Letter: Territorial Compromise is Typically how Wars End

Andreas Umland’s categorical rejection of negotiations with Russia over the Ukraine war means a war continued until there is complete Ukrainian victory, at whatever cost to Ukraine and its people (Opinion, September 8). But of course Umland cannot guarantee that it will, in fact, end in victory for Ukraine. On the evidence so far, it is at least equally likely that Ukraine will sacrifice a generation of young men in repeated offensives for very limited gains, and that the resulting Ukrainian exhaustion will eventually allow Russia to counterattack successfully — leading to far greater Ukrainian territorial losses.

And as some US officials have emphasised, even if the present Ukrainian offensive or its successors make major gains, the result is still likely to be negotiations over the status of Crimea and the eastern Donbas.

The Biden administration itself has stressed that the goal of US support to Ukraine is to “bring Putin to the negotiating table”.

To place the existing conflict in a proper perspective, it is important to recognise two things. The first is that this is not an apocalyptic struggle, but a limited postcolonial war over territory and identity, of the kind which occurred so often after the fall of the Austrian, Ottoman, British and French empires. Several of these wars have ended in some form of de facto territorial compromise (Northern Ireland, Kashmir, Cyprus, South Sudan, the former Yugoslavia) without this bringing the global legal and moral order down in ruins. It is also striking that while presumably arguing from the perspective of democracy, Umland pays not the slightest attention to what the people of Crimea and the eastern Donbas themselves might want.

Read the full piece in Financial Times.