Moderation, striving for a balance between extremes, is almost universally considered a moral virtue. The concept has found a place at the heart of democratic politics, where taking the center ground is seen as a prerequisite to bipartisanship and therefore to compromise and successful reform. Though taking the center is almost always the easiest way to solve a problem, it is not always the fairest.
Many have been urging Ukraine to meet Russia in the middle. They claim that Ukraine should sue for peace for its own benefit, sparing its population from the horrors of war and the world from nuclear annihilation. To advocate for these arguments is not only to grossly misunderstand the war, but to actively promote Russian propaganda.
Elon Musk learned it the hard way. Recently he published a proposal for a “Ukraine-Russia Peace” to his Twitter page, containing the four following points: 1) A rerun of “elections” in the annexed regions under UN supervision; 2) “Crimea formally part of Russia, as it has been since 1783 (until Khrushchev’s mistake)”; 3) an assurance of water supply to Crimea from Ukraine; and 4) Ukraine remains neutral. He was polling his audience of almost 110 million whether they thought it was a good idea.
Musk’s poll encouraged Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to respond with his own, asking whether his followers preferred the pro-Russian or pro-Ukrainian versions of the billionaire. Musk’s peace plan was also featured on the Kremlin’s state-run outlet Russia Today (RT), which, citing the businessman himself, reported that the plan had been attacked by pro-Ukrainian “bots.”
The move by Musk has not surprised everyone. The Hill found in court documents released on September 27th that Musk sees RT as having “a lot of bullshit, but some good points too.” Though Musk’s peace plan received a thumping rejection of 59.1 percent, it is still too close for comfort and it hints at the pervasiveness of pro-Russian narratives.
Though pushing for Ukraine and Russia to compromise might seem like the more magnanimous position to take, as it avoids further bloodshed and global economic damage, it is in practice an acknowledgement that Russia had a legitimate right to invade and impose itself on its neighbor.
Consider Musk’s proposal for a rerun of the so-called referenda in the annexed regions: to claim they should take place is to recognize that they are contested – even though annexation was never even a part of Putin’s original war goals (full transcript of Putin’s declaration of war).
War is sometimes necessary to defend peace. Russia’s invasion has no legitimate justification, it is being waged for the aggrandizement of the Russian state and to prolong Putin’s regime. His speeches declaring war and announcing the annexation of the four Ukrainian regions, and his essay on the “Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” reveal the extent of his ambition and his willingness to do what it takes to obtain what he perceives as Russia’s right. They echo the thought of philosophers Ivan Ilyin and Aleksandr Dugin, who openly advocate for nationalism and expansionism.
Even if one looks beyond Russia’s immediate rhetoric, their imperialistic tendencies are hard to ignore. It invaded Georgia in 2008 to bring them to heel for drifting away from the “Russian world” (Russkiy mir), by electing a pro-Western government and expressing its intention to join NATO and develop closer ties with the EU. The invasion was launched under the guise of “defending” the autonomous regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a casus belli Ukrainians will surely recognize.
Russia cannot tolerate its neighbors exerting their own sovereignty. For Putin, countries must either be under him or be part of a grand coordinated plan to bring him down. The world cannot go on tolerating Russia’s transgressions without threatening every country’s right to choose their own future.
Arguing for Ukraine and Russia to compromise and make peace is to approve of someone occupying another person’s house simply because it spares the possible death of the resident. When we speak about the war in everyday circumstances, far from the front lines, we must be careful not to legitimate Russia and undermine Ukraine.
Our opinions, shared over a coffee with friends or during a break at work, can make a difference because they determine what society sees as “normal.” It is Ukraine’s right to choose its own future and it is the duty of the rest of the world to make sure it can exercise it.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.