Negotiations to first prevent and now potentially end the Russian assault on Ukraine have been ongoing since Putin and the Russian military first began signaling their intention to invade. There are negotiations now, there have been negotiations all along.
High ranking officials from around the world have reached out directly to Putin in an effort to find a less bloody solution, they are willing, he is not. France’s Macron, Germany’s Scholz, Xi of China, Modi from India and many others have tried. It seems unlikely that if Putin believes he is winning or that he can win he will negotiate in good faith. At this stage it appears the only war Putin does not want is one he believes he is losing.
It bears noting that aid workers trying to negotiate safe evacuation corridors for civilians have repeatedly reported false promises of safe passage leading to strikes on exit routes and numerous casualties. Often reporting what appear to be intentionally false promises for the apparent purpose of increasing the number of wounded and killed.
The West defines negotiations as superior, more efficient, and morally digestible than violent combat. That definition conveniently forgets the old adage, war is the continuation of negotiations through other means. By that standard and method we see Putin’s true negotiation unfolding. If Putin wants a village he shells the residential districts with artillery deliberately slaughtering as many civilians as possible. If the Ukrainian fighters drag out the defense of the village more civilians are killed. That is how Putin negotiates. Is that the negotiation Henry Kissinger and the West envision?
The Munich Trap
To understand each and every aspect of the discussion of Ukraine’s future you need only read the story of the 1938 Munich Agreement. Every argument, every strategic maneuver, every plot, every twist is paralleled in the current crisis.
To summarize briefly, as Hitler began his drive to bend Europe to his will his first move was the annexation of Austria. Viewed in hindsight as amicable or mutually agreeable today, the reality was a deal closed with a pronounced threat of violence. In the end Austria capitulated bloodlessly and Hitler set his sights on his next target, the Czechoslovakian Sudetenland. Hitler’s logic was simple, the Sudetenland territories of Czechoslovakia were inhabited largely by German speaking residents (think Putin’s definition eastern Ukraine) and the Sudeten Germans had the right to join Germany if they chose to. Hitler threatened that either Czechoslovakia would bow to his demands or he would invade. Great Britain, France, and Italy sued for peace.
Negotiations took place between Great Britain, France, Italy and Germany over Czechoslovakia’s fate with Czechoslovakian officials standing outside waiting to learn of the outcome. The agreement was completed on Hitler’s terms. In exchange for peace Germany would get the Sudetenland. The Date was September 30, 1938. Less than one year later, on September 1, 1939 Hitler’s armies launched their blitzkrieg assault on Poland.
Putin is following Hitler’s playbook step for step. NATO so far has pushed back a bit harder than Great Britain, France, and Italy did in 1938, but they are still determined to keep their uniforms clean at all costs and Putin knows it.
But Even a Munich Agreement Will Fail
Kissinger is envisioning a Munich-style administration of Ukraine’s affairs, as Ukraine is all too well aware. In vintage Kissinger form he sees this as the right of great powers. That’s him, it’s what he does and others defining themselves as pragmatists will be more than willing to walk through the Munich door with him. The problem is, this time the Munich door is locked.
Even if the US and NATO are willing to negotiate away Ukrainian territory and they might be, Putin’s armies today, unlike Hitler’s in late 1938 are already on the move and the horror of his intentions are all too plain to see. The mask is off. While the US and some NATO members such as France may view the Russian threat in somewhat less urgent terms, the alarm of the NATO countries closest to the conflict is far greater. The move by Sweden and Finland to embrace NATO after decades of reticence is a window into the mindset of the countries that see themselves directly threatened in an immediate way. If NATO is to exist it cannot force Ukraine to capitulate to Putin’s demands or the worst fears of Western Europe will be realized.
A great deal of time has been spent talking about what Putin might do if cornered. In fact it now appears Putin is slowly but surely cornering NATO. When the West realizes the scope of the threat and eventually it will, what will NATO do?
February 24, 2022 is called by countries on NATO’s eastern flank, “the earthquake.” It was the day Putin’s armies invaded Ukraine and the day everything in Europe changed. No, Mister Kissinger, Putin isn’t going back. The Russian Bear is loose in Europe, once more.
Marc Ash is the founder and former Executive Director of Truthout, and is now founder and Editor of Reader Supported News. On Twitter: @MarcAshRSN
Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.