1. In September 2022, Moscow declared four south-east Ukrainian mainland regions also to be part of the Russian Federation. Russia’s internal legislation was changed to fully incorporate them. As a result, there are now five administrative units of Ukraine claimed by Russia’s constitution and scores of related lower level Russian legal acts including laws, decrees, resolutions, etc..  Moscow’s illegal and ahistorical pretense to the five Ukrainian regions is now fully enshrined in Russian basic law, as well as its federal legislation and state structure. Neither Ukraine nor Russia’s constitutions can be easily changed. Theoretically, the Ukrainian constitution can be quickly amended by a two-thirds majority of Ukraine’s unicameral parliament, the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council). Yet, such a constitutional reform will never pass. A Ukrainian renunciation of its legitimate state territory will never happen. A Russian formal legal reversion of Putin’s expansionist adventure will only come after and not before its material end. The hope that Ukraine and/or Russia can, as a result of a diplomatic process, enact even a temporary abrogation of their currently valid constitutions is unrealistic.
  2. Both Ukraine and Russia contain significant social and political groups who are strictly against any territorial and political compromise with the enemy. As a result of the high toll of the war on both countries, even symbolic concessions to the other side would generate domestic political challenges for the Ukrainian and Russian governments. Even minor conciliatory steps in the direction of the other side, as a result of hypothetical negotiations, will be regarded as acts of national treason. More or less large amounts of citizens and entire parties would oppose them. These groups will make their voices heard, as well as become politically and, perhaps, even physically active.
  3. Ukraine’s hawkish constituency is merely demanding a restoration of law, order and justice. This group of citizens includes the majority of Ukraine’s population – although the percentage of Ukrainian hawks has somewhat fallen during 2023. On the other side are various types of Russian hawks who insist that, at least, some territorial and political gains from Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine since 2014 should remain permanent. The radical wing of Russia’s hawkish camp, including Vladimir Putin himself, thinks that the so-far achieved territorial expansion is actually insufficient. Certain regions not yet illegally annexed by Russia, like Odesa and Mykolaiv, are allegedly also Russian. Moreover, the Ukrainian state’s current non-membership in the EU and NATO should, in this view, become permanent. Ukraine’s sovereignty should also be limited in several other regards – from language to defence policies. To be sure, the depth and width of hawkishness in Russia’s population is altogether lower than that in Ukraine’s citizenry. A future Russian popular acceptance of the loss of most of the relative gains for Russia from the war is more likely and can become more widespread than a Ukrainian popular acceptance of a written acknowledgement of losses of territory and/or sovereignty. On the other side, however, Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea continues to have overwhelming support among the Russian population. This sentiment reaches far beyond the outspokenly imperialist section of the Russian society.
  4. There remain clear majorities in Ukraine regarding a full restoration of territorial integrity, and in Russia regarding the permanency of Crimea’s capture. Both countries contain vocal maximalist hawkish groups, moreover, who are strictly against even miniscule concessions. Some of these particularly intransigent parts of society contain, in both Russia and Ukraine, members who are experienced in using arms and have access to them.
  5. A fifth hindrance in reaching a negotiated end to the war is the peculiar role of Crimea in the Russian national mind and military expansion since 2014. As indicated, Crimea was the most popular territorial achievement that Putin presented to the Russian nation. It is a far more appreciated acquisition than Transnistria in Moldova, Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region (“South Ossetia”) in Georgia, or Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in mainland Ukraine. That is in spite of the fact that the 2014 annexation was based on a deeply flawed historical narrative about an allegedly Russian Crimea. This makes a Russian return of Crimea to Ukraine as a result of negotiations unlikely. Crimea is part and parcel of a larger geoeconomic area that also embraces the southern parts of Ukraine’s mainland. In a hypothetical Russian-Ukrainian negotiation on the future of the currently occupied territories, it is thus all or nothing not only for Kyiv but also for Moscow. This is especially so once the 2019 Kerch Bridge is destroyed by Ukraine’s armed forces – an action likely to happen sooner or later.
  6. A deal in which Ukraine regains its currently occupied mainland territories yet leaves Crimea as a consolation prize to Moscow would not only be unacceptable for Kyiv. It would also be an unsustainable solution for the Kremlin. To keep Crimea as an isolated exclave far away from other Russia-controlled lands would neither economically nor strategically make much sense for Moscow. Nevertheless, many non-Ukrainian observers see Crimea as an object of negotiation and potential instrument of compromise. In fact, the peninsula is neither. A simple glance at the map and a consultation of Crimea’s modern history should make clear that, in negotiations, the peninsula would be a part of the problem rather than a means to its solution. Crimea’s need for close connection to the Ukrainian mainland at its north, i.e. a link to the currently occupied Zaporizhzhia, Kherson and Donbas regions, decreases the likelihood of compromise between Kyiv and Moscow.


Negotiations will, at some point, start to play a role. Yet, they have to wait until the situation on the ground and in Moscow changes to such a degree that they make sense for Kyiv. Once a meaningful agreement between Kyiv and Moscow is signed, its functioning will have to be ensured. Against the backdrop of Russia’s behaviour in the post-Soviet space over the last 30 years, securing a future peace will only be possible with plausible military deterrence against a repeat escalation. The provision of substantial military support to Kyiv is thus the right strategy in three ways. It will (a) help Ukraine prepare for meaningful negotiations now, (b) ensure  a sustainable accord between Kyiv and Moscow at some point in the future, and (c) subsequently keep peace intact.

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