Why we should not allow the war to turn into a frozen conflict
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Why we should not allow the war to turn into a frozen conflict

1 November 2022
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Russia’s slow advance in Ukraine combined with substantial military casualties mean that Putin desperately needs a pause in the war to regain his army’s weakening strength. This may temporarily freeze the conflict, but it will not bring a permanent peace to Europe. Despite recent setbacks, Putin has not given up his hopes to destroy Ukraine and restore Russia’s influence on the territories of the former Russian empire. To prevent another war, Russia must be decisively defeated and forced to abandon its imperial ambitions. 

Russia is involved in most frozen conflicts in recent history by instigating separatist conflicts in Post-Soviet states and installing puppet regimes that have no international recognition. Transnistria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, so-called “people’s republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk all are examples of such policies.

After failing to capture Kyiv and a defeat in Kharkiv oblast, Kremlin aims to seize as much of Ukraine as possible and to “freeze” the conflict by establishing a ceasefire and entangling Ukraine in protracted and futile peace negotiations. This development may be welcomed by those tired of the war. However, as the Donbas experience shows, a frozen conflict with Russia is not the end but a stepping stone towards the complete destruction of Ukrainian statehood and further assault.  

We know that Putin’s ambitions do not end in Ukraine. His historical “essays” and comparison of himself to Peter the Great show that he believes that Russia has the right to territories of the former Russian empire. We don’t know which country he will attack after Ukraine; we only know that he will do so. 

After eight months of fighting Russia is feeling the heavy toll of the war. The sanctions are crippling Russia’s economy and hampering the production of new weapons. At the same time, the firm Ukrainian resistance supported by western weapons and supplies has imposed heavy  losses on Russian troops and forced Putin to announce mass mobilization in Russia.

This scares Putin. He needs to temporarily freeze the war to restore his troops and replenish his arms and ammunition. However, this frozen conflict will just deepen the long-term security and economic problems in Europe and the rest of the world. 

First, Putin will use this period to sow division among Ukrainian allies through propaganda and disinformation campaigns and will try to take advantage of war fatigue stemming from high energy prices, food shortages, and diminished media attention. He will use the truce to try to negotiate the lifting of sanctions that now hamper Russia’s economy and military industries.  

Second, a frozen conflict will deepen the humanitarian catastrophe currently unfolding in the occupied Ukrainian territories and prevent displaced Ukrainians from returning home. The occupied Donbas provides a strong argument why a new frozen conflict can never be allowed. Minsk I and II agreements which the Kremlin never honoured, allowed the occupants to terrorise its population, ruin it economically and create irreversible environmental damage after being unable to manage confiscated chemical plants and mines.

In the newly occupied territories thousands of Ukrainians are illegally detained, interrogated, tortured, raped, and murdered in so-called “filtration camps”. Outside of those,  Ukrainian population is being forcibly deported to Russia, elected officials are abducted and murdered, Russian curricula and language are forcibly introduced in schools where children are forbidden to speak Ukrainian. The longer the occupation continues, the harder it will be to re-settle these areas and re-integrate them into Ukraine. 

Third, if Putin is able to achieve a frozen conflict in Ukraine, he will sell it to Russia’s population as a victory. This will solidify his political support in Russia and will increase the chances of a new war in the future. Furthermore, if Putin emerges relatively unscathed after waging a brutal war, this will embolden other authoritarian aggressors and will make the life of our planet less secure.   

If a frozen conflict cannot be allowed, what can be done to prevent it? Putin’s best chance to freeze the conflict is from a position of strength. That would enable him to seize as much Ukrainian  territory as possible and to attempt to impose a large number of his demands on Ukraine. This can be prevented in the short term by a continuous flow of weapons and ammunition to Ukraine. These should include not only defensive but also offensive weapons, allowing Ukraine to regain territory and strike at Russian supply lines and ammunition depots, including those inside Russia. To ensure Ukraine’s victory and Russia’s defeat, this needs to be complemented by establishing a pooling of resources enabling Ukraine to order and purchase weapons directly from manufacturers without the approval of different countries’ restrictions of re-exports of weapons due to licenses. 

In the longer term, Ukraine’s possibilities to independently secure its borders must be strengthened. The granting of EU candidate status to Ukraine is a first step in this direction but is not enough. It must be complemented by security guarantees by its supporters in order to attract foreign investors and help Ukraine’s economy to transform and integrate into the EU economies

An earlier version of this article was previously published in Frivarld.

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