How and when will the war in Ukraine end? Concerning the “how,” there is relative unanimity among Western politicians and analysts. Ukraine will either join NATO or secure an explicit commitment that the Alliance will henceforth protect its borders. At the same time, it may be admitted to the European Union, while huge funds will be allocated for its reconstruction, possibly also from the liquidation of frozen Russian assets. In return, Kyiv will have to accept the final and definitive loss of sovereignty over Crimea and some other areas.
The formula sounds realistic, but it is very difficult to implement politically. The leadership of the West could claim to have “won” on the important issues. It prevented the capture of Kyiv, highlighted the enormous weaknesses of the Russian military machine and showed that it can rally in the face of adversity.
But can Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accept such a solution? It is very, very difficult. He is obviously the only Ukrainian who could put his signature on any compromise agreement. He has proven himself to be a leader who can withstand adversity and has mobilized the global community in a unique way. It will be very difficult, but not unthinkable, for anyone to accuse him of treason or faintheartedness.
On the other hand, it is not easy for any leader, or a simple citizen, to accept the loss of sovereignty over a part of their homeland, especially after fierce battles, thousands of deaths, mutilations and disasters. But this war will not end with a Ukrainian victory and the recapture of all lost territories. No levelheaded analyst could predict such a thing. Most likely there will be a stalemate, a quagmire that will last for a long time. At some point, Zelenskyy will find himself in a position that none of us would envy.
It reminds me of a famous dialogue between Archbishop Makarios III – the president of Cyprus between 1960 and 1974 – and Henry Kissinger – the former US secretary of state – after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Kissinger suggested that Makarios accept a compromise solution, according to which the Turks would reduce the territory they held from 36% to just under 28%. Makarios reversed the question: “Say that Turkey agrees to reduce its percentage to 28%. The question, then, is what is best for us. Shall we legitimize a de facto situation or not?” Kissinger refused to answer and the archbishop finally rejected the compromise, arguing that “there are hopes that one day, after many years, we will reach an agreement that will be better for Cyprus.” The discussion continued and the realpolitik guru commented, “There are a lot of heroes who don’t know how to take back 1% of their territory.”
These days, I can imagine Zelenskyy facing similar dilemmas. Probably even asking Kissinger what he would do in his place…