Ukraine could not decide when to be attacked by Russia. But its military and its state leadership can decide how that Russian invasion will end.
The liberation of Kherson and the arrival of President Zelensky in the liberated city were a display of this logic of war, conquest and making peace. The conqueror has only one advantage in his hands – he decides when the conquest will begin, and if he does not use this advantage, all his appeals for peace will only be a plea for honourable defeat.
Putin has been talking about peace with Ukraine for a long time. Since July, he has launched a “peaceful” rhetoric, although with enormous arrogance towards Ukraine. “We haven’t started anything yet in earnest,” adding that those who reject peace negotiations must know that the further they go, the harder it will be for them to negotiate.
He continued about peace on September 30, at a performance in the Kremlin, admitting four breakaway Ukrainian regions into Russia. But again humiliating Ukraine and its resistance in the process – We call on the Kiev regime to immediately cease fire and all hostilities and return to the negotiating table!?
On the Ukrainian side, during that time, there was not much talk about peace negotiations. Not even under pressure from important Western allies, like France, for example. Were those really friendly calls from the West, out of concern for the survival of Ukraine and its people, or a calculating manoeuvre under internal pressure due to rising inflation and rising gas prices? Even if they were in resonance with increasingly frequent Russian invitations to the negotiating table.
From Ukraine and its leader, the first mention of peace talks came when there was a reason for it. The liberation of Kherson was that moment, as a visible and tangible fact showing under which conditions one can move towards peace. By liberating occupied zones in Ukraine one by one, until the complete withdrawal of the Russian forces from the territory of Ukraine. Just as the UN with the majority of votes requested on March 2.
Kherson brought back to the stage not only the logic of war and peace-making, but also common sense. The one who started the war, and especially the one who loses in that war, cannot decide when the peace will come. Putin can make a decision on peace in Ukraine today; it is enough for him to sign the decision on the withdrawal of his army from Ukraine, and there would be no need for talks. But on his back is the burden of a huge self-deception under which he led his entire nation and his army into an adventure from which, today, he is frantically looking for a way out in order to be able to stay in power, and what is more important, to preserve the legacy of his rule which is easily measured in billions of US dollars.
Zelensky, on the other hand, could not talk about peace and negotiations before he came to the liberated Kherson and told his countrymen that they were “ready for peace, peace for all their country” and that Kherson victory marks the beginning of the end of the war. When Putin talks about peace, he sees it as an envelope in which he wants to wrap his defeat, in order to present it decorated with a bow to his subjects as a victory. When Zelensky talks about peace, he means a liberated country, which drove out the invader and paid the highest price for it.
Putin’s calls for peace are the cries of a loser to stay in the saddle, and that is why he is in a hurry to start negotiations, anywhere. Zelensky’s peace rhetoric is a consequence of the war victory. That rhetoric is dosed; it does not end with the Kherson episode and will be intensified with each new liberation and Russian withdrawal.
The scenes from liberated Kherson give him the right to prepare for new peace offers, but they will have to wait until there are military victories on the ground.
Less than two months ago, Putin triumphantly admitted the Kherson region into the Russian Federation and said that it was “forever”. His – “forever” lasted 40 days. He spoke about the “democratic choice” of the citizens of Kherson to live in Russia; the Kremlin celebrated almost 90% support for joining Russia. Where did those 90% of the citizens of Kherson hide and who were the thousands of people who greeted the Ukrainian army with tears of joy and flowers in the centre of the liberated city?
Putin should know that sooner or later the scenes from Kherson will be repeated in Donetsk, Lugansk and Zaporozhye, in all those places he appropriated with a simple decree and a violent referendum and declared them “Russian citizens,” as he said on September 30. The more often he calls for peace and negotiations will mean that he is increasingly aware that his murderous adventure is going downhill.
It is possible that he will remain immune to those attacks of reality, but what he threatened the authorities in Kyiv with in July will come back to him like a boomerang – the longer he rejects peace, the harder and more expensive it will be for him to negotiate.
Nobody serious and honest can take Putin’s calls for peace negotiations as an important political fact. Zelensky, for example, does not do that. As long as the Russian army is on the territory of Ukraine, Putin’s peace calls are fake, just like the referendums in the four occupied regions were, and especially the Kremlin’s charade with their admission to the “Russian world”.
Putin’s peace initiatives are calls for a life belt to be thrown to a drowning man. Compromise in this sense would mean opening up space for the bully to get away with the crime he committed. Ukraine sees this clearly, and showed it by raising its national flag in the centre of liberated Kherson. This must be clearly seen by the West, especially the leaders in Europe who would like to solve their internal problems by making concessions to the aggressive occupier of a sovereign European state.
The future of European peace is being decided today, on the example of Kherson, and tomorrow in Donbass, Zaporozhye, and of course in Crimea. The end of the war can be discussed when the Ukrainians make that decision, not Putin. He had already taken his chance when deciding on its beginning.