June 14, 2022 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 389

The West Should Not Repeat A Second 'Munich Agreement' With Russia; To Appease Putin Would Mean The Collapse Of The Modern International System

June 14, 2022 | By Dr. Vladislav L. Inozemtsev*
Russia | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 389

As Russia's invasion of Ukraine passes the 100-day mark, the rhetoric of Western politicians and experts has shifted significantly. For instance, several retired politicians well known not only for their outstanding careers but also for a long history of cooperation and friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin advised the Ukrainian government to be more attentive to Putin's claims over some parts of Ukraine's sovereign territory.

Addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger suggested that Ukraine should cede territories to Moscow in order to reach a peace deal. "Pursuing the war beyond that point would not be about the freedom of Ukraine, but a new war against Russia itself," Kissinger said.[1] A similar opinion was shared by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a long-time friend of Putin, who said: "Peace must be reached as soon as possible... I believe that a united Europe must make a proposal for peace, trying to get the Ukrainians to accept Putin's requests."[2]

Renowned political strategist Edward Luttwak also stated that a referendum in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions is the only way out to put an end to the war in Ukraine.[3]

Furthermore, France's President Emmanuel Macron warned against humiliating Russia in a peace settlement. Macron said: "We will have a peace to build tomorrow, let us never forget that... I mentioned this earlier. We will have to do this with Ukraine and Russia around the table. The end of the discussion and the negotiation will be set by Ukraine and Russia. But it will not be done in denial, nor in exclusion of each other, nor even in humiliation."[4]

It is becoming clearer that more and more politicians and experts are trying to find a solution to the conflict by suggesting that Kyiv should give up part of its sovereignty (consequently accepting Putin's claims on parts of Ukraine's territories). Yet, no one seems questioning whether the Kremlin would agree at this point to a compromise over territorial concessions to stop the invasion of Ukraine.

Moreover, many analysts drew parallels with the end of WWI and to the events that led to the 1938 Munich agreement reached by Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy that allowed the German annexation of the Sudetenland, in western Czechoslovakia. Yet, the present unfolding of events, in my opinion, looks even worse than the path that led to Munich and to WWII.

Neville Chamberlain, left, and Hitler sealing the 1938 Munich agreement. (Source: Public Domain)

"Kissinger's Calendar Is Not 2022, But 1938"

Commenting on Kissinger's proposal that Ukraine should accept the "status quo ante," meaning that Russia should be recognized in its control over Crimea and the Donbas region, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said: "It seems that Mr. Kissinger's calendar is not 2022, but 1938, and he thought he was talking to an audience not in Davos, but in Munich of that time... By the way, in the real year 1938, when Mr. Kissinger's family was fleeing Nazi Germany, he was 15 years old, and he understood everything perfectly. And nobody heard from him then that it was necessary to adapt to the Nazis instead of fleeing them or fighting them."[5]

It is well known that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned to the United King­dom claiming that the Munich agreement brought "the peace of our time," while WWII was to break out just a year later. However, in 1938, European leaders had far more reason to hope to be successful in appeasing Adolf Hitler than Western leaders today may have in trying to bring Putin to terms with reality.

France and Britain really believed that the agreement would have brought peace, but nowadays everyone knows what happened later. The parallels between Putin's Russia and the fascist powers of old Europe are so numerous, that the very idea of giving territorial concessions looks like a well-calculated betrayal, to say the least. However, there are three more factors that should be considered before trading Ukraine's sovereignty.

The Dissolution Of The Soviet Union Happened Peacefully

First: The overall situation around Germany in the mid-1930s was quite different from the one that has existed in the post-Soviet space since the 1990s. After WWI, a constellation of states emerged between the German and Soviet borders and between the Baltic and Adriatic Seas. Yet, this new world order was not stable. In particular, the new map of Europe did not respect the ethnic borders. Therefore, in 1920, several plebiscites were organized in Europe (most notably in and around Germany, including voting in Schleswig and East Prussia in 1920) that were designed to ascertain the wishes of the people living on the disputed territories. As the case of the Sudetenland showed, they eventually failed to produce a stable international system, although they constituted an attempt to enshrine the concept of self-determination.

Contrary to what happened after WWI in Europe, the dissolution of the Soviet Union happened peacefully: The borders between the new independent states were accepted by the legitimate leaders of the emerging states, which were expected to be not ethnic, but civil republics. It is worth noting that when Russia attacked Chechnya, which had been recognized in the 1990s as part of its sovereign territory, no other post-Soviet country opposed it. The new post-Soviet borders were set up on the basis of consent between these new countries, and by no means drawn and imposed by their victorious enemies, as happened after World War I through the treaties of Versailles, Trianon, and of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

Hence, Putin's claims concerning the "unfair" nature of the post-Soviet borders cannot be taken seriously. It is worth stressing that while in the Sudetenland the Czechs discriminated against Germans who did not want to learn their language, in Donbass and Crimea no one was discriminated against on the basis of their proficiency in the Ukrainian language. Moreover, the idea of self-determination, as was codified by the United Nations in 1971, addresses only the cases in which a people does not have its own nation-state whereas, if it has one, its representatives should cooperate with their country fellows in this state without trying to endanger the territorial integrity of their neighbors.

Putin Broke The Treaty Between The Russian Federation And Ukraine On The Russian-Ukrainian State Border

Second: If Putin is to be compared to Hitler (it is worth noting that Hitler started his rise to power after the Treaty of Versailles was signed, while Putin came to power a while after the collapse of the Soviet Union), a drastic difference between them appears. The German Fuehrer inherited a border situation that had been created and recognized by the Weimar Republic. Neither he nor his colleagues within the Third Reich government signed any treaties between Germany and Czechoslovakia. Hence, French and British leaders had some reasons to expect him to act on a bona fide principle, and this, at least in part, excuses their naivety that led to the partition of Czechoslovakia.

Conversely, Putin signed in Kyiv the 2003 Treaty Between the Russian Federation and Ukraine on the Russian-Ukrainian State Border. In 2004, he even signed a law ratifying the treaty.[6] Nevertheless, Putin broke the treaty at least three times: when he ordered the Russian troops to invade Crimea in 2014; when he supported the Donbass separatists and recognized the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk "People's Republics" on February 22, 2022; and when he de facto declared war on Ukraine and attacked Ukrainian targets throughout the neighboring country. It is therefore obvious that the bona fide principle cannot be applied to any of Putin's initiatives and promises concerning the Ukrainian crisis.

In WWII, No Western Power Thought To Make Territorial Concessions To Hitler

Third, and supposedly most important: The Munich  Agreement was perceived at the time as a bold and presumably last step for avoiding an attack on Czechoslovakia that would have meant the start of a European war. According to the France-Czechoslovakia Treaty of Alliance and Friendship signed by French President Raymond Poincaré and Czech President Edvard Beneš in January 1924, France was obliged to side with the Czechoslovakians to repel any aggression against the country.

Seemingly, in the current case, many experts and politicians point out that the ongoing fighting may lead to an all-out war between Russia and the West, which may even include the use of nuclear weapons. Yet, no NATO or EU country has a binding treaty with Ukraine, providing for an armed intervention on Kyiv's side against Russia. The supply of armaments and ammunition cannot be considered as such an engagement since to buy weapons for self-defense purposes falls within the sovereign rights of any nation. However, many experts believe that, if Western countries continue to supply Ukraine with weapons, Russia will feel in its right to prolong the aggression against civilians and infrastructure. If this is the case, I believe that it is not possible to negotiate with Putin, as the West would negotiate with a leader that is accountable for war crimes.

In 1938, Western European powers were trying with the Munich agreement to prevent a war from taking place, but now appeasing Russia will not bring much, as the Russia-Ukraine war is already in its fourth month, and it is quite clear who is the aggressor and who is the victim. I would remind the reader that, after September 1, 1939 (when World War II began), no Western power, even those that remained out of the war (e.g., the United States or Switzerland), made any attempt to call on the belligerents to stop fighting in exchange for some Polish, Czech, Yugoslavian, or French territories. For the statesmen of the time, it looked obvious that the territorial integrity of states should be respected even if a dictator believed to have the "right" to either increase the Lebensraum ("living space") or to champion the ideas of the Russkiy mir ("Russian world").


It is worth noting that in the Munich Agreement not only German, but also Hungarian and Polish claims toward Czechoslovakia were considered, so the final agreement might be seen as a multilateral convention. Yet, in the case of Ukraine, it seems unreasonable to force the Ukraine to cede some of its territory to an aggressive power headed by a leader that has already proven to be unable to respect even the treaties and obligations that he himself had undersigned.

To appease Russia with territorial concessions would not be just a "second Munich" but something much worse that could lead to a complete collapse of the modern international system. What Putin has been advocating since at least 2012 is a world without rules, and the Western analysts and policymakers who now suggest that he should be appeased are paving the path to this very goal that will, in its turn, lead not to peace, but rather to a new war of "all against all."


* Dr. Vladislav L. Inozemtsev is a special advisor to the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project.


[1], May 24, 2022.

[2], May 20, 2022.

[3], June 4, 2022.

[4], May 9, 2022.

[5], May 26, 2022.

[6], April 23, 2004.

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