In an effort to reduce tensions in Europe during the height of the Cold War, a major power conference was held in Helsinki, Finland. The understanding which was called the Helsinki Accords, or the Helsinki Final Act was signed on August 1, 1975.
The then Soviet Union had proposed such a conference in the 1950s, but did not receive a positive response from the West until after an invitation by the Warsaw Pact in 1966. It was not until 1972 that preparatory talks got underway. The preparatory talks finalized an agenda for the conference itself.
The agenda consisted of 4 general topics, or baskets.
- Questions on European security
- Cooperation in economics, science, and technology, and the environment.
- Humanitarian and cultural cooperation
- A follow up procedure to the conference itself.
Foreign Minister’s from the interested countries met in Helsinki in 1973 to accept this agenda, and their staffs began meeting in Geneva. The committee finished its work in July of 1975.
The primary interest of the then Soviet Union was to certify its Hegemon status in Eastern Europe, while the West was concerned in advancing human rights, expansion of contacts, freedom to travel, and the free flow of information across borders.
The final agreement signed in August of 1975 in effect marked the end of World War Two. The agreement recognized the final political boundaries which had arisen as a result of the end of the war. Specifically, it recognized the division of Germany into two different nations, West Germany, and East Germany.
The end of the Cold War, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, made the agreement null and void, as one of the principal signatories to the Agreement was no longer a functional political entity. Still, the work of the Helsinki Accords in 1975 can serve as a road map to reducing tensions and an end to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
With the war between Russia and Ukraine grinding on, and the possibility of this conflict spiraling out of control, possibly into the use of nuclear weapons, perhaps it is time for a conference of all the concerned European powers modeled on the Helsinki Summit of 1975.
Origins of the Russian-Ukraine Conflict
At the end of the Cold War, and before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a question arose as to the fate of West and East Germany. The German people wished to re-unite, and the political elite of Germany on both sides wanted the new united Germany to remain in NATO. The United States, in order to gain the support of the Soviet Union for this political re-unification, sought to reassure the Soviets that if the Soviet Union would agree to the reunification of Germany, and allow Germany to remain in NATO, the United States could offer a private and 100% guarantee that NATO would not expand any further into Eastern Europe.
The United States broke its word, and helped expand NATO up to the very frontier of Russia.
Given the history of Russia experiences with the West attacking Russia 4 times in the last 225 years, with 3 of those attacks being of an existential nature, it is no wonder that Russia viewed the illegal overthrow of a democratically elected government as a threat to its polity, especially since the Crimean Peninsula is the last natural obstacle to any invading force. With the Crimean Peninsula in potentially hostile hands, the vast flat steppes of southern Russia are wide open to invasion.
With the West having openly encouraged the revolt, and overthrow of a legally elected government elected by a majority of the Ukrainian people, Russia could not but view such political behavior as a threat to its very polity.
In response to this threat, Russia annexed the Crimea. Historically, the Crimea is Russian. The Crimea was transferred from the Russian SSR to the Ukraine SSR in the 1950s, as a way for Nikita Khrushchev to gain the political support of the Ukrainian SSR party boss in Khrushchev’s political fight with his rival Georgi Malenkov.
The current invasion of Ukraine by Russia is a violation of international law, but the primary responsibility of any leader is to protect the polity of his/her country and the safety of the people of his/her country.
What encouraged Vladimir Putin to take this enormous gamble, was the refusal of the West to adequately support Ukraine in recovering the territory lost by Ukraine in 2014. On top of that, when President Biden publicly said that it would not commit American troops to help defend Ukraine, he practically invited Putin to invade Ukraine.
With the war in Ukraine grinding on, and neither side able to dominate the other, and neither side being able to win a clear victory in the war, it is time for the major European powers, with attendance by the United States and other interested powers, to convene a summit with the aim of ending the conflict in Ukraine.
Possible Settlement Points to End the War
A series of compromises would be needed from both sides to being an end to hostilities in Ukraine.
- That a free and supervised plebiscite be held in the Crimea, as well as in the Donbass region, which would allow the population in these areas to choose which government they wish to belong to.
- That Russia offer compensation to Ukraine for the loss of any territory, as well as damage done to the infrastructure of the war.
- An independent committee to investigate war crimes committed by both sides in the conflict.
- Russia agrees to allow Ukraine to turn her emphasis to the West, without hindrance from Russia.
- That a research committee be formed, to be chaired by a neutral power, to investigate possible compromises for the security issues of eastern Europe, and the security of Russia.
Any successful agreement reached by such a conference would not satisfy all the demands of each party. Any successful outcome to this conflict with demand that each side give up some of its demands, but such a compromise usually will last the test of time.
The West is Losing its Focus on the Greater Threat
The war in Ukraine is a major distraction from the real threat to representative democracy in the world. The increasingly authoritarian government of China, and its expansionary Wolf Warrior policies, is a real and present danger to not only world peace, but to the very existence of democracy in Asia, and so a threat to the national security interests of every representative government on this planet.
The ending of the conflict in Ukraine is necessary for the democratic world to turn its attention to the real threat posed by China.