We should seek a summit meeting with Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy at Torgau in Germany. We need a negotiated end to the current war in Ukraine.
“We should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate,” said John F. Kennedy in his eloquent Inaugural Address.
Russia’s war is unjust, but Russians’ feeling threatened is based on hundreds of years of fear of invasion. We can laugh at great Russia saying they are threatened by Finland joining NATO. It seems absurd on its face.
Russians remember that, during the Continuation War from 1941 to 1944, Finland invaded the USSR in cooperation with Hitler. Finland borders on St. Petersburg, then known as Leningrad.
Vladimir Putin’s parents lived through World War II in Leningrad. More Russians died in that one besieged city (1941–45) than civilians died in England, France, and the United States combined. Putin’s older brother died there. His psychological scars are shared by millions of Russians today. We must take these feelings into account.
We in the West can have little comprehension of what Russians suffered in those years. In Leningrad, most dogs and cats disappeared—into the soup kettle. Of those dogs who did survive, they were loaded with explosives and sent out into the German lines surrounding the embattled city. Germans learned to shoot every dog approaching their positions.
Between Wehrmacht artillery bombardments and Luftwaffe bombing raids, Leningrad’s frozen boulevards were eerily silent. Only the sounds of sleds squeaking through the streets could be heard. They were bearing the shrouded bodies of little children—the first to starve.
Despite all this history, Russia could agree to make a durable peace with little Finland. In a brief Moscow Spring in the 1990s, Russia signed a treaty with Finland.
That treaty guaranteed Finns’ full sovereignty and the ability to act without looking over their shoulders toward Moscow. Finns and Russians mutually agreed to respect the rights of ethnic minorities in their countries. Finns in Russia, Russians in Finland.
The Russo-Finnish Treaty of 1992 might be offered as a basis for the negotiation of an end to the Russo-Ukrainian War.
We need to assuage Russians’ fears. It is our responsibility to convince Russia that NATO is not their enemy. NATO is their shield. NATO has never attacked them. NATO never will.
When Finland and Sweden join NATO, Russia’s security is strengthened, not weakened. And when Russia agrees to withdraw from Ukraine, Russia’s southern flank will be covered by NATO’s protective umbrella. National security mutually guaranteed is better than mutual assured destruction.
What’s in it for Russia? For starters, Russia can relax her garrison state stance. Never having to fear their borders with Norway, Sweden, and Finland, Russia could devote more spending to urgent domestic needs.
Russia can be restored to her historic place among the nations. Today’s war has made Russia a pariah in the international community. We need a cultural détente to bring Russian art, music, ballet, architecture, and iconography back into Western cities—as evidence of Russia’s status as a cultural superpower.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote that humanity is like a great gem. In their own unique ways, people who reflect the Image of God make up each nation. We need to recognize Russia’s great contribution to the world’s heritage.
But not Russian autocracy. Not Russian tsarism, Communism, or police state surveillance. The first victims of Russian tyranny are the Russians. They suffer the Kremlin knout daily.
The rallying of NATO to aid stricken Ukraine is entirely legitimate and urgent. And Russia’s invasion has made the case for NATO expansion.
Americans’ desire for regime change should have been more than satisfied by 20 years of unproductive war. The fruitless, bootless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq should have sated that yearning.
Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill had to keep in mind every day the opinions of their own domestic bases, something Stalin never needed to consult. We need to attend to our war-weary publics, too.
Regime change in Moscow would require occupying Russia. Have we forgotten Churchill’s taunting of Hitler’s invasion of Russia? He noted that Napoleon’s 1812 invasion was a colossal failure. “We all learned about that in school,” he said in one of his war broadcasts. He reminded his listeners, “There is snow and ice there. Hitler must have been very indifferently educated.”
Churchill was right to say “the empires of the future will be empires of the mind.” That was surely true of the end of the British Empire. And the Soviet bloc, as well.
Why choose Torgau in Germany for a peace conference hosted by Chancellor Olaf Scholz?
Torgau is where US and Soviet soldiers clasped hands in 1945. The German Social Democratic Party (SPD) had been a victim of the Third Reich. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder asked to be invited to the 2004 Commemoration of D-Day. He asserted that Germans, too, were liberated by the Allied forces that landed in Normandy. And he was right.
A treaty of peace between Russia and Ukraine should include an expanded NATO. And that could provide Russia with all the assurances of security that she could reasonably ask for.
We must decide which aim is more important for us.
Do we seek a Ukraine free from Russian occupation? Do we want a Ukraine free to join NATO?
Or do we demand regime change in Moscow? Isn’t that more the business of Russians? Do we really want to threaten the wounded bear that has nuclear teeth and claws? John Lukacs’ Bismarck quote in Foreign Affairs in 1992 accurately sums up our concern for dealing with Putin today: “Russia is never as strong or as weak as she appears.”
Blessed are the peacemakers. But let it always be peace through strength.