Source: Facebook Page Володимир Зеленський

Ukraine Must Not Have Its “Munich Moment”

The annual security conference in Munich, Germany, has just concluded. The attending leaders discussed the war in Ukraine, while the legacy of 1938—when Western powers chose appeasement, conceding to Hitler at Czechoslovakia’s expense—still hangs in the air. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has been lasting for two years now, and it does not seem to end soon. The fatigue of the Western population and leadership has become even more apparent recently, with calling for a ceasefire and truce becoming even louder. The year 2024 promises to be crucial in resolving the war, and it seems that the Western states will push Ukraine to peace with territorial concessions. 

Recent Western discourse about the Russian war against Ukraine is raising the question of the possibility of negotiations and concessions from the Ukrainian side more frequently. Apart from academic or journalist voices spreading those ideas, it becomes a matter of political debate, with progressively more reports on political elites of the West developing plans concerning the possible peace deal with Russia. For instance, one of the New York Times articles suggests that the Kremlin has indicated its interest in striking a deal to halt the war. [1] Another example is the recent piece in POLITICO, which claims that the Biden administration and European officials are quietly shifting their focus from supporting Ukraine’s goal of total victory over Russia to improving its position in an eventual negotiation to end the war. [2] Earlier in November, an article published on NBC stated that the U.S. and European officials are talking to the Ukrainian government about what possible peace negotiations with Russia might entail ending the war. [3] The German tabloid BILD reported that Biden and Scholz want to force Zelensky to negotiate with Kremlin dictator Putin in a very specific way – and to accept brutal compromises. [4] With so many mentions in the top press globally, Ukraine should be concerned if the Western allies are indeed ready to fulfil their promises of supporting Ukraine “as long as it takes”

This aspiration of the political elites in the West can be, at least partially, justified. One of the toughest elections of 2024 is taking place in the US. Their results will determine not only the possible outcomes of numerous conflicts all around the globe but also the shape of the world order in the near future. The current administration of President Joe Biden lacks the leadership the US requires to navigate itself and its allies through hard times, as his foreign and security policy lacks consistency and decisiveness. His administration seems to be concerned more with deterring potential risks and playing geopolitical mind games with China rather than solving the current acute issues, like Russia’s war in Ukraine and escalating Middle East conflicts. Despite a better economic situation, the President’s ratings are low, and his weak leadership would likely become a decisive factor in the upcoming elections. [5] The foreign policy of his opponent, Donald Trump, seems to be dangerous for the EU and Russian war against Ukraine. During his first presidential term, he constantly threatened to exit NATO. [6] In his recent comments, he said that he would encourage Russia to attack NATO states that are not contributing 2% of their GDP to defence. [7] Some commentators in the US even call his foreign policy an appeasement. [8] Regardless of the uncertainty of this election’s outcome, Capitol Hill is already struggling to find a consensus on the aid bill for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. While the Senate managed to pass the aid bill, both separately and tied to the broader bill, it is unlikely that the House of Representatives will complete the process. Mike Johnson, the speaker of the House and a vocal supporter of Trump, has opposed the bill, stating: It would have been dead on arrival in the House” in reference to the broader bill that would include financial aid to Ukraine. [9]

Donald Trump with Mike Johnson, the current House Speaker and his vocal supporter. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Europe is under massive pressure on the North Atlantic’s opposite side. No wonder any further escalation would unfold on its territory. NATO’s Eastern Flank members are calling for more significant and rapid preparations for the future war against Russia. Estonian PM Kaja Kallas warns about the possibility of full-scale Russian invasion of Europe in the next three to five years. [10] The possible direction of the attack would be the weak point of NATO – Suwałki Gap [11] that separates Belarus, a de facto vassal state of Russia, from the Russian exclave, Kaliningrad. Another option is to use the Russian population in Baltic states as a casus belli [12] or to declare pseudo-republics on the territories of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia that would “ask Putin to help” – favourite Kremlin justification for conquering neighbours. While the fears of Baltic states and Poland are more than understandable as they would probably be the first to be attacked, they are now being joined by some bigger players, such as Germany, who are also vocal about the threat of a full-scale war in Europe. For instance, Scholz criticised EU allies for insufficient military support for Ukraine. [13] The Bundeswehr is working on defensive plans in case of Russian aggression to the East of Oder. [14] That being said, freezing the war may seem beneficial for Europe as it would give some time to prepare for the invasion on its soil.

Even Europeans themselves are sceptical about the Ukrainian victory at the time. According to the ECFR poll, more Europeans support pushing Ukraine to peace than actually regaining the lost territories. Some 37% of the respondents see the end of the Russo-Ukrainian war as a peace agreement. Other 20% believe in Russian victory, while only every tenth respondent is confident in Ukraine’s triumph. [15] In the US, the situation is no better. Almost half of the GOP supporters believe that the US provides too much aid to Ukraine. [16] Another poll suggests that 36% of Americans believe the war would end with the negotiations, and 69% believe the US should urge Ukraine to the negotiations. [17] This public opinion might become crucial for Ukraine’s future victory. Without the Western public, there will be no military aid to Ukraine, and without it, Ukraine will fall.

Considering the aforementioned, the situation looks as follows: the failure of the 2023 Ukrainian counteroffensive and the following stalemate on the front forces the West to rethink their position on the war. Eventually, some might have lost faith in Ukraine’s victory and would prefer to concentrate on other conflicts. This scenario was also mentioned as a likely one in Eurasia Group’s Top Risk 2024 report. [18] During the war, certain politicians in Europe found that the general public’s anti-war sentiments and anxiety may serve as a useful tool to garner support and win elections, as we have seen in the case of Geert Wilders‘ victory in the Netherlands or Robert Fico’s in Slovakia. In addition, the uncertainty about the person who would occupy the Oval Office for the next five years forces the governments in the EU to start taking necessary preventive steps to prepare for the worst-case scenario. [19] Altogether, with the October 7 terrorist attack on Israel and the rising escalation of numerous conflicts in the Middle East, the Western politicians seemed to have decided to lead the war in Ukraine to peace with territory concessions. It means that Ukraine would give up its territories, already occupied by Russia, in exchange for peace and arguably even potential membership in the EU and NATO. These endeavours would be supported by the public in the EU and the US, with more people having anxiety about the war.

However, there is a big question of whether Ukraine and its leadership would be willing to take this step and risk the loss of support in the elections which will, sooner or later, take place. Furthermore, it all looks like the Ukrainian leadership will not take that risk. President Zelensky stressed that any accession of lands to Russia is madness. [20] The Ukraine Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Oleh Nikolenko, amplified the President’s narratives and emphasised that peace in Europe lies in Moscow’s defeat. [21] So, the situation seems to be quite interesting. If Western leaders were to accept Russia’s claims on Ukrainian territory, Europe would possibly carve out a little more time to prepare for the potential confrontation with Russia. However, Ukraine would see it as a betrayal. Moreover, it is not certain that the gained time would make any difference in a possible war with Russia. Ukraine knows well enough the way Russia is operating. Any peace would become a disservice to Ukraine. Russia has already transformed its economy to the military rails. Following an example of two Chechen Wars shows, Russia will use any truce to prepare for the more massive future escalation, which today would mean a war with NATO.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in 2022. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In conclusion, any attempts at negotiating with Russia would fail to produce sustainable peace worldwide. Russia is interested in spreading chaos amongst the NATO members. Separating Ukraine would be just another signal for Russia to follow the path of violence. More oppression will be imposed upon people under occupation, and more mass murders are to come. It would inevitably lead to a bigger and broader war in Europe against NATO. Even if there was no aim of sustainable peace, additional time granted by the peace deal would be too costly because Ukrainians are paying their lives for it, as well as insufficient to get well-prepared for the possible future escalation. As illustrated above, the lack of leadership in Washington and the possible rise of pro-Russian far-right populists in Europe and Donald Trump in the US would only cause more instability in the West. Forcing Ukraine to give up territories would, therefore, be seen in Kyiv as a treason of values and in the rest of the world as the failure of the West to counter the threats. Not only Ukraine but also many others would see any peace as a sign of weakness, a flare for the revisionist powers like Iran, China, or North Korea, and a call for more decisive actions. Even more troubling is that public opinion is shifting to this diplomatic resolution of the war. Therefore, we might end up in the situation of 1938 Czechoslovakia, when Europe was so afraid of another war that it would rather give up the democratic state than stand up against the Hitler regime.

Some people say that history repeats itself, that it is a loop. However, history is really a spiral – the longer we live as a civilisation, the more experienced we become. Nonetheless, we miraculously manage not only to repeat our mistakes but also to exacerbate them. Even a century later, we are still in the 1930s with undecisive politicians, weak leadership and the nocturnal fascist beast that wants to tear Europe apart because of his revanchism, and we did too little to learn from the past and prevent the horror that might occur on the European soil. 

Article reviewed by Jan Míček and Dávid Dinič.


[1] Troianovski, A., Entous, A., & Barnes, J. E. (2023, December 23). Putin quietly signals he is open to a Cease-Fire in Ukraine. The New York Times.

[2] The Biden administration is quietly shifting its strategy in Ukraine. (2023, December 27). POLITICO.

[3] U.S., European officials broach topic of peace negotiations with Ukraine, sources say. (2023, November 3). NBC News.

[4] Röpcke, J. (2023, November 24). Ukraine-Krieg: Neuer Geheimplan von Scholz und Biden | Politik.–scholz-und-biden-86192752.bild.html

[5] The Biden administration is quietly shifting its strategy in Ukraine. (2023b, December 27). POLITICO.

[6] Wax, E. (2024, January 10). Trump vowed he’d ‘never’ help Europe if it’s attacked, top EU official says. POLITICO.

[7] Sullivan, K. (2024, February 11). Trump says he would encourage Russia to ‘do whatever the hell they want’ to any NATO country that doesn’t pay enough. CNN.

[8] Michel, C. (2024, February 6). Trump’s Russia policy is appeasement. WSJ.

[9] Reuters. (2024, January 26). House Speaker Johnson says border deal “dead on arrival” in current form -CNN. Reuters.

[10] Moody, O. (2024, January 17). Russia could threaten Nato within three years, says Estonia. The Times.

[11] Karnitschnig, M. (2022, November 18). The most dangerous place on earth. POLITICO.

[12] Putin creating conditions to invade NATO-aligned Baltic states, ISW analysis. (2024, January 17). Yahoo News.

[13] Scholz berates EU allies over “insufficient” military support for Ukraine. (2024, January 9). Reuters.

[14] Carbonaro, G. (2024, January 16). Germany lays out ‘exercise scenario’ for a potential conflict between NATO and Russia. Euronews.

[15] Leonard, M., & Krastev, I. (2024, February 21). Wars and elections: How European leaders can maintain public support for Ukraine. ECFR.

[16] Cerda, A. (2023, December 8). About half of Republicans say the U.S. is providing too much aid to Ukraine | Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center.

[17] Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. (2024, February 15). New Poll: More than Two-Thirds of Americans Support Urgent U.S. Diplomacy to End Ukraine War.

[18] Eurasia Group | The top Risks of 2024. (2023).

[19] Lynch, S., & Warmbrodt, Z. (2024, January 16). Trump’s ghost stalks Davos. POLITICO.

[20] Григорська, Н. (2023, December 13). Зеленський різко відповів на запитання про «здачу» територій: Це божевілля. NV.

[21] Шварц, Д., & Соколенко, О. (2023, December 27). МЗС відповіло прем’єру Саксонії на “здачу землі задля миру.”


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