By William Tucker
In a recent address to Luxembourg’s parliament, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that Russia now occupies 20% of Ukraine. This land includes Crimea and much of the Donbass region, which Russia has either annexed or recognized as independent from the government in Kyiv.
Ukraine has done a remarkable job in keeping Russia from seizing more territory. However, Russia has remained determined to attain some semblance of its military objectives, regardless of the loss of life to Ukrainians and Russians.
Neither Ukraine nor Russia can maintain this conflict indefinitely, and the possibility of a peace deal still appears remote. It might be feasible for peace talks to be restarted, but negotiations will be difficult without Ukraine or Russia gaining a decisive upper hand in the conflict.
Ukraine Could Potentially Trade Land for Peace with Russia
Some people suggested that Ukraine could trade some of its territory to Russia in exchange for a cessation of hostilities. While such exchanges have occurred in the past to end a particular conflict, the peace rarely lasts.
Perhaps one of the more credible advocates for a land for peace deal is former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Speaking recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Kissinger suggested that Ukraine should accept Russian suzerainty over some occupied portions of Ukrainian territory as a means of reaching a peace deal.
Ukraine Can’t Bargain with Land It No Longer Controls and Ukrainians Want a Military Force for Self-Defense
One difficult problem to solve is that Russia already controls one-fifth of Ukrainian territory, and it is unclear how Kyiv could bargain away land it no longer controls. The government of Ukraine could offer Ukrainian land with the understanding that Moscow will receive no more real estate and that Ukrainian forces would respect those borders.
For Russia’s part, gaining territory is one thing, but ensuring Ukraine is defanged is quite another. Moscow has demanded that Ukraine disarm completely and accept neutrality.
With Russia already occupying so much Ukrainian land, it is not clear if Ukraine could accept these demands and remain an independent state. After all, its people have suffered greatly during this invasion, and they will want a modern military force to dissuade future attacks.
Ukraine Cannot Force Its Allies to Lift the Sanctions on Russia
Another problem is that Ukraine does not have the ability to give Russia some of the things Moscow wants. For example, Russia was hit with far-reaching sanctions at the outset of the invasion, and those sanctions continue to grow. The Ukrainian government does not have the ability to force their European and North American allies to lift these sanctions, as Russia has demanded.
While Ukraine could cede land to Russia in pursuit of a peace deal, Kyiv is dependent upon others to make concessions for Ukraine’s well-being. Although Russian leaders may have bitten off more than they can chew with Ukraine, they are still in the better bargaining position. It is unlikely that the offer of land alone will satisfy the Kremlin’s demands.
Ceding Land to Russia Will Not Ensure Peace
If the West is serious about defending Ukraine and punishing Russia, then the military reality on the ground must shift to a point where serious discussions about peace can take place. A land swap alone will not accomplish that goal.