Vladimir Putin may win the current Ukraine crisis without firing a shot or moving a single soldier into Ukraine.
Annexing all or another part of its neighbor would be a thoroughly valuable prize, but it is only a solitary building block in his much larger goal of reconstituting the power of the Soviet Union, a dream central to the Russian president’s entire worldview, one which he has no intention of diluting. Weakening NATO and limiting its future growth potential is the major obstacle to this.
Moscow clearly has no right to dictate to neighboring nations or to NATO with whom they may associate. By bringing the Biden administration to the table, Putin has everything to gain and absolutely nothing to lose.
Any gains from a negotiation regarding Ukraine would only encourage Putin to repeat the process all over again.
Indeed, its invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea territory is a major violation of a deal Russia already agreed to, known as the Budapest agreement. As noted by the Brookings Institute, “In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, the United States, Russia, and Britain committed ‘to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine’ and ‘to refrain from the threat or use of force’ against the country. Those assurances played a key role in persuading the Ukrainian government in Kyiv to give up what amounted to the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal, consisting of some 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads.’”
Beyond the Budapest agreement, Putin’s Crimea move violates United Nations Charter Article 2(4), which forbids “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”
Negotiating with an entity that consistently violates its agreements is an exercise in futility. There is nothing to be gained from arranging a deal with a nation that has no intention of keeping its part of the bargain. Negotiating with Russia is similar to “negotiating” with a mugger to at least leave you carfare home. Putin has not only violated treaties regarding Ukraine. He has also run afoul of nuclear arms deals with the United States. (Interestingly, the Biden State Department has deleted a key discussion of this issue from its website.)
The European Journal of International Law states that “The neglect of fundamental principles of international law by the Russian Federation will inevitably lead to significant political, economic and military setbacks in our globalized world, as well as to the disruption of the situation both in Eastern Europe and within the Russian Federation.”
It is erroneous to assume that a concession to Putin regarding NATO membership would somehow restrain the Kremlin from further aggression. Northern Kazakhstan, Georgia, and other post-Soviet states remain on his menu. Any gains from a negotiation regarding Ukraine would only encourage him to repeat the process all over again. If NATO is weakened, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania would be placed in severe jeopardy.
All of this is a tragic replay of events the world has already endured. The 1938 Munich Agreement between Great Britain, Italy, France, and Germany allowed Berlin to annex the Sudetenland in Western Czechoslovakia. In a move eerily similar to the current situation with Putin, Adolf Hitler agreed to negotiate the issue. Western leaders consented to what they considered a limited annexation of territory (similar to the taking of Crimea) and proclaimed that peace was at hand. This weakness only encouraged the Nazi dictator, and World War II followed.
Any weakness displayed by Western powers in negotiations about Moscow’s naked power grab would be carefully noted by China. The goal of the Biden administration to prevent war by negotiations would actually lead to an enhanced threat in the Indo-Pacific as well as in Europe.
Frank Vernuccio serves as editor of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government. He has served in both Democratic and Republicans administrations at the state and local level.