellum” ? I think most Ukrainians felt they were in a state of war since 2014: certainly the government acted that way, didn’t it? Armed hostilities were in-progress for years. People were getting killed, etc, etc. Why didn’t UA kick RU out of its occupied lands? B/c UA didn’t have the weaponry (remember how the US insisted that the Javelins we were transferring could not be used in the Donbas?)

I would think that “status quo ante bellum” should be 2013. Not Feb 23 2022.

2

Chetan Murthy 09.26.22 at 5:17 am

Regarding Crimea, why should that be problematic? RU has transferred many thousands of its citizens there, and has cleansed the Crimean Tatars: should that mean that somehow RU gets to keep the land? Why should the legitimate claims of the Crimean Tatars not take precedence?

3

v 09.26.22 at 5:48 am

Why wouldn’t Putin use tactical nukes if he was genuinely thought he was losing at-scale in the Ukraine such that the status quo ante bellum deal would look attractive ? i.e., right now (rightly or wrongly) he seems to think that he can outwait the West and Ukraine and/or might win. However, if he thought he was at risk of imminent loss of the occupied Ukrainian territory (the situation where the deal you propose would make sense for him to take), then wouldn’t his rational move be to escalate with tactical nukes? That option has a ton of disadvantages but the West does not seem to have a credible response to it and he in that situation would have limited downside (i.e. he and his regime would seem unlikely to survive such an obvious defeat).

I have no good better answers than what you propose but am interested in hearing why the above reasoning is wrong (which I hope it is)

4

vasi 09.26.22 at 7:46 am

A ceasefire on Feb 23 lines would be much better than war! But it’s just one of a wide range of potential resolutions, that are all better than war, so I wouldn’t want to insist on this one in particular.

For example, I could imagine a treaty where Ukraine joins NATO with limitations on forward basing, and as a precondition recognizes annexation of Crimea and pre-2022 LPR/DPR. It’d resolve Ukraine’s concerns about a resumption of war, but also let Russia save face.

Honestly though, if it was up to me, I’d accept just about any deal that allows Ukraine to live in safety and with sovereignty.

5

Matt 09.26.22 at 7:56 am

I think these are genuinely difficult questions – ones that tend to lead me to the conclusion that historical claims, as such, are probably worthless. This is a pretty unpopular opinion, both with the public and with political philsophers, as far as I can tell. (I’d apply the claim pretty broadly, though.) One of the strongest arguments against the claim in the post is Chethan Murphy’s – that taking Feb. 24 as the starting date is both arbitrary and not reflective of the “situation on the ground”. The other argument that seems to have some weight to me is that even this would encourage Putin/Russia to continue cutting little bits off from neighbors. I think, for example, that Abkhazia is lost to Georgia, and that the sooner people in Georgia accept that and move on the better off they will be, but it’s not obvious that, if we do that for Abkazia and South Ossetia, that it won’t encourage future aggression. And then how long must the territory be held before it should be considered “gone”? Not one day, but (apparently) 7 years is enough? (If so, were the Baltic states unjustified in splitting from the Soviet Union? They’d been part of the Russian empire for hundreds of years, and then part of the Soviet Union for 50 +, with the 20+ year break being due almost completely to an unjust peace forced by German aggression…)

In any case, I’m not able to come up with any sort of principle that seems to work here, but a purely pragmatic approach also doesn’t seem very satisfying, and is also pretty hard to work out.

6

roger gathmann 09.26.22 at 8:13 am

The Chinese and Indian support for negotiation has to hit Putin hard. I am seriously hoping that negotiations happen. Myself, I don’t see any scenario where Crimea goes back to the Ukraine, but the Donbass is another matter. The situation of that region with Kyev is rather like Northern Iraq with Baghdad. A federation of some sort is eminently possible. This, at least, can be the starting place for negotiations.
I don’t see the economic sanctions on Russia having the severe effect next year that is suggested in this post. I think the sanctions are backfiring big time in Europe. As Russia’s “energy imports to Europe cease” is quite a quiet phrase for – as energy prices surge and knock out Europe’s economies. Europe’s governing elite had more than two decades to find other sources, but didn’t. There was always something hollow about dissing Putin, on the one hand, and using cheap Russian energy to “modernize”, i e neo-liberalize European economies. This situation should put pressure on Zelensky to use this window. Hopefully, there will be a serious EU wide effort in the meantime to get other power sources up and running. This is the time to spend money on infrastructure like never before. I fear, instead, it will be austerity city.

7

J Tarwood 09.26.22 at 8:21 am

From the start of the war, Chomsky and a few others have argued Russia was provoked, and that Ukraine–corrupt, Nazi-ridden–should stop fighting because while Putin is a bad man, he has the bomb and Zelenskyy does not. (Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for Russia accepting its borders.)

Ukraine has been able to first resist, and regain lost land with the help of NATO weapons; but it also hasn’t lost because it still wants to win.

A ceasefire now would be accepting occupation of Donbas; it would be giving Putin a victory. I doubt any Ukraine government–except one made of quislings–would be able to do that.

8

lurker 09.26.22 at 9:23 am

There’s been significant transfers of population, not just territory, involved, e.g.:
https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/09/08/un-evidence-of-russia-taking-ukrainian-children-a78739
Status quo would require return of the deported, of the stolen children, of the press-ganged men, of all the prisoners in filtration camps. And I just can’t see Russia agreeing to that as long as they have other options.

9

Moz 09.26.22 at 9:47 am

Chetan Murthy: it’s common for invaders to do that, and equally common for the subsequent vote to be respected internationally. New Caledonia remains part of Greater France, for example, because “all resident citizens” (who haven’t been killed, exiled or imprisoned) got to vote, not just ethnic New Caledonians. The Timor and Papua votes had similar issues. As well as other places too controversial to mention.

Prof Q will no doubt agree that if such a referendum was held in Australia it shouldn’t be just First Nations people who get to vote, just as they weren’t the only ones voting on the Federation question(s) back in 1900-ish. But if you allow nissei or even issei to vote, you have the stacking problem. It’s worse if you allow displaced people to vote, but also if you don’t (right now… who wants to return to Crimea to vote in that independence referendum?)

10

Fake Dave 09.26.22 at 10:03 am

I agree with Chethan Murthy. “Ante bellum” has to mean pre-2014 or we are in some senses legitimizing the invasions and sham republics in Crimea and Eastern Donbas. These “frozen” conflicts have a way of thawing again as we’ve seen and it doesn’t seem right to condemn large swathes of Eastern Ukraine to the same existential limbo they were in before. The post-Soviet borders have always been contentious, but I don’t think it serves the interest of lasting peace for Russia to keep viewing its neighbors’ borders as temporary and negotiable.

11

Salem 09.26.22 at 10:50 am

Fully agree with Chetan. Russian occupation of Crimea and the puppet republics is an ongoing breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty, which Ukraine is fully justified in using self-defence to remedy. Ukraine didn’t have the means to do so previously, but that doesn’t put its rights in abeyance. The minimum basis of any peace should be:
* Full restoration of Ukrainian territorial integrity.
* Return of all deported Ukrainian citizens.

With desirable additional elements being:
* Reparations
* War crimes tribunals
* Withdrawal of Russian support for illegal occupations elsewhere (e.g. Transnistria, Ossetia, etc)
* Significant demilitarisation of Russia
* Lifting of Western sanctions on Russia.

12

Dwight L. Cramer 09.26.22 at 2:33 pm

Uh, the war did not start in February. You may have first noticed it in that time frame, but it started 8 years ago. It’s not a matter of how Ukranians ‘feel’, it’s indisputable that Russia (unless you believe in little green men) invaded Ukraine in 2014, the West responded with (ineffective) sanctions and to the extent feasible given the condition of its forces, Ukraine resisted, resulted in a stalemate, a ‘frozen conflict’ (to use the phase de jour) that Russian attempted to conclude victorious with the campaign that began last February. Russia unfroze the conflict in February (to put it mildly), it did not violate a peace.

So, a return to the status quo ante is a good idea, you just need to understand what ‘ante’ means. I’m not sure academic concepts of international law will be determinative here, but to the extent that they are relevant, clarity in their application is important.

13

Guy 09.26.22 at 3:27 pm

@V

The short version is, “because his international position can get a lot worse”.

The West has imposed sanctions, but those sanctions can be made more extreme. China and India have thus far stayed neutral, but the use of a nuclear weapon would be a strong push for them to join the sanctions camp. Putin currently has some hope of peeling off, or at least outlasting the political will for, Western Ukrainian support, but using a nuke would end any prospect of that. The West is supplying arms to Ukraine, but currently not its best weapons. And while I think conventional NATO intervention is the least likely response because of the escalation risk, Putin also has to reckon that NATO could respond by obliterating all of his military assets in Ukraine (at which point Putin can commit murder-suicide by pressing the big red button, but he started out wanting to make Russia Great Again, so making it into radioactive glass would be a disappointing outcome for him even if he takes human civilization with him).

And on the other side of the ledger, what does using a tactical nuke get him? It’s not going to automatically win the war for him. Modern armies don’t concentrate enough to be particularly vulnerable to a nuke, so he’d pretty much have to target a city, which would be a horrific atrocity, but limited in terms of military efficacy. Would the Ukrainian government surrender if he nukes Kyiv? It’s possible, but it’s also quite possible (and based on events to date I’d say more likely) that it would have the opposite effect.

Of course, the commencement of the war was itself irrational (though much less obviously so, given that people on both sides thought the Russian military far more capable than it turned out to be), and there’s always the possibility that Putin feels backed into a corner and goes for it even if it doesn’t make sense (this is one of the reasons why having lots of nukes in the world is bad), but there are some pretty strong reasons why he should hesitate.

14

Aardvark Cheeselog 09.26.22 at 3:34 pm

I’m pretty sure the Ukrainians think that “status quo ante” means the 1991 borders, not last January. Probably Western leaders ought to be thinking about how accommodating they can afford to be with that.

15

steven t johnson 09.26.22 at 4:06 pm

As advised, you are permanently banned

16

Scott P. 09.26.22 at 4:09 pm

“In my view, it means that the Ukrainian government and its international supporters should seek a ceasefire in which Russia withdraws its forces to their positions of 23 February, “

I’m not quite sure what this means. Russia has it within its power to offer such a ceasefire, but neither Ukraine nor its supporters have the ability to ‘seek’ such an outcome. The ball is in Russia’s court.

17

Jonathan 09.26.22 at 4:51 pm

As a general policy I disagree, because I think it gives aggressors a strategic advantage over defenders. We shouldn’t enable a strategy of attack, achieve limited goals, declare a cease fire or force a stalemate, negotiate in bad faith, and then resume the attack when conditions are favorable with a guarantee that they can’t lose what they’ve already gained. We should want military conquest to be as risky as possible to discourage it’s use over seeking an end to active conflict as fast as possible.

We also shouldn’t create a disincentive to making cease fires, by granting the present conditions the nearly the same status as the prewar status quo. If there’s little difference between a ceasefire and a surrender, what is the incentive to either grant a ceasefire or for the aggressor to negotiate in good faith after one?

18

banned commenter 09.26.22 at 5:11 pm

“In my view, it means that the Ukrainian government and its international supporters should seek a ceasefire in which Russia withdraws…”

That’s what is known as ‘dividing the skin of an unkilled bear’…

19

mw 09.26.22 at 5:45 pm

Why wouldn’t Putin use tactical nukes if he was genuinely thought he was losing at-scale in the Ukraine

Possibly because he’s not confident that such an order would be carried out and that merely attempting to issue it would bring about his immediate downfall? Or possibly because such an act would be seen as such an egregious a violation of the international order that countries currently inclined to look the other way and continue trading with Russia (mainly India and China) would feel compelled to cut Russia off completely?

20

Alex SL 09.26.22 at 10:21 pm

As others have pointed out, status quo ante bellum always has moral problems. First, when did the war start? An argument can be made that it was at least with the invasion of the Luhansk and Donetsk areas.

Second, there is no way to return to status quo ante bellum anyway unless one were able to magically reanimate all the victims of the war and rebuild the destroyed houses and infrastructure at no cost whatsoever. If Russian forces withdraw, and that’s it, significant parts of Ukraine are rubble, while Russia remains untouched. Thus the idea of reparations in wars of the past.

Of course, this reasoning is informed by moral outrage, not political feasibility. As others have also pointed out, such is the reality of human history. Former colonies are now free nations, but their indigenous cultures have been irrevocably lost, their industrial capability at the time was destroyed, many indigenous peoples have been replaced with Europeans, and the resource wealth of many parts of the planet was carried off to European countries whose inhabitants now lazily conclude that there must be something wrong with the Bolivians or Namibians for not being as wealthy as themselves. If there was moral justice for invaders in this world it would look quite different.

21

James Landry 09.26.22 at 11:33 pm

To reiterate, the war started in 2014. Russia invaded, which it lied about initially. Ukraine was on the cusp of taking back the Donbas and regular Russian troops invaded to rescue the situation. The war was never frozen, and there was regular exchange of fire and deaths along the front lines. Russia opened a new front by invading and seeking to take Kiev. Russia failed at this, and now it is a slugfest in the Donbas and in Kherson. The status quo ante are the recognized borders of Ukraine from 1991.

22

J-D 09.27.22 at 12:52 am

Would application of the principle of status quo ante bellum to the Eighty Years War, or the April Uprising, or the Ten Days War, or any other war of independence, mean independence not being granted or achieved, on the grounds that at the beginning of the war the territory whose independence was being sought was not independent?

23

John Quiggin 09.27.22 at 2:02 am

J-D @22 I must admit I’ve never heard of any of these. But the general answer is that the pursuit of political goals through violence (including war, revolution, terrorism etc) is inconsistent with the principle, unless the existing state is so oppressive that self-defence requires armed resistance.
Revolutions, including wars of independence, usually fail, except in circumstances where the existing regime is likely to fall in any case. And when they succeed, the change is often not for the better.

24

J-D 09.27.22 at 4:23 am

I must admit I’ve never heard of any of these.

Fair enough. I had to get some of the names from the Wikipedia list:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_of_independence
The Eighty Years War, from 1588 to 1648, also known as the Dutch Revolt, was fought for independence from the Spanish Hapsburgs, and resulted in independence for the United Provinces, also known as the Dutch Republic.
The April Uprising, in 1876, was fought for independence from the Ottomans, and was unsuccessful in itself, but the international response, including the ensuing Russo-Turkish War, resulted in the establishment of an independent Bulgaria.
The Ten Days War, in 1991 (so this is one both of us lived through–at least, we lived through the news reports), was fought for independence from Yugoslavia and resulted in independence for Slovenia.
There are lots of other wars on that Wikipedia list–and probably lots more that haven’t been listed–many which resulted in independence being achieved as well as many which did not.

… unless the existing state is so oppressive that self-defence requires armed resistance.

There’s more than one way of interpreting that qualification. Through most of history, in most states, how much scope did most people have to defend themselves against the state without resorting to arms? There’s at least a case that could be argued that most of the time the only way people had to defend themselves against the state was by armed resistance.

I wouldn’t say this argument would justify all or even most of the occasions when, in fact, people have resorted to arms, only that there are serious complexities lurking behind the verbal formulation.

Revolutions, including wars of independence, usually fail …

For what it’s worth, a lot of the wars of independence in the Wikipedia list ended with independence being achieved, although…

… when they succeed, the change is often not for the better.

… I’m not committed to the opinion that the achievement of independence was always or even mostly worth the price paid for it. I know for a fact that there are examples in history of dedicated fighters for independence who could be found, in the later times after independence was well established, saying ‘If I’d known this was how it would turn out, I wouldn’t have fought for it’, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this turned out to be a common phenomenon.

So, as a general proposition, I feel dubious about a lot of fighters for independence, but I don’t generally think any better of those who are fighting against them. Reading about the recent struggle over the campaign for Catalan independence (which at least hasn’t broken out into a war, yet, this time), I feel that neither side has a good case.

25

Chetan Murthy 09.27.22 at 4:41 am

JQ @ 23: surely the Russian state is so oppressive, so genocidal, that Ukrainian self-defense requires, demands they recover all their land, all their people ? Surely ? I mean, it might be done thing if Russia were abiding by the laws of war, or at least not flagrantly violating them at every step. But it seems clearer and clearer that genocide is the sum total of Russia’s war strategy at this point. It seems clear that Stalin’s method of “move populations far away from their ancestral homelands as a means of destroying them” isn’t ancient history: that it’s modern Russian strategic thinking: they move hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians into Russia, and move hundreds of thousands of Russian colonists into Ukraine.

Any shred of a win for Russia, is just a guarantee that they’ll come back for another bite of that apple. Even if it weren’t for Ukraine’s sake, Russia needs to be taken down to the studs, rendered not a threat to Europe. Every one of Russia’s neighbors is starting to realize this: all the Stans, Mongolia, of course China.

26

John Quiggin 09.27.22 at 7:57 am

Chetan, I’ll cite Quiggin’s Rule of Surely: it’s a sure sign that you’re not sure

Russia’s actions in Ukraine since February 24 are incomparably worse than what happened in Crimea and the occupied parts of Donbas. That’s why, before February, no-one was suggesting military action to push them out.

The point of status quo ante is precisely that it is the minimum cost outcome doesn’t give the aggressor “any shred of a win”. If it is achieved, Russia will have lost most of its professional armed forces, its European energy markets, and much of the economic development of the post-Soviet period, and gained zero.

The purported annexations will remain unrecognised, and will eventually be reversed as has happened in similar instances like Timor L’Este

27

John Quiggin 09.27.22 at 8:05 am

J-D, I looked up the April uprising. Bulgarian nationalists massacred their Muslim neighbours, the Ottoman government massacred Bulgarians on an even larger scale, Russia intervened and defeated the Ottomans, but both Bulgaria and Turkey ended up on the side of the Central Powers in the Great War. Not a great example of the benefits of war.

And the Eighty Years war speaks for itself. Given human mortality, virtually everyone who was in at the start was dead by the finish, whatever that was.

28

J-D 09.27.22 at 10:47 am

… Not a great example of the benefits of war. …

I’m not sure whether you’re trying to make, as if it’s a point against me, some point that I’ve already acknowledged myself. I wasn’t arguing for the benefits of war. It’s a fact that for many countries in this world, their independence is a consequence of war, which is not to say it must be a benefit; it’s also a fact, therefore, that a resolution of those wars on a basis of the status quo ante bellum would have denied them their independence, which is not to say that those wars are thereby justified. For just one example of what I mean, it’s a fact that Poland became independent as a consequence of the First World War; I’m not trying to judge, one way or the other, whether Polish independence was a good thing, still less whether it was worth the cost. If the First World War had been settled on a basis of the status quo ante bellum, Polish independence would have been denied; I’m not trying to suggest that this outcome justified the countries who launched the war, who certainly didn’t do so with the object of making Poland independent.

As far as I can tell, there’s nearly always a desire to maintain independence in those countries which are independent, many of which, as I observed, became so by fighting for it; but who knows? Perhaps if those countries had not become independent by warlike means, they would nevertheless have become independent at some later date by peaceful means, like those other countries which have become independent without war. I don’t know of any way to judge the likelihood of that.

But how would you sell the principle of status quo ante bellum to the Dutch in 1640, or the Chileans in 1820, or the Americans in 1780, or the Mozambicans in 1970, or the Vietnamese in 1950, or the Algerians in 1960, just for example (there’s no shortage of those)? I’m not arguing that all of them were right, only that they would have been hard to convince.

29

Mike 09.27.22 at 12:11 pm

“status quo ante bellum” is a rule of thumb that doesn’t strike me as especially relevant for a number of reasons.

First, which ante bellum? See “This Land Is Mine” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tIdCsMufIY

Second, why should the most recent ante-bellum be privileged?

Third, there might be opportunity to resolve old problems. For example, creation of a Kurdistan would have been a big win.

Fourth, removal of an aggressor is important for the same reason we enforce laws against violence. Sometimes, as after WWII in Germany, Italy, and Japan, it is a resounding success.

30

Colin R 09.27.22 at 5:22 pm

I guess you might argue from a humanitarian standpoint that everyone should simply cease hostilities immediately, but if we are only talking about a ceasefire then usually you’re assuming either that the hostilities are going to resume again in the future or that, at best, you have a heavily militarized standoff like Korea, both of which have their own humanitarian costs.

A ceasefire where Russia doesn’t feel like it had a big setback, and where international support ebbs for Ukraine while the hostilities die down, would be pretty much a disaster for Ukraine–letting Russian bide its time for another attack down the road. You seem sanguine about that, but if the Ukrainian war is in the rearview and more fascist governments are in place in Europe and the Americas, how long is Russia likely to remain an outcast?

Anyway given that Ukraine is the party under attack (and Russia could end this all very quickly by withdrawing), the only ceasefire it seems Ukraine could or should accept is the one that leaves it in the strongest position for the implied next round of hostilities.

31

Stephen 09.27.22 at 7:35 pm

Don’t know if this helps, but consider the much-disputed provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.

Ca. 1550, part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.

Ca 1720, after various lost wars and treaties, part of France (but SQAB, German)

1871, after Franco-Prussian War, part of Germany (SQAB, French)

1918, after WW1, French (SQAB, German)

1940, after French defeat and armistice treaty, German (SQAB, French)

1945, after WW2, French (SQA renovatio B German)

So, SQAB, AB, AB, AB, AB, German. But now French.

How far is the SQAB concept useful? Apart from saying look, the Germans lost the last war and are in no position to start another, so go with the SQ post that B and ante some other B.

32

Seekonk 09.27.22 at 10:29 pm

How about resolving this by arbitration?
Each side proposes a list of persons, entities, or governments that it would accept as arbitrators. Kinda like how Trump and the US government agreed on a special master regarding the documents seized at Mar-a-Lago.

33

Fake Dave 09.28.22 at 5:57 am

“The purported annexations will remain unrecognised, and will eventually be reversed as has happened in similar instances like Timor L’Este”

How does this prediction square with Putin’s apparent Plan D of annexing all of occupied Ukraine on the basis of last-minute gunpoint “referenda” (exit polls say 90% support!) then threatening to nuke anyone who steps onto what is now sovereign Russian soil? I don’t think they’re planning to give anything back and if anything they’re still escalating. Maybe it’s all bluster and they’ll come back to the table before it gets that far, but that’s what people were saying in January.

34

Alan Peakall 09.28.22 at 7:45 am

It might be one of Bernard Woolley’s beloved irregular verbs:

I favour restoration of the status quo ante bellum;
You are an irredentist;
He is on trial for war crimes before the the ICC.

35

banned commenter 09.28.22 at 8:40 am

Arguably, the status quo ante bellum would entail restoring Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions in power. But that’s, of course, impossible.

Crimean reunification with the RF is the only good thing that happened in that general area in 2014. It’s highly, extremely, unbelievably unlikely that it can be reversed in the foreseeable future.

As for the rest, the RF had spent 7 years, from 2015 to 2022, trying to bring the rebel territories back to Ukraine, according to the Minsk II agreement signed by all sides in February 2015. The Minsk II agreement, had it succeeded, would have rendered Ukraine a neutral country, giving the two eastern regions veto power over foreign policy. But all attempts to implement Minsk II failed. The war in the east kept going on, with no end in sight.

36

Elizabeth MCINTOSH 09.28.22 at 11:34 am

Not sure there are any moral principles in determining post war borders. When Edward I, Hammer of the Scot, was asked by what right he claimed sovereignty over Scotland he answered, ‘Might’. It was only his death and eventual military defeat and loss of interest that changed things.
That seems to have been the dominant justification since. So, the USA borders include Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California seized from Mexico; Germany’s post 1945 borders exclude Prussia; Turkey has a Mediterranean coast; Ethiopia wants to retain Tigre; China has Tibet as a province.
Some of these may, some day, revert to a status quo ante. Most will just be accepted with some tut tutting.

37

Ray Vinmad 09.28.22 at 12:13 pm

Status quo ante bellum might be a way of ending the war more quickly.

One possibility is that the war will go on for a very long time, and lead to a stalemate. That often happens.

Another possibility is that Putin won’t last and as soon as he is gone it will be easier to arrive at something people in the contested areas and people of Ukraine can live with. A lot of things could be possible.

It might depend on whether this is mostly Putin’s war.

But a gamble of lives v. the gamble of time seems to favor lives.

If this conflict ends more quickly, time is on the side of Ukraine, depending on the settlement.

Might it not be worth it to end the conflict soon and leave the other issues for the future?

Russians–or some of them–may have war fever now but it’s not impossiblee they will recognize the illegitimacy of Putin’s invasion in time.

It’s a risk, but one where fewer people die. And perhaps it is unfair to the nation as a whole but people in the disputed territories might prefer to be alive rather than be reunited with Ukraine.

Nations matter but so do individual people.

38

Guy 09.28.22 at 3:44 pm

@26

I don’t think it’s correct to say that pre-February 2022, “no one was suggesting military action to push the Russians out of the Donbas and Crimea”, because the Ukrainians were not only suggesting that, they were trying to do that. The international world wasn’t paying attention, but Ukrainians and Russians have been fighting and dying in the Donbas since 2014.

I also think your confidence that Russia’s purported annexations would eventually be reversed without resort to military force is quite blithe. I don’t know the circumstances of East Timor, but I would think a much better comparison would be the other instances where Russia has occupied territory of its neighbours and then refused to give it back, such as South Ossetia (occupied since 2008) and Transnistria (occupied since 1992). There’s a pattern of Russian behaviour here, and it doesn’t suggest that Russia has any intention of returning the territory it seizes.

39

Doug M. 09.28.22 at 5:19 pm

You do seem to be sedulously ignoring the question of “why February 2022 and not 2013”. The closest you’ve come to an answer is “well things in the Donbass / Crimea 2014-2022 weren’t that bad”.

(1) They were actually pretty bad! Donbass’ economy collapsed, and it turned into a poverty-stricken hellhole run by organized crime and militias. Median per capita GDP dropped by nearly 50%, life expectancy seems to have dropped by around a decade, poverty and infant mortality soared. The Russian-occupied Donbass is estimated to have lost around a third of its population during those years, almost entirely due to people leaving — voting with their feet.

Crimea was less bad economically, because Russia chose to make it a showcase and invested billions of dollars of oil money to prop up the Crimean economy. However, the Crimean Tatars — the only people who can claim with a straight face to be “indigenous” — have been brutally oppressed, including the imprisonment or disappearance of pretty much all Crim Tatar leaders and spokespeople. The Tatars now undergoing slow-motion ethnic cleansing through a combination of encouraged emigration and forced Russfication. Meanwhile, Russia has been engaging in aggressive demographic engineering to ensure a long-term Russian majority there (which firmly did not exist in 2014). Note here that the Ukrainians have declared the Tatars a protected minority with a bunch of special rights — which the Russians very firmly have not.

IIUC your position seems to be “all that isn’t /that/ bad, and after all it will eventually self-correct, like East Timor, so it’s certainly not worth fighting a war over”. Is that a fair summation?

2) Again — why is Russia to be given a bye for its aggression of 2014? Or, to rephrase the question — at this time last year, would you have supported the expulsion of Russia from Crimea and the Donbass? Because that would have been the “SQAB” at the time.

3) “Like Timor L’Este” — and not, presumably, like Tibet or South Sahara or Palestine. How do you support the assertion that it will be like one and not the other? Show work, please.

4) I’ve been living in the fUSSR for most of the last 15 years. And across the region, nobody thinks the Russians will be stopped by a ceasefire, and nobody thinks the Russians can be trusted. That’s based on hundreds of hours of conversation with Armenians, Georgians, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, and diasporid ethnic Russians. The universal assumption of Russia’s former colonized peoples is that Russia wants to dominate the former Soviet space, and will do so by whatever means it can.

I’m living in Kazakhstan right now, and the Kazakhs are quietly rooting for Russia’s complete defeat. Not a “SQAB” withdrawal to 2014 positions! The Kazakhs want to see Russia crushed, hard. Why? Because they are seriously (and reasonably) concerned that they are next. There’s a strip of majority-Russian land along Kazakhstan’s northern border. And whenever a Kazakh government shows signs of independent action from Russia, Russian think-tankers and Duma members suddenly start pointing out that this region is historically and rightfully part of Russia.

So the Kazakhs want Russia crushed — and as someone who lives there, it’s kind of hard to disagree with them! Maybe their reasoning is wrong, but it’s pretty hard right now to say it’s an unreasonable fear.

5) Finally, let’s note that historically, Russia has a well-established pattern habit of bouncing back from incomplete defeats and showing up for a rematch a generation later. “La Russie ne boude pas; elle se recueille” — oh, look it up.

Doug M.

40

John Quiggin 09.28.22 at 7:19 pm

I’ve been putting off a comprehensive response, partly because I am, as always, depressed to be reminded how isolated I am in my opposition to war and revolutionary violence. But I’ll make a start. To enable discussion, I’ll post a lot of comments on single points. Hopefully, the CT numbering system will hold up.

41

Chetan Murthy 09.28.22 at 9:08 pm

John, you’re a good guy, and I know you’re writing in good faith. So I mean this in the kindest way possible:

Most of us who support Ukraine’s cause, also are opposed to war and revolutionary violence. But when someone comes to Ukraine and brings war and violence, brings genocide, then we all want Ukraine to push them out, and to be able to return to what it was before that “someone” arrived with violence. To the greatest extent possible. Saying “I want violence to end” is the same as saying “I want to reward Russia for their violence”. Because they’re not going to promise to never be violent again; indeed, anything that leaves Russia with any sort of “win” will — will — end up causing the next round of violence and genocide.

If you truly believe in peace in the borders of Ukraine, then I would argue you must support Ukraine’s fight to regain all their territory and soundly defeat Russia’s armies. Soundly defeat, not just a lukewarm defeat. Putin and Russia[1] must be taught to never go to war against Ukraine.

[1] Why “and Russia”? Because it is widely reported (and I believe those reports) that pretty much everybody in the elites of Russia, on whichever political side, whichever political party (including Navalny until the war) believed that Ukraine was Russian, and had no independent right to exist. Russian elite culture needs to be taught that war is an illegitimate means of policy. And this lesson will help all the Stans — as I’m sure you’ve seen, Kazakhstan is pretty unhappy with Russia, and wants Ukraine to win, b/c they know that they could be next. Georgia was attacked — and perhaps you’ve seen recent reporting on what Russia’s army did to Georgian civilians in the areas they occupied? It wasn’t pretty, and it was genocidal.

Saying “I don’t want war” when one side most definitely wants war, is just saying “I’m OK with the aggressor winning”.

It’s the same as saying “I’m OK with genocide, as long as my hands don’t get dirty.”

42

John Quiggin 09.28.22 at 9:28 pm

First, I’m not proposing a legal rule or an abstract principle of justice here. As stated in the OP, I’m starting from the premise that war/political violence that goes beyond the needs of immediate self-defence almost always does more harm than good.

I haven’t seen an explicit response to this premise in the comments. From past experience, few people I discuss this topic are willing to accept it, but most struggle to find more than a handful of good counterexamples among the thousands of wars and revolutions they have to choose from.

43

John Quiggin 09.28.22 at 10:12 pm

What was the 23/2/2022 status quo ante? A ceasefire had been in place since 2015 under the Minsk agreement, which was supposed to produce a negotiated settlement. In fact, no progress was made and the ceasefire was repeatedly violated. Hundreds of soldiers were killed on both sides in the initial conflict, and hundreds more over the period from 2015 to 2022

By contrast, during the worst days of the Russian offensive in May, hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers were killed daily. And plausible estimates of Russian losses are well over 100 per day for the entire war.

That is, any sustained ceasefire would save many lives, compared to even a short continuation of the current war.

I’ll post later about the situation of Ukrainians in Russian occupied territory, and about whether a status quo ante ceasefire could be sustained.

44

Guy 09.28.22 at 10:33 pm

@42

I’m fine with that as a general premise, but I think you get into trouble when you put a short time limit on it (e.g. sorry Ukraine, your immediate self-defence to the 2014 invasion has expired – too bad you didn’t have the military power on your own to drive out the Russians and the West wasn’t paying attention at the time – so that territory is permanently lost to you, because you only get to push the Russians back to the February 2022 line), and when you apply it only to one side.

Russia launched a war of conquest. That’s about the most egregious violation of your premise that one can imagine. What is the response?

And what does the premise say about how to deal with the Russian “salami tactics” strategy of carving off small pieces of its much weaker neighbours and establishing de facto Russian control over the breakaway regions? (Of course Russian control is not recognized by the international community, but that doesn’t do a lot of good for the inhabitants.)

I don’t think anyone is arguing that we shouldn’t avoid war whenever possible, and mind the human costs when we are forced to resort to it, but “if the victim of an unprovoked war of conquest is able to turn the tide militarily, should they allow the aggressor to keep none of their territorial gains or only some of them?” is (IMO) not a hard question.

45

Alex SL 09.28.22 at 11:30 pm

“how isolated I am in my opposition to war and revolutionary violence”

It is fairly straightforward to swear off violence personally. The hard part is what do about that other guy who very much hasn’t.

Of course, once he has beaten your neighbour to a pulp and made off with all her money, you can say that any additional violence beyond this point may conceivably make things even worse. And I see there is some reason to that, because, well, it would be additional violence as opposed to no additional violence beyond this point. I just don’t see how an approach minimises overall violence long-term that signals to a violent thug that his actions will never carry serious consequences and that he will be able to keep whatever loot he can take.

(It is fascinating to me how little attention is paid to incentive structures. The only exception is right-wing politicians worrying about benefit recipients supposedly becoming too lazy to work. But: What incentives do we create if there are no serious repercussions for politicians accepting bribes? What incentives do we create if we penalise people for reporting late but not for not reporting at all? What incentives do we create if scientific journals earn money per article published, no matter its quality, instead of per reader subscription? What incentives do we create if certification is done by service providers whose income depends on being asked to certify again in the future? What incentives do we create if there are no serious repercussions for wars of aggression? Those are somehow not really thought through in public debate.)

46

KT2 09.28.22 at 11:34 pm

Pity no one has raised poor old forgotten West Papua and the Orwellian nuspeak ‘referendum’ named “Act of Free Choice” in 1969, to justify Indonesia’s take over of West Papua.

JQ, “I’m starting from the premise that war/political violence that goes beyond the needs of immediate self-defence almost always does more harm than good.”

You’d better ask Papuan’s too.

I suggest Donbas etc will have a “rhyming” history. What is the discount rate of suffering and destabilisation and expropriation over a 50 year period? Mire harm ir more good. From who’s vantage point?

Moz @9 says: ” (who haven’t been killed, exiled or imprisoned) got to vote, not just ethnic New Caledonians. The Timor and Papua votes had similar issues. As well as other places too controversial to mention.”

Which ryhmes with;
” The polls, which Russian President Vladimir Putin announced along with the partial mobilisation last Wednesday, have been blasted by the West as a sham”
https://www.euronews.com/2022/09/27/occupied-areas-of-ukraine-vote-to-join-russia-in-referendums-branded-a-sham-by-the-west
*

“Act of Free Choice
“The Act of Free Choice (Indonesian:Penentuan Pendapat Rakyat, PEPERA, Determination of the People’s Opinion) was a poll held between 14 July and 2 August 1969 in which 1,025 people selected by the Indonesian military in Western New Guinea voted unanimously in favor of Indonesian control.

“The Federal Republic of West Papua, formed on 19 October 2011 at the Third West Papuan People’s Congress, has declared the New York Agreement and The Act of Free Choice “null and invalid”, and seeks recognition by the United Nations as an independent nation according to international and customary law.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Act_of_Free_Choice

“Papua conflict”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papua_conflict

West Papua (province)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Papua_(province)

47

Anarcissiea 09.28.22 at 11:56 pm

I imagine for the Russians, at least if they read history, the status quo ante goes back to the battle of the Ugra (1480) if not the battle of Kulikovo (1380). The memory of such things may matter in a long-term war of attrition, which is apparently what we’ve got.

There is also the question of China, which the US has been careful to offend in various ways for some reason or other.

48

J-D 09.29.22 at 12:02 am

I’ve been putting off a comprehensive response, partly because I am, as always, depressed to be reminded how isolated I am in my opposition to war and revolutionary violence.

War is a bad thing, and so is violence in general. I haven’t seen any comments here that would support the conclusion that the commenter would disagree with that (if anybody does, it would be interesting to learn why they think so, so I hope they’ll explain–but I don’t expect it, because I don’t expect there is anybody here who does take such a position).

As far as I can tell, what people disagree about is not the proposition that violence is bad, but about how violence in the world could be reduced: disagreement about methods is not disagreement about goals.

I wrote the above before reading this:

As stated in the OP, I’m starting from the premise that war/political violence that goes beyond the needs of immediate self-defence almost always does more harm than good.

I haven’t seen an explicit response to this premise in the comments.

I offer the following explicit response: violence that goes beyond the immediate needs of defence almost always does more harm than good. I hope it’s clear that my response goes both slightly further and slightly less far than yours: I wouldn’t restrict the point to political violence, because I think it’s true of non-political violence as well; but I also wouldn’t restrict it to self-defence, because I don’t think there’s any good reason to regard the immediate defence of others as less justifiable than the immediate defence of oneself.

That brings us back, I think, to my point above: just because people disagree about methods of reducing the incidence of violence doesn’t mean they disagree about the merits of the goal of reducing it.

From past experience, few people I discuss this topic are willing to accept it, but most struggle to find more than a handful of good counterexamples among the thousands of wars and revolutions they have to choose from.

In all but the tiniest fraction of the thousands of wars and revolutions you or I might cite, some of the violence was in immediate self-defence. You pick whichever you think was the least justifiable example of aggression, and that provides an even stronger justification for the violence perpetrated by the victims of that aggression in defence against the aggressors! I’m sure the usual pattern in war is that there is far more unjustified violence than there is justified violence, but that’s not a reason for ignoring the difference between aggressors and defenders. (There is unjustified violence by defenders, also; but not all of it.) No war is a counterexample to the proposition that violence is a bad thing; but nearly every war offers some counterexamples to the proposition that no violence is justified. Apply this to the present conflict between Russia and Ukraine; the war is a bad thing, but some of the violence perpetrated in defence against the aggressors (probably not all, but certainly some) is justified.

You suggest that a ceasefire would save lives, and this is more likely than not to be true; but I am less confident about the saving in life if just one side stops shooting.

49

Fake Dave 09.29.22 at 12:21 am

“First, I’m not proposing a legal rule or an abstract principle of justice here. As stated in the OP, I’m starting from the premise that war/political violence that goes beyond the needs of immediate self-defence almost always does more harm than good.”

Given that the “self” in question is the state and people of Ukraine, why are we wrong to extend the principle of self defense to the whole of its internationally recognized borders –even including Crimea? I know people will argue that Crimea isn’t historically Ukrainian or the Russians are too embedded there to ever dislodge (even the Guardian has taken to inaccurately referring to it as part of Russia), but the millions of Ukrainian citizens who live(d) in the East have had their rights and voices stolen from them by a vicious occupation that purports without evidence to act in their name. If their actual elected government isn’t allowed to defend them, who is?

Even leading pacifists like Gandhi and Bayard Rustin struggled with how to separate legitimate self-defense from illegitimate aggression. Most major religions are pretty inconsistent on it too. These are thorny issues that often defy simple categories. I definitely think the non-authoritarian left are mostly all on the same “side” in terms of pursuing peace and opposing political violence, but we can still disagree strongly about how to uphold those ideals. The grossly one-sided and coerced nature of Minsk process was a vindication of political violence, not a repudiation of it. Its failure to create the conditions for real peace was predictable (and predicted) at the time. I just don’t see the wisdom in basing the next attempt at peace on a ceasefire line that neither side has ever treated as legitimate or binding.

50

Chetan Murthy 09.29.22 at 1:42 am

JQ@43: I don’t quite understand your point here. You agree that there was no state of peace, but rather continuous hostilities involving many deaths, 2014-2022. On what basis then should we conclude that the right “status quo ante” is Feb 23 2022, instead of 2013 ?

Also, to your point about “war/political violence that goes beyond the needs of immediate self-defence almost always does more harm than good”: let’s look at the end of WWII. The Allies did not sue for a cease-fire: they demanded unconditional surrender and exacted full disarmament. Sure, we’re not going to get that from Russia. But it’s clear (painfully clear from multiple wars over the last 20 years) that Russia will not be deterred by anything other than resounding defeat. They’ve invaded …. what? Syria, Georgia, Ukraine, Transnistria, and some wars in Africa. Even just limiting ourselves to Ukraine, it’s clear that unless Russia suffers a great defeat, they’re coming back for seconds.

Russia is a colonialist power, and the idea that somehow they’re going to start behaving because they lose once, is somewhat naive, I think.

51

Chetan Murthy 09.29.22 at 1:43 am

I should have added: I mean, have you even looked at the reports on genocides, on kidnapping of children, of adults, to Russia? It’s precisely what Stalin did with various peoples in the Soviet Union: move peoples from place-to-place, as a way of unmooring them, destroying their cultures and traditions, and eventually subjugating them completely; and if not, then genociding them. And it worked.

I feel like you’re treating Russia like a modern nation, amenable to modern incentives.

52

John Quiggin 09.29.22 at 4:44 am

To be clear again: I’m not suggesting a legal principle that Ukraine should be prohibited from continuing the war until control over its internationally recognised boundaries is restored. I am saying that if the alternative of a ceasefire on pre-Feb lines becomes available (which would require further military victories before Putin or his successor would concede it), it would be much better for Ukraine and its allies to accept this, and return to negotiations, than to keep fighting. Now another point in the long series I’m planning to make.

Most of the commentary in this thread seems to assume that a war for full reunification would be successful, and that the cost in death and destruction would be acceptable. I don’t see any reason to believe this. Liberating areas that were occupied by the Russians only a few months ago has been a slow and bloody business, requiring massive military aid, but justified by the brutality of the occupation and the need to ensure that the aggressor gains no benefit (the point of status quo ante)

By contrast, Russia and its proxies have had years to prepare defences in the territory captured in 2014, and have much more local support. The occupation may be illegal and oppressive, but it’s not genocidal in the way that it has been in areas occupied since February. Optimistic predictions of an easy Ukrainian victory seem to me no more credible than the optimistic predictions made by the Russians at the beginning of this war, and by both sides at the beginning of most wars.

So, to those advocating a war of reunification, how likely to do you think it is to succeed, and what loss of life, military (including Russian conscripts as well as Ukrainians) and civilian would you consider acceptable?

53

nastywoman 09.29.22 at 6:42 am

as all of this
was and is
the decision of ONE –
ONLY ONE MONSTROUS EVIL INDIVIDUAL
(and not of ‘Russia’ or the ‘Ukraine’)
Sorry to say
that KGB officers –
once stationed in Germany –
only understand
ONE…
(very old KGB)… conclusion to any war.
(and that doesn’t include any possibilities of any ‘variations’ discussed here)

54

J-D 09.29.22 at 6:46 am

I am saying that if the alternative of a ceasefire on pre-Feb lines becomes available (which would require further military victories before Putin or his successor would concede it), it would be much better for Ukraine and its allies to accept this, and return to negotiations, than to keep fighting.

If the option were available, it’s likely that it would be a better choice than continuing the fighting. As you rightly point out, it’s not currently available; it could only become available after a significant change in circumstances, and it’s because any version of those new circumstances is a mere speculative possibility at this stage that I don’t commit to saying that it would certainly be a better option, no matter what those circumstances might be; but I agree that it would be more likely than not to be the better option, much more likely than not, and therefore …

So, to those advocating a war of reunification …

… I’m not (as this stage) advocating a war of reunification (not that my advocacy one way or another has any practical relevance). If anybody cares what I advocate, I advocate evaluating the options available in circumstances as they arise. But I do also advocate attaching a lot of weight to the fact that there’s a strong tendency for people in this kind of situation to make very bad overestimates of the benefits of violence and underestimates of its costs.

55

lurker 09.29.22 at 7:25 am

@J-D, 28
SQAB might work better in cases involving only pre-existing states. New states (Poland), and the collapse of old states (two of the powers partitioning Poland) make it impracticable. The new states are not going to disappear without a war, the collapsed states collapsed for a reason and restoring them would also mean war.

56

lurker 09.29.22 at 11:27 am

@Anarcissea, 47
A 1480 or 1380 SQAB would make Ukraine and Belarus parts of Lithuania and hence of the EU and the NATO. Wouild Russia really like that?

57

Anarcissie 09.29.22 at 4:20 pm

Chetan Murthy 09.29.22 at 1:42 am: “… But it’s clear (painfully clear from multiple wars over the last 20 years) that Russia will not be deterred by anything other than resounding defeat.”

Resounding defeat seems less curative than you imagine. I know only one major “imperial” power well, the United States, and its basic predilections for military combat and domination have not changed in spite of defeat in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and so on. In the cases of Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Sweden, the Ottoman Empire, the Golden Horde, Japan, and several others, an end to military adventures came only with the ultimate fate of empires: political, economic, and moral exhaustion, leading to a situation in which the social order and culture of the power in question were fundamentally changed, usually in very painful ways. The United States and Russia (and China) might want to choose something else, although their leaders don’t seem capable of it at the moment. No good outcome is guaranteed for anybody.

58

James Landry 09.29.22 at 5:38 pm

@52, on a “war of reunification”, I would better say a war to restore Ukraine to its internationally recognized borders, which other countries, including Russia, promised to protect if it gave up its nuclear weapons.

There is no way to know how likely that war is to succeed, because so much of it is contingent on the decisions of Vladimir Putin. The war would be over tomorrow if Putin pulled his forces out of Ukraine. He has initiated all the military incursions by Russia into Ukraine and pursued the policy of sham votes, ethnic cleansing of Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars and forced Russification, and absorption into Russia. He could reverse those. Essentially, the war continues because Putin insists that it continue, and it won’t end until he is forced to pull his troops out, there is a negotiated ceasefire (which is unlikely now that Russia claims ownership of Ukrainian oblasts it doesn’t fully control), or Putin wins and topples the government in Kiev, which is still the stated goal of the “special operation”.
I would humbly state you have no idea what the likelihood of success in what you call a “war of reunification” would be. I also think you have no idea how many people will die if there is a ceasefire.
I also think you are delusional in thinking that Russian occupation of Ukraine “won’t be that bad” for Ukraine or the world.

59

Nahim 09.29.22 at 7:24 pm

JQ@52: One further thing to add to your points (which I fully agree with) is the Russian appetite for a protracted war. If the war switches to one of reconquering the territories Ukraine lost in 2014, then I suspect there will be a dramatic shift in how most Russians perceive the war. It will come to be viewed as a fully justified defensive war to protect their own territories. We outside Russia may find it justifiable that Ukraine regains its lost territories from 2014, but I doubt many Russians share that view.

And so the war for full unification must almost by necessity be long-lasting and one that can only end in a complete defeat of one of the two sides. I struggle to see why such an outcome is considered preferable to a return to the status quo from before the start of the war, however unsatisfactory that status quo might have been.

60

Chetan Murthy 09.29.22 at 7:30 pm

John, I’ve been re-re-reading your comment, and other things pop out.

This: “Liberating areas that were occupied by the Russians only a few months ago has been a slow and bloody business, requiring massive military aid” seems to me to be troubling. This argument would seem to lead to two different conclusions, both of which are pretty unacceptable:
(1) Military alliances are bogus, and we shouldn’t join them. Whether Slovakia, or Romania, or the UK for that matter, are invaded and taken over, is none of our concern. I mean, if they want to stay free in the face of a giant empire like Russia, they need to build a US-sized military, right? No other country should help them: after all, defending Slovakia from Russia would be a slow and bloody business, requiring massive military aid.
(2) Ukraine is outside of NATO, so even if we agree that alliances are useful, we can and should let Ukraine twist in the wind. We have no security interest in a peaceful Europe, none whatsoever.

Also: others have noted that one important outcome of this war is the end of non-proliferation doctrine: every belligerent country knows that if they want to invade their neighbor, having nukes they can brandish at regional alliances is a great way to keep them from getting involved. And (!!) every small country knows that having the capability to deliver nukes is a great way of keeping from getting attacked: if Ukraine had had the capability to deliver a nuke to Moscow, this war would never have started. It is an important goal of The West (including Australia) to prevent this outcome: a world with more countries having nukes at their disposal is a worse world for everyone. Ending this war by defeating Russia at least limits the damage: if Russia wins, who can blame Japan (or Taiwan) for instantly acquiring nukes ?

Last: many have observed that with the repeated discovery of new mass graves and numerous torture sites, the Ukrainian population is becoming more and more intransigent towards Russia. They recognize more and more that the Ukrainians left being Russian lines are consigned to a horrible life and death. They recognize that the Ukrainian children and adults kidnapped to Russia are similarly consigned. What is your concrete proposal for getting them back, liberating them, short of total defeat of Russian armed forces? Or do their lives not matter?

61

SCdemocrat 09.29.22 at 9:18 pm

I’m definitely not arguing for us rolling the dice on nuclear war. But possibly Putin would be rolling the dice more than once. Someone previously asked how certain Putin can be that a nuclear attack order will be obeyed. This might well be the point at which he suffers lead poisoning or falls out of a window. (I know this would have been a rare opportunity to use “defenestration”.)
The failure of the Russian conventional military to perform as expected raises another question: How many Russian nukes still work?
After all, you can count tanks, artillery pieces, and shells. The soldiers parade and the planes fly over on Mayday. How do you know the nukes work or the rockets will launch?
The US spends tens of billions of dollars per year just to keep the nuclear warheads themselves functional. Then there’s spending to keep the missiles, subs, and bombers operational. If the oligarchs stole enough from the Russian Army to emasculate it, can Putin count on his nukes working? How many times does he want to roll the dice?

62

Doug M. 09.30.22 at 9:39 am

“So, to those advocating a war of reunification, how likely to do you think it is to succeed, and what loss of life, military (including Russian conscripts as well as Ukrainians) and civilian would you consider acceptable?”

— Okay, so… has anyone else noticed anything missing from this thread?

It’s the Ukrainians who are fighting for their country. They’re the ones who are suffering and dying at the hands of an aggressor. So, they get to decide what chances they’re willing to take. And they get to decide what price in blood is high enough, or too high. They’re fighting for their lives — literally /fighting for their lives/, and for their language, their culture, and their country — while we’re sitting on the sidelines talking about it.

In this context, I notice that this thread, started by an academic living on an island thousands of miles away from the war, doesn’t seem to have a single Ukrainian on it. AFAICT I’m the only person in this conversation who lives in the former USSR and/or who has spent time in Ukraine — and that’s a pretty low bar.

“Nothing about us without us” is a principle of broad application. If you want to have a discussion about Ukraine, maybe you should have it in a place where there are some Ukrainians?

Doug M.

63

Fake Dave 09.30.22 at 10:55 am

Prof. Quiggin’s comments on the human costs of a war of reunification has gotten me thinking about the hundreds of thousands of Russian and East Ukrainian conscripts being sent more or less directly to the front with completely inadequate training and equipment and winter around the corner. It’s going to be a nasty, bloody fight made much worse by a restive and polarized population and the shattered morale and discipline breakdown of the Russian occupiers. Should the Ukrainians take advantage of these units’ extreme vulnerability to inflict massive casualties and try to break the Russian will to fight, or would that just galvanize Russian support for the war? Would the Ukrainians then be culpable for the deaths of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers who don’t even want to be there, or did they become legitimate targets the moment they were handed a rusty kalashnikov and dumped in a field somewhere?

If there is a way to get them to just pack it in and go home without more bloodshed, that would be ideal. Otherwise, we’re left with the much thornier question of whether sending them home through more bloodshed is better or worse than the bloodshed that will arise if they aren’t sent home. The answer to that question seems to depend on the vindictiveness and greed of the occupation as well the extent of continuing armed resistance in the occupied territory. A fractious, implacable insurgency, waves of repression and collective punishment, and a cycle of violence that could last decades is one possible outcome of a bad ceasefire. There is also the serious risk that the Russians will just use any break in the fighting to regroup, re-arm and prepare to try again.

The Ukrainians have already experienced the helpless stasis and devastating betrayal of a bad-faith peace process. If it’s up to them (and I think it should be), I doubt they’ll accept that outcome again. That doesn’t mean a negotiated peace is impossible or undesirable, but it does mean the Russians have a massive credibility problem to overcome. They’ll need to start offering real and tangible concessions if they want the Ukrainians (or anyone else) to think they actually mean it this time.

64

Matt 09.30.22 at 1:28 pm

I haven’t had time to read more than the first bit of this yet, but it seems like it might be relevant. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-inquiry/how-the-war-in-ukraine-might-end

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Anarcissie 09.30.22 at 5:12 pm

lurker 09.29.22 at 11:27 am: “A 1480 or 1380 SQAB would make Ukraine and Belarus parts of Lithuania and hence of the EU and the NATO. Wouild Russia really like that?”

I didn’t mean they would like it; the phrase is “status quo ante (something)” and it’s a past state of affairs for Russia. At the time they chose to fight the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Mongols, and the Teutonic Knights, who were competing powers, all of which they were able to defeat by warfare along their rather loosely-defined borders and by various forms of expansionism when possible. From some Russian points of view, especially those who read neocon fantasies from the West about degrading or breaking up Russia, things may not have changed a lot. 2013 or 1991 are rather recent compared the the overall scope of the story in any case.

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Sebastian H 09.30.22 at 5:57 pm

“As stated in the OP, I’m starting from the premise that war/political violence that goes beyond the needs of immediate self-defence almost always does more harm than good.”

I think ‘immediate self-defence’ is too strong here because it ignores medium term incentive structures and sets up situations where among other things:

Russia does not return the thousands of children relocated to Russia and they are forcibly integrated into Russia.

Russia continues its salami strategy of fomenting/establishing separatist groups all over the place with the belief that they can win 4/5 of those battles and just return to the ‘status quo’ on the remaining 1 (until they try again). (See Crimea)

The ceasefires don’t really hold so you end up with a bunch of long simmering disputes that last generations (see Palestine).

Basically we can’t set up an incentive structure where Russian gets to stir up massive violence, win most of the time, and get back to the most limited version of the status quo the other times.

(Yes I believe that Russia loses a lot economically each time they do this, but it is very clear that a significant ruling faction in Russian doesn’t see that as an important indicator of ‘loss’.)

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Sebastian H 09.30.22 at 6:42 pm

I wonder if the problem is of commitment. We need a cease fire that credibly commits the West to resume its level of support if Russia comes back to war after the winter. The problem is that we can’t do that (mostly because of Germany). If we could, that might be different.

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John Quiggin 09.30.22 at 8:29 pm

A crucial question raised in lots of comments above, is whether a ceasefire on Feb 23 lines would be likely to hold, or whether Russia/Putin would come back for more. My thoughts

  1. In all his previous aggressions, Putin has had small wins, encouraging him to try again. In this case, there would be massive losses (most of the professional army, the EU energy market, integration with the global economy) for zero territorial gains. It might simmer for ages as suggested above, but one day of all-out war causes more death and destruction than years of simmering tension with occasional skirmishes.

  2. Militarily, a ceasefire would benefit Ukraine more than Russia. Ukraine gets time to train many more troops, and complete a transition away from leftover Soviet equipment. Russia’s capacity to rebuild its military has been gravely reduced by sanctions, erosion of reserves etc. Agree that this requires continued Western support, but that hasn’t been eroded so far.

  3. A ceasefire wouldn’t resolve any of the big issues – only the end of Putin’s regime will do that. But there are smaller but important things like repatriation of Ukrainian children and POW exchange that could be negotiated.

  4. The case against a ceasefire overlaps with that for preventive war, which has had an atrocious track record.

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Chetan Murthy 10.01.22 at 2:32 am

[Arrgh; my numbering disappeared. Reposting with hopefully more-permanent numbering. No other changes]
John:

Re: (1) Maybe. Not clear, b/c in any ceasefire, unless we enforce sanctions to the hilt and confiscate his flight assets in the West, he can still rearm and pay off his boyars. This means he’ll prepare for another try. Saying “oh, he got bonked on the nose, he’ll sue for peace” ignores that he has no history of doing that: when Chechnya beat Russia, Putin sent in his troops a few years later and destroyed the place. Destroyed it.
Re: (2): Absolutely false. With every passing day, Ukraine gets stronger and Russia gets weaker. And Ukraine’s partners see Russian war crimes from only a few months ago — the horrors of them — and support Ukraine more. A cease-fire allows Russia time to rearm, train, reorganize, and rest. All of that is bad for Ukraine.
Re: (3): Someone said “in wars, peace settlements cannot be reached unless one side or the other changes its minimum war aims.” We see no evidence that Putin is willing to do that; are you saying that Ukraine should give up on its people ?
Re: (4): NO. The case against ceasefire is that Ukraine has the strategic advantage, and wants its land and people back. Period.

I don’t understand: are you unaware of the atrocities committed by Russian troops that have been discovered everywhere they took land and then were pushed-out? Are you unaware of the testimony of people in the Baltics, that what is happening in Ukraine at the hands of Russian war criminals is precisely what happened to them in the Baltics after WWII ?

I really don’t understand: it’s like you think that Russia is a normal nation or something. Maybe read some of the accounts of what people in the Baltics went thru: the rapes, dispossession, shipment en masse to Siberia, the mass deaths.

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Matt 10.01.22 at 10:43 am

it’s like you think that Russia is a normal nation or something.

My impression is that John is imaging Putin acting “rationally” in some way here – but of course if he was acting rationally, the war wouldn’t have started. This makes the whole exercise significantly less open to the line of thinking in the post.

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John Quiggin 10.02.22 at 5:35 am

If political actors were rational, they would (almost) never resort to war, as I’ve said. But, it’s hard to see that Putin is much more irrational than, for example, the promoters of the Iraq War. Most observers expected the initial combat to go the same way as Iraq, with a quick capture of Kiev. And, the expectation that the invasion would be welcomed by many locals was about equally implausible in both cases. Finally, the quagmire effect is near-universal, but rarely anticipated by those starting wars.

If, as a result of battlefield defeats it becomes obvious that Putin can’t hold on to its post-Feb gains, I don’t see it as impossible that he would accept, or maybe offer, a “goodwill gesture”, withdrawing to those lines in return for a ceasefire.

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Sebastian H 10.02.22 at 7:04 am

What would be your idea of minimum concessions to have a cease-fire (lasting more than a few days)? I would think at a minimum Ukraine would want the stolen children back, but since that would be right on the edge of an admission of genocide, that seems already too much of an ask.

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J-D 10.02.22 at 8:39 am

“Nothing about us without us” is a principle of broad application.

Is it possible that there are people who fail to grasp the significance of the distinction between ‘No decisions about us without us’ and ‘No commentary about us without us’?

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Nathan Lillie 10.02.22 at 9:45 am

Putin is not rational. He has an almost religious faith that Russia cannot lose, and must conquer certain territories, and that he is the agent of that conquest. This is clear from his speeches: he is a fanatic. He will probably make various peace offers as Russian troops are defeated, but not reasonable peace offers: they will neither reflect the situation on the battle field, nor any kind of just outcome.

Russia and Putin cannot be trusted to keep to any kind of deal. They make deals only the hopes of temporarily constraining their adversaries, for as long as it takes their adversaries to figure this out. Putin stated this clearly enough in his annexation speech: he does not accept the notion of a rules based world order. So a ceasefire would simply be to keep the Ukrainians from shooting at them while they replenish and reposition, and train up their newly mobilized masses.

If peace is signed with Russia this will simply be an opportunity for them to get ready for another attack on Ukraine, or on some other country (this last worries me in particularly, since I live in one of the countries on his short list of targets for conquest). The only way to prevent this is to beat Russia down until it can’t fight anymore. As long as the Ukrainians are willing to be the instrument of this beating, we should give them all the support they can make use of, isolate Russia economically and in every other way, and look at every possible way to damage their country short of triggering nuclear war. This is the only realistic path. Of course, it would be nice if deals could be signed and peace brokered. But this is simply not on the menu of options Putin gives us to choose from: it is us or them, and I would choose us.

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Matt 10.02.22 at 11:31 am

it’s hard to see that Putin is much more irrational than, for example, the promoters of the Iraq War.

That is, of course, compatible with both of them being irrational enough that the arguments needed for the claim in the post to not work!

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Matt 10.02.22 at 12:58 pm

With the mention of Iraq, this thread about the (first) Iraq war, in relation to the situatin now, is also worth considering: https://twitter.com/bdtaylor_SU/status/1575860158240260102

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bad Jim 10.02.22 at 3:43 pm

“By annexing large swaths of Ukraine, Russia has functionally limited its ability to negotiate over boundaries, unless it wants to trade away what it now claims to be parts of Russia.”

from A Moment of Strategic Clarity by Raphael S. Cohen and Gian Gentile of RAND.

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John Quiggin 10.02.22 at 11:01 pm

Matt@75 But the Coalition eventually pulled out of Iraq and, for that, matter Afghanistan. All wars end, mostly with both sides losing.

Jim @76 A ceasefire on Feb 23 lines would entail both sides leaving the other in occupation of territory they had not conceded, with the final settlement to be resolved at some point in the indefinite future. That’s not unusual for ceasefires. And even before Feb, purported annexation of Crimea implied that any comprehensive settlement would imply one side of the other giving up what they claimed as sovereign territory.

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John Quiggin 10.02.22 at 11:07 pm

Sebastian H: Absolutely need stolen child back, and exchange of POWs. And, for those who prefer a years-long war to an unsatisfactory ceasefire, remember that those children need to be freed right now.

As for “right on the edge of an admission of genocide”, this is the kind of thing for which we hire diplomats and PR hacks. I’m sure Putin’s team can spin the whole exercise as a lengthy summer holiday away from the fighting.

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William Berry 10.03.22 at 2:57 am

Ha! What J-D said @73.

I won’t say that’s an obvious distinction (because it seems not to be obvious to a lot of people; and not just here, I hasten to add!), but it’s certainly not a particularly subtle one.

It really ought to be clear to folks that we’re engaged in a discourse here, not actually fighting a war.

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Scott P. 10.03.22 at 3:36 am

To be clear again: I’m not suggesting a legal principle that Ukraine should be prohibited from continuing the war until control over its internationally recognised boundaries is restored. I am saying that if the alternative of a ceasefire on pre-Feb lines becomes available (which would require further military victories before Putin or his successor would concede it), it would be much better for Ukraine and its allies to accept this, and return to negotiations, than to keep fighting. Now another point in the long series I’m planning to make.

That question is different than the one in the OP. If I might phrase it more explicitly, the question becomes: “if Russia requests an armistice, what terms ought the Ukrainians to impose as a condition of negotiation?” From that standpoint, getting the Russians to agree to an evacuation of territories occupied since February would be a resounding success, assuming the offer came fairly soon, as it would save the Ukrainians a lot of casualties, would liberate 9 times as much territory as the Ukrainians have done on their own since Sept. 1, and wouldn’t tie the hands of Ukraine as to the final fate of the remaining Russian-occupied territories.

And I think the Ukrainian government would likely see it that way too. However, such an offer is nowhere near the table. Getting it on the table would presumably require at a bare minimum de facto Ukrainian reconquest of the territories in question, and at that point, the incentives for Ukraine to accede to the request would be much diminished.

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Chetan Murthy 10.03.22 at 5:38 am

JQ @ 78: Perhaps you’ve forgotten how it came about that the “coalition” pulled out of Iraq and AFG? They were fought by insurgents until they had to GTFO. Are you saying that UA should give up kinetic military operations and switch to guerilla tactics in Crimea and the Donbas ? B/c that would be at some significant cost to the civilian population.

I will wholeheartedly agree that the perpetrators of the Iraq War are war criminals. And that they need to go to the Hague. What relevance does that have here? Why are you throwing this “tu quoque” out there?

Also: where do you find any support for your position among any reputable Ukrainian commentator? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller ? As others have same: “Nothing about us without us”. It’s clear that Ukraine intends to liberate evey square inch of their land. And that if their government were to refrain from that, they’d be turned out in an instant: the population is clearly unwilling to countenance Russians on any of Ukraine’s land, ruling over any of Ukraine’s people.

These are criminals, John. That Dubya and Darth Cheney are also criminals, doesn’t change that RU are criminals. And last, I’ll let Michael McFaul quote from Mearsheimer, the “realist” about appeasement:

“Appeasement contradicts the dictates of … realism and therefore it is a fanciful and dangerous strategy. It is unlikely to transform a dangerous foe into a kinder, nicer, opponent, much less a peace-loving state.”
“Indeed, appeasement is likely to whet, not shrink, and aggressor’s appetite for conquest. In short, appeasement is likely to make a dangerous rival state more, not less, dangerous.”
Source? Not me. Not
@ZelenskyyUa or @oleksiireznikov. Not @radeksikorski, @Carl Bildt, @IlvesToomas, @general_ben, @PMBreedlove, @JohnEdHerbst, @Kasparov63, Kagan, etc.

That’s from John Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, 2014. p. 164.

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Chetan Murthy 10.03.22 at 6:13 am

Tweets about Russia and their plan to commit war crimes. And how they haven’t changed from what the did to the Baltic states after WWII.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves
@IlvesToomas
·
1h
It is also worth reading in Estonia. Along with the story posted here, how a man on the train announces over the loudspeaker that all Estonians will be sent to Siberia. So that we don’t forget why we worked hard to get into NATO in the 90s and why we work hard to defend ourselves.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves
@IlvesToomas
·
1h
It is also worth reading in Estonia. Along with the story posted here, how a man on the train announces over the loudspeaker that all Estonians will be sent to Siberia. So that we don’t forget why we worked hard to get into NATO in the 90s and why we work hard to defend ourselves.

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Chetan Murthy 10.03.22 at 6:13 am

Oops, second tweet was supposed to be this one:
Marko Mihkelson
@markomihkelson
·
1h
Unfortunately, this is not the first time. When I was working as a journalist in Moscow in the 1990s, I heard threats several times in interviews that if you join NATO, we will immediately occupy you and send ALL Estonians to Siberia. This colonialism is still deeply in their DNA.

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John Quiggin 10.03.22 at 6:42 am

Scott P @81 ““if Russia requests an armistice, what terms ought the Ukrainians to impose as a condition of negotiation?” That’s certainly what I had in mind in the OP, but obviously I didn’t express myself clearly enough

As you say, that’s not in sight at the moment, and will take further military wins for Ukraine before it becomes a real possibility. But it’s easy to imagine a situation by the end of the year where Russia has lost most of its post-Feb gains, and perhaps some previously occupied territory in Donetsk and Luhansk, and where such an armistice offer makes sense. Liberation of whole DNR and LNR will take much longer, and Crimea still looks impossible.

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Matt 10.03.22 at 7:01 am

I agree here (again) with Chetan Murthy on Iraq and Afgahanistan – the US (and others) left because they got tired of fighting long and bloody insurgencies, and it’s worth noting that the insurgencies would have been much more bloody if the the US would have tried to really control more of the territory (note just a few bits of cities and a few bases.) I really don’t think this example helps the case of the post at all – the opposite, I’d say.

(That said, if I’d had to make a prediction I’d say that I don’t think Ukraine will re-take Crimea, and I think that trying would be very costly. I expect it will be their bargaining chip in the end. But of course you don’t put those cards on the table at this point. Doing so would make the war less likely to end, not more so.)

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J-D 10.03.22 at 7:38 am

This: “Liberating areas that were occupied by the Russians only a few months ago has been a slow and bloody business, requiring massive military aid” seems to me to be troubling. This argument would seem to lead to two different conclusions, both of which are pretty unacceptable:
(1) Military alliances are bogus, and we shouldn’t join them. …
(2) Ukraine is outside of NATO, so even if we agree that alliances are useful, we can and should let Ukraine twist in the wind. …

I suspect that’s a misreading of John Quiggin’s position. As I understand it (and if I’ve misunderstood I’m ready to be corrected), John Quiggin considers that if Russia is prepared for a ceasefire on status quo ante bellum terms, then Ukraine should be also. However, since (as John Quiggin acknowldges) no such ceasefire is currently on offer from Russia, his position doesn’t entail that Ukraine should, under current circumstances, cease fighting; and if he’s not advocating that Ukraine stop fighting, then presumably he’s not advocating that other countries (under current circumstances) should cease providing support for Ukraine to keep fighting.

The general position that seems to be implied by John Quiggin’s comments is that military alliances should generally commit allies to support each other, if attacked, in fighting to restore the status quo ante bellum, with the possibly implicit and tacit qualification ‘we will not support you (or, at any rate, we do not guarantee to support you) if you are fighting for goals which go beyond restoration of the status quo ante bellum‘. Whatever you think of this position, I think it’s clearly different from the position which you are attributing to John Quiggin.

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LFC 10.03.22 at 3:39 pm

In a piece in Politico published last June, Charles Kupchan wrote:

…Washington has not only a right to discuss war aims with Kyiv, but also an obligation. This conflict arguably represents the most dangerous geopolitical moment since the Cuban missile crisis. A hot war is raging between a nuclear-armed Russia and a NATO-armed Ukraine, with NATO territory abutting the conflict zone. This war could define the strategic and economic contours of the 21st century, possibly opening an era of militarized rivalry between the world’s liberal democracies and an autocratic bloc anchored by Russia and China.

These stakes necessitate direct U.S. engagement in determining when and how this war ends. Instead of offering arms with no strings attached — effectively leaving strategy up to the Ukrainians — Washington needs to launch a forthright discussion about war termination with allies, with Kyiv, and ultimately, with Moscow.

This made sense in June, and it makes sense now. The U.S. and NATO should continue to supply Ukraine with all the weapons it needs, while also “launching a forthright discussion” — which, in the early stages, should probably be a private, non-publicized discussion — about how to bring the war to an end. Taking “Russia down to the studs” (Chetan M. @25) can’t be done because Russia is a nuclear power.

If the U.S. is not actively engaged in private discussions with Ukraine and NATO about strategies of war termination — short of the unrealistic war aims that Zelenskyy has announced (i.e., return of every inch of Ukrainian territory including Crimea) — then that is an abdication of responsibility.

If the U.S. had done this back in the summer, possibly the situation wouldn’t be where it is now: illegal annexations by Russia, and further escalation via a general mobilization. The presence of nuclear weapons makes the geopolitical and strategic situation fundamentally different from the 1930s. One may hope that Russia will not break the nuclear taboo, as it’s been called, but there is no guarantee of that. Putin clearly does not care about norms: he has massively violated the territorial integrity norm and the norm (and rule) against aggression, and now the question is whether he will breach the norm of nuclear non-use. For U.S. policy makers to pretend that this question can be ignored, and that the war will necessarily remain both conventional and confined to its current geographical area, is irresponsible.

(Cohen and Gentile of RAND, linked by badJim @77, disagree with Kupchan. I think Kupchan was and is right.)

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Seekonk 10.03.22 at 4:07 pm

China has indicated that it is siding with Russia in Ukraine. If it continues to do so, I expect that Russia will not “lose”, and the questions would become: will there be a nuclear exchange, and what will be the endgame?

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Chetan Murthy 10.03.22 at 7:58 pm

JQ @ 85: “if Russia requests an armistice, what terms ought the Ukrainians to impose as a condition of negotiation?”

So, um, to the extent that what we learn from opinion polls of Ukrainians, and from the statements of their leaders, is indicative, we know the answer to this question: as the war has progressed, and as more and more atrocities are uncovered, more and more mass graves, the Ukrainian population has become more intransigent, wanting to kick the Russians off all of their land, and return all their kidnapped citizens to Ukraine. And, of course, exact reparations to compensate them for the mass destruction in their country. This position has hardened over time, and we can read interviews with “Russian Ukrainians” from predominantly Russian-speaking cities in the East, who say things like “before the war, I supported Putin enthusiastically; now, I want to roast him on a spit over a roaring fire”. Stuff like that. Even the Russian-speakers who get interviewed (by Western media, note) are very clear on this.

Now perhaps this is in doubt. Perhaps it’ll change in the future. Perhaps the Ukrainian government controls the utterances of its citizens. Perhaps it’s an authoritarian police state, and we can’t trust anything that comes out of their mouths. But right now, it sure looks like Ukrainians want their country back, want their people back, and want Russia to pay for the damage they’ve caused.

And they’re very, very, very angry about this. And will not forgive Russia for generations.

Maybe you have different sources of information, but this is what I see.

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John Quiggin 10.03.22 at 9:10 pm

J-D final para. This is exactly my position

Chetan: This is what usually happens in war, and usually with disastrous results. The desire to avenge crimes is natural, but rarely ends well. As discussed above, Ukraine’s allies should be focusing aid on the liberation and rebuilding of the areas occupied since February, not on unconditional support for a war of revenge.

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Chetan Murthy 10.03.22 at 9:48 pm

JQ @ 91: “just reparations” are not “revenge”.

If China invaded your country and took over Queensland you wouldn’t be so blithe.

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Chetan Murthy 10.04.22 at 1:48 am

JQ@91: “Ukraine’s allies should be focusing aid on the liberation and rebuilding of the areas occupied since February”

John, this is ….. disappointing. You’re heading for a Chomsky moment.

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J-D 10.04.22 at 3:37 am

If peace is signed with Russia this will simply be an opportunity for them to get ready for another attack on Ukraine, or on some other country (this last worries me in particularly, since I live in one of the countries on his short list of targets for conquest). The only way to prevent this is to beat Russia down until it can’t fight anymore. As long as the Ukrainians are willing to be the instrument of this beating, we should give them all the support they can make use of, isolate Russia economically and in every other way, and look at every possible way to damage their country short of triggering nuclear war. This is the only realistic path.

I am not in a position to judge how far the capacity of Ukraine to inflict damage on Russia extends. However, I cannot imagine how Ukraine would be able to inflict so much damage on Russia that Russia loses all capacity to wage war in the future. I will be surprised if anybody can explain to me how that’s possible. If I’m right on this point, then Ukrainians must calculate on continuing to live with a Russian neighbour which has at least some capacity to wage war.

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John Quiggin 10.04.22 at 3:39 am

CM @92 I’m sure I would want revenge, just as I would if my family were the victim of a crime and the (alleged) perpetrator was acquitted, or got off lightly. And I would probably be tempted to overlook harm done to innocent people who got in the way.

That’s why vigilantism and revanchism are such powerful forces, and why they need to be resisted.

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engels 10.04.22 at 9:48 am

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engels 10.04.22 at 11:21 am

It’s not all gloom and doom:

Dr. Jill Stein????@DrJillStei Oct 2 Thanks, Russia, for blowing up your own pipeline to give us a tremendous strategic opportunity.

Aaron Maré @aaronjmate Oct 1 According to @SecBlinken, the Nord Stream pipeline bombing “offers tremendous strategic opportunity for the years to come.” Too bad that this tremendous opportunity for DC bureaucrats will come at the expense of everyone else, especially this coming winter.
Show this thread

Oct 2, 2022 · 3:52 AM UTC · Twitter Web App

https://twitter.com/DrJillStein/status/1576419918652006400#m

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Nathan Lillie 10.04.22 at 12:57 pm

The notion that Russia must pay for the war is not [only] about vengeance [justice], but about survival. Russia needs a Year Zero. If not, they will be back for more, whether it be in Ukraine, Finland, Estonia, Georgia, or somewhere else. Perhaps countries that are far away can choose if they want to be a part of it or not, at least for the moment, but there will be a war. Any sane person would wish it would not be so, but Putin disagrees, .

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JimV 10.04.22 at 2:32 pm

Just to say, how grateful I would be if Dr. Quiggin’s proposed terms were accepted by all sides today, and nobody was being killed or tortured or abducted tomorrow, and all my donations were going to rebuilding. (Until then, I send most to the Ukrainian national bank for their war effort.)

I saw the end of the movie “Contact” on TV again a few days ago. “Small steps.”

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Kenneth Schulz 10.04.22 at 4:01 pm

JQ @ 91: Until and unless the Ukrainians cross the 2013 Ukraine/RF border, the war on the part of Ukraine is defensive, not a ‘war of revenge’. The financial burden of rebuilding Ukraine will no doubt be borne by the EU and US, who can afford it; Russia can’t; though the seized assets of oligarchs who failed to oppose the war should be sold for Ukraine’s benefit.

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Kenneth Schulz 10.04.22 at 4:13 pm

Chetan Murthy @ 25: “Russia needs to be taken down to the studs, rendered not a threat to Europe”
That ought not be a stated objective of the war. Nevertheless, Russia is engaged in a spectacular own-goal which will achieve it anyway, for years at least.

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Chetan Murthy 10.04.22 at 7:55 pm

JQ@94:

Nothing, nothing in what Ukraine and Ukrainians have demanded is revenge. What they want is reparations. What you’re doing, is negotiating away their position before they’ve forced Putin to come to the table. And something else: Your “Chomsky moment” is saying that “status quo ante” is Feb 2022, and not 2013.

Russia signed internationally-recognized agreements to recognize Ukraine’s borders long before 2013. You want to reward that bad faith.

And last: what are you going to do, when the mass graves are found in the areas of the Donbass that Russia has controlled since 2014 ? What’s going to be your excuse then?

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John Quiggin 10.04.22 at 11:32 pm

“And last: what are you going to do, when the mass graves are found in the areas of the Donbass that Russia has controlled since 2014 ? What’s going to be your excuse then?”

Indeed, the basis of my argument is as I said above “The occupation (pre-war) may be illegal and oppressive, but it’s not genocidal in the way that it has been in areas occupied since February. ” If that turns out to be untrue, then I will be shown to have been badly wrong.

Conversely, you’re relying on the opposite claim: that the situation in the already occupied areas is so bad that ending it justifies massive loss of life. Here’s a report from Donetsk/Luhansk July 2021

https://theconversation.com/the-hope-is-finished-life-in-the-ukrainian-separatist-regions-of-donetsk-and-luhansk-177685

and on Crimea 2020

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/03/17/crimea-six-years-after-illegal-annexation/

Do you have any evidence pointing the other way?

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John Quiggin 10.05.22 at 8:06 am

I’m closing this off now. I should probably have done so at #40.

Comments on this entry are closed.