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A “Winter War” Solution to the Russia-Ukraine Conflict
It is always a risky proposition to identify historical analogies or recommend solutions during an ongoing crisis because conditions can change quickly in unexpected directions.
Nevertheless, the Russian invasion of Ukraine bears some striking similarities to the Russian, then the Soviet Union, invasion of Finland, which precipitated the 1939-1940 Winter War.
Like the NATO expansion to the east, Russia in 1939 felt threatened by the growing military might of Nazi Germany and the failure of the Western nations, particularly Britain and France, to halt Germany’s acquisition of eastern territory, namely the Sudetenland in 1938 and the absorption of the Czech regions of Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939.
Although Finland was a neutral country, Russia was concerned about its close ties with Germany, stemming from the 1918 Finnish Civil War when Germany supported the White forces fighting for an independent Finnish republic against the pro-Russian Red forces wanting the incorporation of Finland into the Soviet Union.
The White forces won and an independent Finnish republic was established.
As a result, whether rational or not, Russia feared that Finnish territory would be used by Germany for an invasion, especially because the 1939 Finnish border with Russia was a mere 20 miles from its second-largest city Leningrad, now St. Petersburg.
Those fears were temporarily allayed by the August 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, which divided eastern Europe into German and Russian spheres of interest precipitating the start of World War II with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. That was quickly followed by a Russian invasion of eastern Poland on September 17, 1939.
The Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which fell under Russia’s sphere of interest, were soon forced to accept treaties that allowed Russia to establish military bases on their soil.
Being offered the same arrangement by Russia, Finland refused. After weeks of negotiation between Moscow and Helsinki, Russia invaded Finland on November 30, 1939.
Like Ukraine, which according to leaked documents Russia expected to capitulate after 2-3 days, Russian plans called for a rapid subjugation of Finland in a matter of weeks.
Like Ukraine, Finland put up fierce resistance.
Although Finland was eventually forced to sign a peace treaty with Russia on March 12, 1940, in which Finland ceded some territory to Russia and was obliged to provide a naval base to Russia on the southwestern Finnish peninsula of Hanko, Finland maintained its independence.
Likewise, the single most critical issue for Ukraine is to maintain its independence.
The following is a “Winter War” solution for the Russia-Ukraine Conflict, which maintains Ukrainian independence, while providing Russia an “off-ramp” to cease hostilities and withdraw its troops from Ukraine.
> As long as the Russian military is operating inside Ukraine and the Ukrainians wish to resist, Ukraine must be supplied with the arms, ammunition and vital supplies to do so.
> As long as the Russian military is operating inside Ukraine, economic and financial sanctions against Russia must increase.
> A solution can be built upon an updated version of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances signed at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe conference in 1994.
> Under that agreement, Ukraine became a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, effectively abandoning its nuclear arsenal to Russia.
> That is, Ukraine pledged not to develop nuclear weapons nor stage nuclear weapons on its territory.
> In return, Russia agreed to respect Ukrainian independence and sovereignty within Ukraine’s existing borders.
> Russia also agreed to refrain from the use of force or economic pressure against Ukraine and not to engage in political interference inside Ukraine.
> Russia has violated all of those commitments and must be obliged to return to them.
> As a basis for a final agreement, an immediate cease fire must be declared and the immediate withdrawal of all Russian military forces from Ukrainian territory must begin.
> Ukrainian military neutrality is implicit within the Budapest Memorandum, but Ukraine’s request for admission to the European Union must be permitted to proceed.
> Both Russia and Western nations must agree not to interfere in the internal affairs of Ukraine.
> Ukraine should recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea, but Russia should compensate Ukraine for Ukrainian investments in Crimea.
It is still unclear what will happen, but, needless to say, the conquest of Ukraine by Russia or an expansion of the conflict beyond Ukraine would be enormously destabilizing and in no one’s interest.
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