The war conflict that takes place on the Russian-Ukrainian border, as a consequence of the Russian invasion carried out on February 24, has the curiosity of being, if not the only one, perhaps one of the few in which there are two winners y no loser.
I try to explain myself: what Russia imagined as a walk, similar to the annexation of Crimea in 2014, quickly became the current nightmare with more deaths in a few months than all those who died in the invasion of Afghanistan in the 1970s and 1980s; with a cost still concealable but that in the long run will seriously affect the Russian economy; with an accentuation of Russia’s dependence on its primary exports and, especially, of dependence on China e India (actors who, it is worth noting, rushed to buy what they paid at market price before the start of the conflict, now at a discounted price); with Europe, which is the natural space of Russia, closed. And, ultimately, with a proxy war, which the US and NATO are carrying out through Ukraine and which, if it continues, threatens the current power structure in Moscow. All of the above is Ukrainian profit. To which is added that today, Ukraine also won, or is about to win, if it knows how to play its cards, its independence from Russia.
On the other hand, Russia won the territories of the Donbas and a little more. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for Russia to leave these traditionally Russian territories without the conflict escalating further, even with the use of tactical (read, nuclear) weapons.
Thus, it is worth noting that it does not make sense to bring history to define current problems. It does not matter, for the purposes of finding a solution to this war, that Ukraine is the ancestor of the Russian state, or that after short periods of independence and with highly variable territories, it has spent most of its time under a foreign power. It doesn’t matter if Catherine the Great annexed these territories 200 years ago or if it was really in the USSR that the current borders of the Ukraine that fights today were invented.
What matters are the strategic interests of the two actors. For Russia, to regain control of the Black Sea and most of the generous investments made during the USSR from Moscow (something Ukraine seems to forget). For Ukraine, to make Russia feel safe so that they can decide to break away from the Russian embrace.
In this regard, to date both sides have managed to appear victorious: Russia, with great regret and much more effort, has consolidated its position in the Donbas Basin, most of the Black Sea coast, Crimea and, especially, that Europe accept, for the good of all humanity, that it does not want or deserve a nuclear holocaust, a Ukraine with a certain neutrality in the near future (for now, no missile placement on its territory and partnership with the EU but non-inclusion in NATO). In turn, Ukraine has shown her courage and humiliated Russia where it hurts the Russians the most, her inability to show her strengthare power and his independence from other actors (in order not to collapse, Russia has had to negotiate and depend on help from China, India and Iran). If Ukraine plays its cards right and accepts, more or less, its current territorial losses, it will be able to guarantee its independence from Russia and the Russian sphere of interest, to join Europe and begin to flourish as a truly independent nation. Today both parties can sign new limits and dedicate themselves fully to the reconstruction of their economies knowing that both are victorious. If Ukraine remains (relatively) neutral, not only is Russia going to have a hard time finding legitimacy for any further advance, but materially for several years it will not be in a position to do so without exposing itself elsewhere. To this must be added that in several years the current leadership of the Kremlin could no longer be the same. On the other hand, the Ukrainian acceptance can be tactical or conditional, as was the acceptance of an autonomous Taiwan for China or of Argentina for the Falklands ‐ending a war does not necessarily mean accepting a territorial loss, but rather recognizing its temporary possession by another force, waiting for better conditions to negotiate (emphasis on the word negotiate, the only acceptable path).
In other words, today we are faced with a situation in which both parties can show that, losing something, they are gaining and thus put an end in a more or less honorable way to this senseless war. Russia has lost thousands of men, weapons and, above all, it has lost the myth of its warlike efficiency. Today there is no doubt that she is a regional power, not a global one, and that her attempt to return to the big leagues, with a 19th century mentality, failed miserably. Ukraine has lost, at least momentarily, the Donbas basin and a bit more of the Black Sea coast, that is, everything that it was unable to win by negotiating between 2014 and the Russian invasion (Crimea was never Ukraine’s, except for the fiction generated by Krushev in the 60s of the last century).
Russia gains control of the Black Sea and, above all, strategic security by preventing Ukraine from becoming a NATO base.
Ukraine wins if it maintains its neutrality guaranteed by both Russia and NATO and formalizes free trade agreements with the EU and Russia, the possibility of creating the conditions to consolidate its independence and a solid base for economic growth.
Not seeing this reality can only lead to the war being prolonged over time and wearing both sides even more, meaning only costs for them and gains for those who look outside (China, Europe, USA), and, in the worst case, In most cases, it brings us closer to a nuclear conflict, perhaps of low intensity, but terrifying and with unforeseeable consequences. It is time, then, to renegotiate the borders that were not negotiated after the dissolution of the USSR, and stop a war that makes no sense beyond the insecurity of the Russian bear.
* The author is a career Argentine diplomat having served two terms in Russia, 1995-2003 and 2016-2020.