22 February 2022

Russia wanted Munich, but it got a Ukrainian D-Day

By Oleksii Goncharenko

Russia does not know how to be diplomatic and make concessions – and they will certainly never do so publicly.

Nor can you take anything they say at face value. Even when their military exercises are supposedly coming to an end, and the Russian Ministry of Defence is announcing the beginning of withdrawal, we all understand that this is just the beginning. The Russians still have every opportunity to attack Ukraine, and they are constantly trying to create new pretexts for their aggression.

Although many observers and ordinary Ukrainians were initially unconvinced of the West’s resolve in the face of Moscow’s threats, we have seen almost almost unprecedented unity and assistance. Of course, there have been some setbacks and political drama, but our partners have shown that they are ready to overcome the ghosts of Munich in 1938.

However, as Vladimir Putin’s speech last night made eminently clear, grave new threats lie ahead.

Recognition of terrorists

After a televised meeting of his Security Council, Putin announced the official recognition of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), which the Ukrainian government designates terrorist organisations. At the same time, agreements on ‘friendship and cooperation’ were signed, which include the introduction of Russian troops on the territory of the DPR and LPR. This means that Putin has created a ‘new Transnistria’ in Ukraine – Russian troops will be constantly present on Ukrainian territory, constantly ready for provocations and aggression against Ukraine.

By recognising the so-called DPR and LPR as independent states, the Russians are repeating the strategy they used in Georgia – trying to freeze the situation and keep control completely within the ranks of their military establishment.

However, in this case, there is an additional problem.

The recognition of the DPR and LPR is a violation of the Normandy format and Minsk agreements, which Russia signed up to to deescalate fighting in Donbas. That constitutes a violent act of aggression against Ukraine, and it again shows that deals with Russia are not worth the paper they’re written on. Of course, it means Russia is no longer able to play the role of mediator, but there is a broader danger that the Kremlin now departs from all the rules of the game to try to consolidate its gains – once the gloves are off, they’re off.

Let’s not forget another detail – in 2019, the self-proclaimed ‘independent republics’ declared their rights to the entire territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine (currently they occupy about a third of that area). That means Russia still has a permanent casus belli for a full-scale war against Ukraine. This situation consolidates the current escalation for many years to come and gives Putin more and more leverage over both Ukraine and the West – all of which means this has now become an indefinite crisis.

Power play

For all the diplomatic to-ing and fro-ing, the blunt truth is that the only language Russia understands is power. Even simple standard diplomatic practices are perceived in the Kremlin as weakness and indecision. The only way to stop Putin is through strength and determination: the strength of the Ukrainian army and the determination of our allies to support us.

After the first round of talks in early January, Russia hoped to get a second Munich, with the West leaving Ukraine to fend for herself.

However, as the position of Washington and London has shown, experienced politicians know how to learn from the mistakes of history. The 2,000 tons of equipment and weapons delivered to Ukraine in just a few months were a clear expression of that change of course. For eight years we have argued that the only way to avert war is through strength, and in that time Ukraine has bolstered and reformed its armed forces. We are ready for war and ready to defend our territory. And with the help of our British, American, and Nato allies, we have the concrete backing we were striving for.

Given Putin’s latest announcement, there is no way our allies are going to relax now. The weapons already delivered and the clear political determination may have changed Putin’s calculation, but now it is imperative to keep up the pressure. That means an effective package of sanctions and a plan for Ukraine to join Nato.

Russia may have been hoping for a new all-European Munich. What it got instead is a full-blown Ukrainian D-Day. The second front is open and there is no way back.  We are standing up not only for Ukraine, but for freedom – for the right to choose your own future, and for a just world for all.

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Oleksii Goncharenko is a Member of the Parliament of Ukraine and Vice-president of Committee on Migration and refugees of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.