Analyse und Diskussion

War and Nonviolent Intervention

Tracking Russia-Ukraine conflict escalation and finding possible ways to peace

von Yurii Sheliazhenko

mit einem Kommentar von Friedrich Glasl

Notiz: Der Autor hatte diesen Beitrag vor einigen Monaten bei W&F zur Veröffentlichung eingereicht. Der Beitrag war noch in der Überarbeitung, als der Autor eine Hausdurchsuchung durch die ukrainischen Sicherheitsorgane über sich ergehen lassen musste. Er bat uns in der Folge, den Text zügig online zu stellen, um über seine Veröffentlichungen auch klar herausstellen zu können, dass der gegen ihn erhobene Vorwurf der „Rechtfertigung des russischen Angriffskrieges“ nicht aufrechterhalten werden kann. W&F stellt daher diese vorläufige Fassung online, um den Autoren zu unterstützen. Der folgende Text ist auf Englisch.

Note: The author submitted this article to W&F for publication a few months ago. The article was still being revised when the author had to endure a house search by the Ukrainian Security Service. He subsequently asked us to put the text online quickly in order to be able to make it clear via his publications that the accusation of „justifying the Russian war of aggression“ made against him cannot be upheld. W&F is therefore putting this provisional version online to support the author.

On 24 February 2022 the Russian Federation declared a so-called special military operation in Ukraine. The General Assembly of the United Nations condemned this decision with a GA resolution by the mechanism described as “Uniting for Peace” on March 14th 2022. In this resolution it urged the immediate peaceful resolution of the conflict between the Russian Federation and Ukraine through political dialogue, negotiations, mediation and other peaceful means. However, Secretary General Guterres publicly admitted that there were no immediate chances for a peace agreement in Ukraine at that time. In this text I will give a brief conflict diagnosis using Glasl’s method of conflict management. This allows me to find the best strategies for the conflicting parties and third-party interventions, based on the analysis of the conflict dynamics.

Zerstörtes Haus in Novoselivka, nahe Chernihiv, Ukraine

On 24 February 2022 the Russian Federation declared a so-called special military operation in Ukraine. The General Assembly of the United Nations condemned this decision with a GA resolution by the mechanism described as “Uniting for Peace” on March 14th 2022. In this resolution it urged the immediate peaceful resolution of the conflict between the Russian Federation and Ukraine through political dialogue, negotiations, mediation and other peaceful means (G.A. Res. ES-11/1). The UN Security Council expressed deep concern regarding the maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine. It recalled the obligation of UN member states to settle their international disputes by peaceful means, and strongly supported efforts of the Secretary-General António Guterres in the search for a peaceful solution (S.C. Pres. Statement 2022/3). However, Guterres publicly admitted that there were no immediate chances for a peace agreement in Ukraine at that time (Babb & Seldin, 2022).

Before discussing a way for a possible peace agreement, I will give a brief conflict diagnosis using Glasl’s method of conflict management. This allows me to find the best strategies for the conflicting parties and third-party interventions, based on the analysis of the conflict dynamics. Since parties to a conflict increasingly harm each other during the escalation phase of any conflict , strategies of de-escalation are needed to reduce the harm, achieve coexistence, and ideally establish or restore mutually beneficial relations. Glasl’s approach is important to this analysis since it allows for two separate contemplations: Additional to developing personal conflict capabilities and organizational conflict resistance (Glasl, 1999), it allows for a selection and application of different strategies of de-escalation depending on the diagnosed stage of escalation in its three-phase, nine-stages model (Glasl, 2011).

Clash of militant sovereignties: diagnosis of Russia-Ukraine/East-West conflict

“The” conflict is an accumulated puzzle of multiple conflictive claims to a diverse set of issues. Multiple actors on both sides of the Russia-Ukraine conflict have indicated and disputed certain territorial, security and identity issues. Most of these claims have been expressed in relation to national sovereignties.

Territorial issues are related to sovereignty over Eastern and Southern Ukrainian lands. Crimea, Donbas, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions are part of internationally recognized Ukrainian territory, but Russia considers them her historical territories and officially incorporated them after controversial referendums. In the past, shared sovereignty was an option. During decades, Russia was ready to leave pro-Russian enclaves within Ukraine providing that Ukraine is Russian ally and population of these enclaves represent Russian interests in Ukrainian politics. Even at early stages of war, after annexation of Crimea, Russia was willing to share sovereignty over Donbas with Ukraine according to Minsk agreements. However, escalation of conflict and eradication of Russian influences in Ukraine excluded the option of shared sovereignty, unless political systems of Russia and Ukraine would undergo profound changes. Apart of shared sovereignty solution, Russia or Ukraine could yield territorial control, which could be possible only after serious losses at battlefield and possible regime change, but these perspectives look very unlikely. Both regimes managed to convince populations that the territorial control has existential importance for their nationhood, and both have strong geopolitical backing in polarized world with high stakes value-based bets placed on them. For United States and NATO allies, defense of territorial integrity of Ukraine is a test of their status as leading military power and global policing force, while for China and other non-Western actors cautious support of Russia is an opportunity to challenge annoying dominance of United States. Imagining alternative to this increasingly dangerous sovereign anarchy, we could think about global nonviolent movement towards peaceful unification of civil societies, focusing on human rights value and pressing issues instead of warmongering narratives around sovereignty and territorial integrity (Sheliazhenko, 2023). Emergence of planetary civil society could cure pandemic blood-and-soil nationalisms and make territorial disputes pointless.

Security issues mostly refer to NATO’s and Russian (in union with Belarus) military expansion to Ukraine. Concepts of national security in Russia and Ukraine are, and were, based mostly on military toolkit, following worldwide trend. During decades, Moscow considered NATO’s eastward expansion, ethnic nationalism and weakening ties with Russia in post-Soviet countries as a fundamental threat, responding with military buildup, economic, political and cultural influences, support of compatriots and maintenance of military bases in “Near Abroad,” as in case of Crimean autonomy and Black Sea Fleet, to promote strategic reintegration with former Soviet republics. Ukrainian longstanding national security preferences were essentially opposite to Russian ones: Euro-Atlantic integration, ethno-national cohesion, prevention of threats of separatism, such as attempts to gain regional ethnic autonomy. Today, both Russia and Ukraine prepare for a long war in the interests of national security, which Ukraine associates with EU and NATO membership and multi-decade Western weapons supply, and Russia associates with polarization of the world, weakening of the West and strategic cooperation with China, BRICS, SCO and other global Eastern contenders of the U.S.-led West. Paradoxically, contradictions between Russian and Ukrainian visions of security are based on their structural similarity: both are militarist, pursuant of domestic military might and nuclear-capable collective security arrangements. Principles of common security are declared but not implemented, if remembered at all. Approaches based on culture of peace and disarmament, such as unarmed civilian protection and nonviolent resistance to internal and external threats, like aggressions and authoritarianism, are hardly institutionalized, have almost no place in security architectures or corrupted by weaponization and subordination to military operations.Identity issues invoke sovereign right to self-determination in geopolitical alignment, civilizational and cultural values. Ukrainian identity today is strongly based on Euro-Atlantic choice, partly civic but mostly ethnic and linguistic nationalism hostile to legacy of allegedly imperialist Russia, while Russian identity includes succession from Kievan Rus’ and strategic leadership in post-Soviet space unacceptable for Ukraine, along with anti-Western sentiment and hostile attitude to Ukrainian nationalism allegedly stained by changing sides in the Great Northern War and collaboration with Nazi in World War II.

Phases of conflict

In broad terms, my analysis traces the phases and stages of the conflict escalation as follows: The history of the current conflict separates into the main phases of (1) friendship (win-win, 1991-2003), (2) alienation (win-lose, 2004-2013), and (3) warfare (lose-lose, 2014-ongoing)..

During the phase of friendship, Russia and Ukraine emerged as independent states after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This phase is defined by and large by the hope of both countries to be partners in future economic relations and in the process of European integration – the idea of a win-win relation. A grain in the salt was Ukraine disputing Russia’s ambitions for strategic leadership in the post-Soviet region. – on one hand; and Russia posturing as great power and equal partner of US and EU, distanced because of NATO enlargement and lack of progress in democratic transformations – on another hand. In the phase of alienation, of onesided gains versus losses on the other side (win-lose), the increasing geopolitical competition between Russia and the United States is the underlying theme, which formed opposing pro-Western and pro-Russian camps within Ukraine, and even pro-Russian political leaders maintained conventional distance from Moscow in their rhetoric of neutrality. The phase of warfare (the phase of both ends loosing) started after nationwide seizure of power by the pro-Western camp in the wake of the Euromaidan protests and subsequent but related regional takeovers by the pro-Russian camp in the country’s east, which resulted in bloodshed engaging official and unofficial armed forces on both the Russian and Ukrainian side. The overall dimension in this phase is the continuation of these acts of violence which for some time vanished from the public eye or scrutiny before returning to center stage after February 24th 2022.

The stages of conflict

The overall three phases can be divided into nine stages of the conflict. In applying the conflict escalation model of Glasl, I tracked the stages 1-9. Those stages do have different lengths and intensities, effects which are not discussed in detail here. The following will give an overview of the process.

The 1st stage in the phase of overall friendship can nonetheless be named “hardening disagreements on collective security”. This stage started out promising with the 1991 Belovezh Accords in which Ukraine, Russia and Belarus proclaimed that the Soviet Union ceased to exist and established the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), envisaging open borders within it, as well as a common economic, military, and strategic space. Ratifying the Belovezh Accords, however, the Supreme Soviet of Ukraine added twelve reservations including the affirmation of the inviolability of state borders and the right of Ukraine to its own armed forces, emphasizing I temporary character of the common strategic space which was to cease to exist after the elimination of all nuclear weapons. The Ukrainian government refused to take part in subsequent CIS initiatives aimed at greater integration in the political, military, and security spheres and didn’t sign the collective security treaty in 1992 (Hajda, 1996). This stage of the “hardening of the disagreements” ended when Ukraine didn’t sign the Charter of the CIS and insisted on the status of an associated instead of a full membership in the CIS Economic Union in 1993.

The 2nd stage, which are defined by debates on common assets and relations, proceeded with the 1993 UN Security Council’s consideration of a Ukrainian complaint regarding a decree of the Russian parliament which made territorial claims concerning Sevastopol, a base of Black Sea Fleet in Crimea. Russia disavowed the decree (S.C. Pres. Note S/26118); the subsequent Massandra Accords, a set of agreements concerning the partition of the Black Sea Fleet and the utilization of nuclear weapons, were signed by Ukraine under Russian pressure who threatened to cut the gas supply because of outstanding debts (Adi Odey & Bassey, 2022); these accords were, again, a strain on the mutual relations. The following years saw the formalistion and implementation of these debates into treaties, and the accession of Ukraine to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons after respective U.S. and Russian security assurances as laid out in the Budapest Memorandum. Also, a dispute arose between Kyiv central government and local elites in Crimea and Donbass concerning preservation of close political, economic, and cultural ties of these regions with Russia. In 1994, simultaneously with parliamentary and local elections, local consultative referendums were held; in Crimea, vast majority of voters supported a right to dual citizenship (Ukrainian and Russian) and extension of powers of local government; in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, vast majority of voters supported official status of Ukrainian and Russian languages, signing of CIS Charter, and federal form of state. Despite conclusion of the 1997 Russian–Ukrainian Friendship Treaty and the Partition Treaty on the Status and Conditions of the Black Sea Fleet, the establishment of the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development as regional alliance of former Soviet republics cooperating to achieve their Euro-Atlantic aspirations overcoming Russian military and economic influence outlined the limits of friendship. . The phase of friendship can be illustrated by2002 being the Year of Ukraine in Russia, which was organized to strengthen economic, regional, and cultural relations between the two countries.

The 3rd stage under generally friendly relations begins the transition towards the era of alienation with what can be labelled as “unfriendly geopolitical actions”. In 2003 Ukraine joined the U.S.-led coalition invading Iraq which was met by Russian criticism. The same year President Kuchma made clear geopolitical gesture intended to further strengthen Ukraine’s independence when published and personally presented in Moscow a book entitled “Ukraine is not Russia” which outlined that Ukraine and Russia are “very different countries”; the title of book was the same as of a speech of U.S. foreign policy guru Zbigniew Brzezinski devoted to progress of Ukrainian democratic reforms, and pro-presidential media in Ukraine published extensive excerpts from the Kuchma’s book (Byrne, 2003). Its title became proverbial, later Putin was asked about it and perhaps this title make him criticize Ukrainian nation-building and Euro-Atlantic choice as “anti-Russia project.” But at the time of presentation of the book nothing promised future war, Russian officials attended presentation, and Kuchma even said that any Ukrainian president will be Russia’s man. Another important milestone on this stage was Tuzla Island incident. The island was transferred by Soviet government along with Crimea from Russia to Ukraine and located in the middle of the Kerch Strait between both countries. Controlling the island, Ukraine claimed the strait is its inner waters and demanded from Russian ships to pay a toll for crossing the strait. Russia started to build a dam towards the island claiming it is a sandspit and the strait should be recognized as territorial waters of Russia and Ukraine. The move was denounced by Ukrainian parliament as a threat to territorial integrity of Ukraine. Border patrol station was installed on the island. During subsequent talks, construction of the dam was suspended, and the dispute about the right of passage was resolved by a bilateral agreement. The same year a treaty on the Ukraine-Russia border was signed, despite of Russian unwilling to demarcate borders with former Soviet republics; but it does not resolved all territorial disputes, demarcation of the state border was never finished, and some demarcation works were taken unilaterally.

The 4th stage, East vs West coalitions and enemy images, is often described as one of the key conflict stages or as the “start” of the conflict. It must, however, be seen in the continuation of the developments in the 1990s when emerging regional, neo-feudal oligarchic clans with transnational links and ambitions grabbed shadowy economic and political power during post-Soviet privatization speculating on cultural differences between bucolic Western Ukraine leaning to national democracy, dreaming about European integration, and industrialized Eastern Ukraine leaning to social democracy, nostalgic for late Soviet welfare. This stage includes the 2004 “Orange Revolution”, popular nonviolent pro-Western protests which changed results of 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections both Russia and United States actively meddled into, playing tug of war by diplomatic moves and manipulating their proxies in Ukrainian civil society. During these protests pro-Russian and pro-Western circles were consolidated and used to portray each other as “fascist” and “criminal” puppets of their foreign masters; these antagonistic discourses and images of enemy persisted and led to violent confrontation a decade later (Baysha, 2019). In 2005, at NATO summit Ukrainian Euro-Atlantic aspirations were proclaimed, along with NATO drills in Ukraine it caused protests of pro-Russian circles who blocked work of the parliament for a month demanding to pass a resolution that question of Ukrainian membership in NATO should be decided at the referendum. In 2007, Putin spoke at the Munich Security Conference against NATO expansion as “provocation” and breach of security guarantees given to Soviet Union. On 2008 Bucharest summit, NATO welcomed Ukrainian aspirations for membership despite Putin said at the summit that Crimea and other territories in the East and South of Ukraine are received from Russia, populated mostly by ethnic Russians, and NATO membership could lead Ukraine on the brink where existence of Ukrainian state may be endangered. Also, Ukraine supplied weapons to Georgia during its armed conflict with Russia. It was a time of political split of Ukrainian society into pro-Russian (Eastern) and pro-European (Western) political camps.

The 5th stage, loss of face in “gas wars” and “culture wars,” was started in 2009 when Gazprom cut gas supply to Ukraine and European countries, when much of Europe was deprived of gas for two weeks, and finished with the 2010 Agreement between Ukraine and Russia on the Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine. On this stage both Russia and Ukraine suffered reputational losses, not only because of affecting international energy supply chain by their conflict, but also because of involvement of Ukrainian and Russian elites in profiting from a corrupt intermediary company RosUkrEnergo exposed in numerous leaks of kompromat raising international attention, undermining legitimacy of leadership both in pro-Western and pro-Russian camps. Gas conflict had political nature, in outcome Russia got upper hand in Ukrainian internal and global political-economic competition for control over energy and other markers, but in the same time EU singled out six CIS countries excluding Russia for Eastern Partnership to offer them far deeper integration through Association Agreements, and the first candidate was Ukraine (Áslund, 2015). Eastern Partnership was launched in 2009 and criticized by Russia as attempt to establish EU’s sphere of influence, encroaching on Russian one. Ukraine yielded to both geopolitical influences, she joined Eastern Partnership, but in 2010 President Yanukovych signed Kharkiv agreement extending Russian lease on naval facilities in Crimea in exchange of discounted gas contract; it also was announced that Ukraine will not pursue NATO membership, Ukraine was proclaimed European non-aligned state by the law. Such self-identification was compliant with old venerable value of neutrality and was not seen self-contradictory at the time, because EU was perceived as purely economic union. People in both pro-Western and pro-Eastern camps were mostly not aware about the problem of high militarization of modern economic structure, taking it for granted as something normal (since conscription, celebration of military victory etc. remained almost unchallenged archetypes of culture), and because of that people had almost no expectations of escalation of heated economic competition into political violence. However, making a step in this direction, Ukrainian nationalist organizations created in U.S. in Cold War epoch with support of pro-Western circles in Ukraine increased activity aimed at political mobilization of Ukrainians in Russia appealing to historical memories of tragic consequences of Russian and Soviet rule in Ukraine. That also coincided with strengthening of ideology of “Russian world,” which claims (sometimes in imperialist manner) special historical relation between Russian and Ukrainian people, as the basis of Russian foreign policy. In 2009, pro-Russian activists organized protests in Crimea under a slogan “Future of Ukraine is in union with Russia,” also accusing Ukrainian nationalists in collaboration with Nazi; criminal investigation of these actions was opened by the Security Service of Ukraine. In 2010, Ukrainian national autonomy, cultural NGO in Russia, was suspended by the government and then liquidated by the court for co-organization of and participation in Western-sponsored events related to commemoration of Holodomor, a famine in 1932-1933 Soviet Ukraine that killed millions of Ukrainians, which, as widely believed in Ukraine, was a Stalin’s genocide (Ukrainian World Congress, 2011). Such repressions against civil society, as well as deliberate manipulations with historical resentments, reflected the “loss of face” beyond economic disputes in political and cultural sphere.

The 6th stage, strategies of threat in trade war and reinforced identity politics, was reached when Eurasian Customs Union imposed duties on Ukrainian goods in 2011, controversial law on language politics was adopted in 2012, right-wing tendencies prevailed both in pro-Russian and Ukrainian nationalist camps during violent elections of 2012-2013, and in 2013 Russian customs blocked Ukrainian goods, EU-Ukraine association agreement was postponed leading to Euromaidan and anti-Maidan protests organized by pro-Western and pro-Russian circles. Initially Ukraine hoped to join both free trade area with EU and customs union with Russia, latter because of possible gas discounts. It suited Russia’s plans of post-Soviet economic consolidation with further European integration, but president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso said Ukraine can’t enter both agreements and many proponents of European integration in Ukrainian business circles waved off integration with Russia. In 2011 Eurasian Customs Union imposed duties on goods produced by Ukrainian industrial groups belonging to oligarchs who opposed integration. Ukraine responded with demands to lower gas price and threats to revoke consent to Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization. Russia’s food quality agency prohibited import of Ukrainian milk, meat, cheese, and candies. It coincided with radicalization of politics: in 2012 Party of Regions insisted, after a scuffle in parliament, on adoption of a law allowing use of Russian as official language in Eastern Ukraine, it was condemned by local councils in Western Ukraine, pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian right-wingers from sport clubs filled public meetings and used physical force to press on election commissions during parliamentary elections, militant anti-Russian far-right party Svoboda obtained 37 of 450 of MP seats. Nationalist protesters against pro-Russian language law later led the Euromaidan protests against Yanukovych’s refusal to sign association agreement with EU on the Eastern Partnership summit. Ukraine postponed association agreement because Putin warned that Russia will be forced to protect itself from EU-Ukraine common market, and EU refused to compensate Ukraine losses from stopping trade with Russia or negotiate trilateral agreement. At this point, both pro-Western and pro-Russian camps threatened to disrupt and tear apart Ukrainian economics and politics in their fight for power.

The 7th stage, limited destructive blows in power grabs, is related to 2014 violent seizures of power – in Kyiv during the so called “Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity”, in Crimea and Donbass during the so called “Russian Spring”. When the pro-European camp failed to counter governmental policy of economic integration with Russia by parliamentary procedures, popular protests known as Euromaidan started, police attempted to dissolve the protest at the Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) in Kyiv, the protests escalated to street fights with seizure of governmental buildings and a hundred people killed in center of Kyiv, won by self-defense groups of Euromaidan. With the EU and Russian mediation, agreement on peaceful transfer of power to opposition was signed which pro-Western protesters immediately broke removing President Yanukovych from office. Instead of agreed early presidential elections, Euromaidan combatants demanded immediate resignation of Yanukovych threatening with armed assault on presidential compound in other case, forcing him to flee from the country and creating pretext for his formal removal in non-constitutional way (Arel & Driscoll, 2023). Pro-Russian camp supported by Russian military and paramilitary forces responded to the Revolution of Dignity with so-called Russian spring, protests and uprisings in eastern and southern Ukraine. In Odesa and Kharkiv street fights were won by Euromaidan self-defense and pro-European police forces, but Russia joined Crimea after internationally non-recognized referendum (UN General Assembly condemned the illegal annexation), and Russia-backed Donetsk and Luhansk separatists too organized so-called referendums and proclaimed independent people’s republics. Both pro-Western and pro-Russian circles pursued regime change with minimum violence, hoping to preserve civility and legitimacy, but they failed to prevent further escalation. Interestingly, both Ukrainian and Russian nationalist fighters in different time (before and after the Kyiv coup) were officially recognized as “terrorists” by Ukrainian government launching “anti-terrorist operations” against them, but the first one was limited to law enforcement on streets and the second was warfare during several years.

The 8th stage, fragmentation of the enemy in Donbas war, was marked by 2014 battles and subsequent systemic violations of the ceasefire established by the Minsk agreements on both government-controlled and non-government-controlled territories, as reported by OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, 2022). It was accompanied by the eradication of the pro-Russian camp in Ukraine (Butenko&Melvin, 2015) and pro-Ukrainian (Mirovalev, 2014), pro-Western opposition in Russia (US Committee on Foreign Relations, 2018), including repressions against media, civil society, and public figures (Amnesty International, 2016; Skrypnyk & Pechonchyk, 2016; Foundation for the Study of Democracy, 2015; Grigoriev & Sablin, 2021). After military escapades such as the 2018 Kerch Strait incident, when Russian coast guard attacked and captured three Ukrainian Navy vessels entering disputed waters, and 2021-2022 NATO/Ukraine and Russian military drills respectively simulating nuclear warfare, as well as the exchange of accusations, from one side, on preparing an offensive and, from the other side, the unwillingness to implement the Minsk agreements, the rate of ceasefire violations enormously increased in 2022 leading to numerous casualties. In this way, accumulation of attempts to destroy the enemy on key positions and mutual unwilling to deescalate led to predictable worsening.

The 9th stage, together into the abyss in full-scale war of attrition, came with the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. Both sides refused to cease fire for meaningful peace talks and indicated uncompromising readiness to settle their dispute at the battlefield, even if it will take a long time to achieve complete victory. With economic rear of United States and EU on Ukrainian side, China and Eurasian Economic Union including Belarus on Russian side, protracted war could continue for indefinite time for the benefit of militant politicians and military contractors.

The global backdrop of this logic of escalation

Talking about stakeholders and parties of conflict, their strategies, internal structure, relationships between the parties and contextual structures, it is important to characterize the situation as a conflict between two nations, Russian Federation and Ukraine, and their supporters on the East and West within the United Nations organization and wider system of international relations. UN attempts to work for peaceful settlement, but its powers are limited considering absolutization of sovereignty and militarization of security in contemporary organization of international relations, vulnerable to armed conflicts.

Military patriotic upbringing, conscription, and absence of influential peace movements in Russia and Ukraine suggest that their leaders could count on popular support of belligerent policies; their strategies are based on using military force to defeat the enemy. The general militarism in both contexts of Russia and Ukraine can be seen as the main conflictogenic factor. Militarism shaped and shapes the intrinsic belligerence of all conflicting parties because of military-patriotic upbringing, the practices of conscription, lack of critical public attitude to and democratic restraints of armed forces and military infrastructure in Russia and Ukraine. The dominance of a military component in strategies of all conflicting parties is a direct result of this and an enhancing factor for such militarism at the same time. Similar trends can be seen on the part of the intervening third parties, notably NATO members, and the dominance of militarism can be observed on all stages of escalation.

Global economic competition between the United States and China makes them interested to entrap each other into backing war of attrition, parts of their elites directly benefit from the tensions, and despite the United States being openly belligerent while China advocates peaceful settlement, both are not willing to contribute seriously into the peace process.

Strategies and Practices of De-Escalation and Settlement

Numerous strategies of de-escalation were employed on both sides and from outside. Parties tried to find common ground in earlier conflict phases by targeting key issues. This led to the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States on the first stage of conflict, to becoming partners by means of the treaty of friendship on the second stage, to trying to understand each other with cultural exchange on the third stage, and to stop seeing enemies in each other by building pragmatic economic relations on the fourth stage. It would take another article to explain successes and failures of these attempts, as well as discuss third-party interventions by civil society actors, individual nations, and international organizations (UN, OSCE, CoE, EU, and others) via moderated dialogues, solution-focused and transformative consultations of experts, on fifth and higher stages of escalation via mediation concerning transit of gas, transfer of power, and ceasefire in Donbas, as well as commercial arbitration and litigation in ECtHR, ICJ, and other international tribunals. Minsk II, peace deal unanimously approved in 2015 by the UN Security Council (S.C. Res. 2202), was agreed on the eighth stage and failed because of overarching geopolitical disagreements (Haug, 2016) as well as Ukrainian government’s unwilling to grant special status to Luhansk and Donetsk regions because of long-standing policUkrainianising Russian cultural influence there (Dressler, 2018).

Need in nonviolent power intervention: short- and longterm perspectives

According to Glasl’s theory of conflict management, on the ninth stage a power intervention is needed for effective de-escalation. But in the current crisis key global powers are engaged in further escalation, and their interventions with military force will likely make the situation worse. It seems that only intervention“of  „a force more powe”ful,“ namely the nonviolent democratic power of the peoples’ will, can cease the endless bloodshed.

This analysis and conclusions of mine partly correspond with recently expressed thoughts of Glasl (2022)  calling on responsible people in politics and civil society to end the war in Ukraine, prevent the conflict from further escalation by avoiding arms race, preserving channels of direct communication, scientific and cultural collaboration. He also applies nine-stages model to Russia-Ukraine conflict, linking it with wider East-West antagonism in the context of NATO expansion and Russian military interventions in post-Soviet region, economic pressures on Ukraine forcing her to choose between trade agreements with EU and Russia, also he analyses in details Minsk II arrangements, and suggests twofold strategy of de-escalation via multi-track diplomacy, with appeals of civil society to decision-makers, starting from immediate internationally-monitored ceasefire negotiated between combatants and political representatives, then continuing the peace process to develop future security architecture (Glasl, 2022a).

In Glasl’s assessment, differing from mine, the conflict escalated only to the seventh stage because “there is still a limitation of the level of violence that is being done by Russia,” even though his interlocutor hints the conflict escalated to the ninth stage “together into the abyss” (Deutsche Stiftung Mediation, 2022). In my view, however, parties to the conflict said and showed that they are willing to defeat each other using totally destructive measures, even at the cost of self-destruction; this can be illustrated for example by calls to the elimination of the “existential enemy” (even in nuclear war, if necessary) by Russia, the preparations to long-term war for complete victory on both sides, the unwillingness to cease fire for peace talks even after major defeats, and war crimes on both sides of Russia-Ukraine conflict. – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet briefed UN Security Council about allegations of sexual violence by both parties to the conflict and evidence of torture, ill-treatment, and summary executions of prisoners of war committed by both parties to the conflict (OHCHR, 2022).

Nuclear threats and arms race caused by Ukraine-Russia conflict are an existential threat to all life on our planet, this danger is increased by the reckless battles around the Ukrainian nuclear power plants (Sheliazhenko, 2022). All of that indicates the conflict being well located at the ninth stage of escalation. This could not be prevented despite the existence of objective limitations to violence in the contemporary world shaped by organizations of international relations and global economy, the applicable standards of human rights and humanitarian law, existing diplomatic networks, and even a developing culture of peace.

Nonetheless the “Black Sea Grain Initiative”, which came into effect thanks to efforts of the UN and Turkey, demonstrated that diplomacy can find ways to achieve agreement in mutual interests of Ukraine and Russia even during their fight, and participation of antiwar activists both from Russia and Ukraine at international events of peace movement shows that civil society can continue peacebuilding dialogue despite existence of conflict-generated unrealistic demonized images of the collective enemy which divide people and make them hate each other.

Existing level of peace culture indeed restrains warfare to some degree, making combatants to care about not targeting civilians, distracting them from bloodshed to peace talks with enemies and dialogue with opponents of war in their societies. These objective limitations of violence make it easier to allow for nonviolent power interventions aimed at ending the war.

Discussing the character of needed nonviolent power interventions, we must be careful in defining their purpose. I agree with D’Anieri (2019)  who warns that, contrary to popular narratives, regime change in Russia or accommodation of her great-power security interests can’t bring reconciliation, instead the buildup of a new architecture of security should be agreed upon. The design of a contemporary nonviolent global security system could be based on three broad interconnected strategies: demilitarization of security, conflict management without violence, and development of the culture of peace (Gittins, 2020). Rule of law and global alternative dispute resolution systems with “peace and reconciliation” force may help to achieve arms reductions and the abolition of nuclear weapons (Ranney, 2018). We need to build a nonviolent society without enemies and without borders dividing people (European Bureau for Conscientious Objection, 2022). Peace-loving people should liberate themselves from oppression by the war machine and uphold the human right to peace nonviolently, rejecting a notion of “democratic choice” in favor of violence, because genuine democracy and militarism are not compatible (Wintersteiner, 2022).

Lichterman (2022) suggests the people of the world must respond to the Ukraine war with a peace movement not aligned with the government of any state to get rid of blood-and-soil nationalisms, arms race, and war. We need to rethink the old-fashioned international community of sovereign states, critically assessing the hegemonic nature of a modern state structure, nation-building, and rigid alliances which generate violent conflicts within and between societies (Jeong, 2010). Rival national identities with clear and strong boundaries easing mobilization for waging conflicts can be transformed by the growth of a global civil society, the development of global horizontal communication, shared interests, citizenships and identities that might limit conflict escalation and hasten resolution (Kriesberg & Dayton, 2012). Strict compliance with a then internationally recognized human right to conscientious objection to military service also helps to achieve peace (Takemura, 2009). The culture of peace should be fostered in civil society through education and media, as prescribed by the 1999 Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly (G.A. Res. 53/243). Peace education and training people for nonviolent conflict management could help de-escalation and further social transformations (Lederach, 1997).

Conclusion: De-escalation should be driven by peace movements

Tracing the path of escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, we can imagine a path of de-escalation in reverse direction.

Ending“the „lose”lose“ warfare phase, comprehensive peace talks between parties of the local Ukraine-Russia and the “global” West-East conflict respectively are needed to establish a stable ceasefire, to stop the supply with and production of weapons and to start a path of gradual common disarmament. To quit“the „win”lose“ alienation phase, we at least need worldwide peacebuilding dialogue and public cooperation regarding nonviolent global governance and security system, peaceful rule of law and related issues are needed on all levels, from grassroots to elites.

To hold all conflict“ in „wi”-win“ friendship phase, however, requires strengthening and creatively enriching the peace, which is, by definition, a dynamics of life free from violence (Sheliazhenko, 2021), universal culture of war and violence which dominates now killing people and poisoning our planet should be further transformed into the universal culture of peace and nonviolence, widespread practical knowledge and institutions of nonviolent way of life preventing us with our informed consent from war and other forms of doing irreparable harm to ourselves, others, and environment.

Peace movements worldwide, upholding a right to refuse to kill, advocating and building peace, protesting against war efforts and atrocities, insisting on abolition of nuclear weapons, should lead humankind on this patUkrainianionation of the Russia-Ukraine armed conflict and overarching East-West antagonism, towards ending this and all other ongoing wars, complete dismantlement of this archaic and dangerous political institution of warfare.


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Zum Autor:

Yurii Sheliazhenko ist Dozent und wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter an der juristischen Fakultät der KROK-Universität (Kiew, Ukraine). Er ist Mitglied des Vorstands von >>World BEYOND War<<, Vorstandsmitglied des Europäischen Büros für Kriegsdienstverweigerung (EBCO) und Exekutivsekretär der ukrainischen pazifistischen Bewegung. Er hat einen Doktortitel in Rechtswissenschaften und einen Master-Abschluss in Rechtswissenschaften, Mediation und Konfliktmanagement von der KROK-Universität.

Analyse und Diskussion

Notizen zur Analyse der Eskalation des Ukrainekriegs

von Friedrich Glasl

Yurii Sheliazhenko hat in seiner Analyse der Eskalation zum Ukraine-Krieg auf Ereignisse hingewiesen, die in den „westlichen“ Medien nicht beachtet worden sind, so dass hierorts wesentliche blinde Flecken bestehen. Das gilt beispielsweise für die Kenntnis zur Haltung der ukrainischen Regierung, die nach Auflösung der Sowjetunion nicht bereit war, Russland einen Führungsanspruch in wirtschaftlichen und strategischen Fragen zuzugestehen, und deshalb 1993 auch nicht Mitglied der GUS wurde. Wenig bekannt ist hier auch, dass mit 2004 die politischen Spannungen innerhalb der Ukraine eine Form anzunehmen begannen, die sich in den darauffolgenden Jahren zu Spaltungen auswuchsen, bei denen offizielle ukrainische Polizei- und Militär-Einheiten und pro-russische paramilitärische Kräfte von Donezk und Lugansk sehr gewaltsam gegeneinander vorgingen, was schließlich zu einem Bürgerkrieg (mit ausländischer Unterstützung) wurde.

Es gab also in der Ukraine schon vor dem 24. Februar 2022 einen Krieg auf der Eskalationsstufe 7 (meines 9-Stufen-Modells), der dann durch den Überfall Russlands plötzlich, so meine Analyse, über die Schwelle zur Stufe 8 eskalierte. Das jetzige Verhalten der kriegführenden Parteien – Moskau, Kiew, Washington, NATO-Brüssel – lässt deutlich erkennen, dass es innerhalb der Stufe 8 noch eine Reihe von »roten Linien« gibt. Diese wurden einige Zeit betont und respektiert, bis auch sie von der einen oder anderen Partei überschritten wurden. Hier und da war dies gewollt, sehr oft aber geschah es, weil sich kriegerische Ereignisse der Kalkulierbarkeit und Steuerbarkeit doch entziehen. Trotz der Fixierung der kriegsaktiven Parteien auf eine militärische Entscheidung, ist deutlich zu sehen, dass den Entscheider*innen bewusst ist, dass ein Überschreiten der Schwelle zur Eskalationsstufe 9 apokalyptische Folgen hätte. Und ich hoffe inständig, dass sich alle wenigstens dieser Verantwortung bewusst bleiben.

Kurz nach dem russischen Überfall war ich in meinen Vorträgen und Interviews primär auf die weltweiten Ost-West-Beziehungen gerichtet, die mit der Auflösung der Sowjetunion gründliche Überlegungen zu einer neuen Friedensarchitektur erfordert hatten und nun vor einer gänzlich neuen Phase standen. Denn mittlerweile war die EU ein wichtiger Mitspieler geworden und in Südamerika, Afrika, Indien und China waren neue Kräfteverhältnisse entstanden, für die u.a. das Vetorecht im UNO-Sicherheitsrat nicht angemessen war.

Deshalb meinte ich anfangs, dass Moskau mit dem »Blitzkrieg« die Ukraine vorübergehend in Geiselhaft nehmen wollte, um Druck zur Neuordnung des Verhältnisses NATO-Russland zu erzeugen. In meinem persönlichen Austausch mit Yurii Sheliazhenko und durch seine hier vorgelegte Analyse auf Basis seiner internen Kenntnis der Ukraine ist mir klar geworden, dass die originäre Spannung des Ex-Sowjetlandes Ukraine mit Russland und die globale Ost-West-Dynamik auf verhängnisvolle Weise zirkulär miteinander verstrickt sind.

Daher geht es bei der De-Eskalation sowohl um die ungelösten Probleme Russlands mit der Ukraine als auch um die globalen geopolitischen Fragen, die jetzt stellvertretend auf ukrainischem Territorium ausgetragen werden. Deshalb muss die weite räumliche und zeitliche Perspektive, die Yuriis Überlegungen zu Wegen aus dem Krieg in eine Kultur des Friedens zugrunde liegt, ernst genommen werden.

Zum Autor:

Univ.-Prof. Dr.Dr.h.c. Friedrich Glasl ist Konfliktforscher, Mediator und Organisationsentwicklungsberater.