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Why Russia will not trade land for peace

Article by Jan Lipavský, Minister of Foreign Affairs, on the 55th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion to Czechoslovakia, explaining why a negotiated peace that would yield the territory of Ukraine is not a good idea.

Fifty-five years ago, half a million Soviet soldiers began to occupy Czechoslovakia. Over six thousand tanks rolled over the Prague Spring dream held by a large portion of our citizens. A dream that communism could be reformed and that in countries controlled by Moscow people could enjoy freedom of expression and their opinion would not get them kicked out of school and work or even imprison them.

Until the night of the 20th-21st of August, people were convinced  that the Kremlin had no reason to send an army against our government, considering that Czechoslovakia had no intention to leave the Soviet-led military and economic pacts and the communist party and its leadership were at the peak of their popularity. Kremlin leaders were petrified by the idea that citizens of the Soviet Union could also demand freedom of speech, including those in Ukraine, which shared a border with Czechoslovakia. The risky decision to occupy our country, which could have theoretically been defended by over 200,000 soldiers at the time, came precisely from this fear of freedom and its contagious nature.

Half a century ago, Leonid Brezhnev more or less succeeded: although he failed to install a pre-planned puppet government, the Kremlin effectively carried out a coup. The communist leadership of that   time decided not to defend the country from the foreign invasion, and after the Soviets abducted them to Moscow, they yielded completely. In the Ukrainian case, today’s Russia still thinks the same way as 55 years ago—it fears freedom of speech, plurality of opinion, and free elections that Ukraine has been honouring for over 30 years already. Vladimir Putin has understood that threats and blackmail will not stop the Ukrainian desire for freedom, and the only option is to crush it by force. He wanted to repeat Brezhnev's success and carry out a coup, quickly occupy the country, and, possibly, divide it. He did not succeed because he underestimated the Ukrainians, bravely defending their country against foreign tanks for a year and a half.

Defense has a high price in civilian and military casualties, unfathomable material damages, and almost daily drone and cruise missile strikes on civilian infrastructure. Ukraine cannot do without long-term military shipments and further Western support; therefore, the seemingly logical question is whether it would not be better for everyone to negotiate peace with the Kremlin in exchange for territorial concessions from the Ukrainian side.

However, such a traded peace would not work and would also be dangerous for the future of all of Europe. Russia and other totalitarian countries must not get used to changing borders by force. It would lead to more wars on the continent. And it would be naive to think that Russia would not continue its war against the Ukrainian independence. After all, the forfeiting of the Sudetenland to Hitler by the 1938 Munich Agreement has been followed by the occupation of Czechoslovakia in less than half a year, and the start of World War II not even in a year.

Kremlin leaders don’t care about Crimea or eastern Ukraine or even southern Ukraine. This war is not about territory, it is a war about values and Russia’s fear of freedom of speech and free elections. This fear is almost immutable among Russian leaders and it cannot be soothed by a territory or concessions. Our only defense against it is an active support of Ukraine and the support of  its accession to NATO and the EU. The fact is, Russia doesn’t dare to bully stronger powers.

Jan Lipavský, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic
Published in the daily newspaper Právo