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Russia’s lies about peace: 30 years of broken promises in international negotiations

Russian soldier in the First Chechen War. The tank cannon reads: “Peace to your home”.
Photo: Georges DeKeerle 

Russia’s modern history is built on a foundation of lies and broken promises about peace. It’s a long list of violated treaties, fake ceasefires, and deceptive guarantees of “friendly relations”. As the war against Ukraine rages on, the question of peace talks remains a complicated one for outside observers. What would be the preconditions for negotiations? Would Russian peace guarantees provide any actual safety in Europe? We have no way of predicting the future. However, recent history shows numerous examples of how Moscow handles its international obligations. If we believe that past behavior is a good indicator of future actions, we have a solid basis for analysis.

For every act of military aggression that Russia has committed in the last 30 years, there is a corresponding Russian lie about peace talks, peacekeeping, or negotiations. The Russian invasion of Georgia resulted in a so-called peace settlement that threatens Georgia’s borders to this day. Russia’s fake “peacekeeping” mission in Moldova turned an entire region of the country into an isolated island with no prospects. The peace agreement promised by Moscow to Ichkeria (known as Chechnya in Russian sources) ended with 50,000 to 80,000 people dead under brutal shelling.

The complete list of horrific consequences of “Russian peace” could fill an entire book. The only thing that has resulted from these Kremlin promises is a human tragedy with no stability, prosperity, or final resolution in sight. Some of the conflicts frozen by Moscow have lasted for decades and are still a threat to European security.

Furthermore, in every case from Georgia to Ukraine itself, Russia’s peace offerings have proven to be a stalling method that leads to further escalation. History leaves little room for doubt: given years to rearm and regroup, with no accountability for past military aggression, Russia always continues its international crimes.

Russian peace guarantees for Ukraine

Leaders of Russia, the US, Ukraine, and the UK sign the Budapest Memorandum
to dismantle Ukraine’s nuclear weapons. 1994.
Photo: Marcy Nighswander (AP)

While the Russian oppression of Ukraine is many centuries long, the modern era of Kremlin political manipulation goes back to the 1990s. After the fall of the USSR, multiple treaties, both bilateral and international, were signed between the two countries, only to be violated by the Russian side.

One of the most talked about examples today is the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. Famously, this was the treaty in which Ukraine agreed to surrender its nuclear weapons in exchange for security assurances from Russia, the US, and the UK. As part of the agreement, Russia promised to refrain from the use of military force or economic coercion against Ukraine and respect its borders and territorial integrity.

It should be noted that Ukraine proved its long-term commitment to global de-armament and peace. Apart from its sizeable nuclear arsenal, Kyiv would later also work with the US to dismantle its 44 long-range strategic bombers and 1068 cruise missiles able to strike at a distance of up to 2,500 kilometers (1555 miles). It is clear today that not only did Russia violate its promises under the Budapest Memorandum, but it also did the opposite of Ukraine — it rearmed and prepared for war.

The years that followed saw numerous promises and obligations openly used by Russia to disguise its imperial ambitions with a veneer of good intentions. In both the Budapest Memorandum and the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between Russia and Ukraine, Moscow reaffirmed its recognition of Ukraine’s borders and sovereignty. It turned out that the Kremlin’s promises weren’t worth the paper they were written on. 

In 2014, Russia brought its violations to a new level of cynicism and brutality. This included the illegal occupation of Crimea, followed by a falsified gun-point referendum. By doing this, Russia completely disregarded its obligations to respect Ukrainian borders and independence.

Moscow’s further manipulative promises were even worse, as they directly caused the loss of Ukrainian lives. Soon after the illegal occupation of Crimea, Russia conducted a military invasion of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Ukrainians fought fiercely to defend their land but ultimately decided to set for the Minsk Agreements — brokered by Western partners to de-escalate the war. Russia agreed to those documents but never honored them.

Ukrainian soldiers trying to evacuate the wounded near Ilovaysk after Russian shelling.
Photo: EPA

Violations of agreements and ceasefires related to the 2014 Russian military aggression in the East of Ukraine led to thousands of Ukrainian deaths. One of the most well-known examples is the battle for Illovaysk. In August of 2014, the Russian side promised safe passage and a ceasefire to the Ukrainian defenders encircled in the city. Immediately after the defending side moved out, Russian artillery and tanks opened fire, killing 366 Ukrainian soldiers.

As early as 2015, the Minsk Agreements had already been violated by Russian troops more than 4000 times, as noted by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense during a meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Inter-Parliamentary Council. Ukrainians were shelled both from the temporarily occupied territories and from across the Russian border.

Both the first and second Minsk Agreements broke down due to Russia brazenly lying about accepting de-escalation conditions and then violating them with artillery fire and armed incursions. As Ukrainian forces withdrew, respecting the ceasefire zones, Russians did the opposite: they pushed forward with aggression and shelling. The many violations of the Minsk agreements by the Russian side were confirmed by the OSCE, the EU, journalists, and observers. Examples include the illegal and fake local elections, the illegal seizure of 1696 square kilometers of land beyond the ceasefire line, and the storming and occupation of the city of Debaltseve two days after the first treaty was signed.

The pre-2022 Russian invasion of Donetsk and Luhansk regions took over 7,800 Ukrainian lives (including more than 3,400 civilians), according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Tens of thousands were injured. The Minks agreements were used by Russia to deceive the global community while continuing their murderous war against Ukraine in open contempt of international law and basic human morality. 

Nevertheless, During this period, Ukraine held around 200 rounds of negotiations with Russia and attempted to establish 20 ceasefires which were promptly violated by the Russian side. Those attempts were all shattered as Russia launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, 2022.

Georgia, Moldova, and the Caucasus region

A Georgian man cries over the body of his friend after the Russian bombing of Gori city, August 2008.
Photo: Gleb Garanich, Reuters

Apart from the rich tradition of using international negotiations to cover for military aggression, Russia has also used the method of disguising its occupation forces as “peacekeepers”. This is especially evident in the modern history of Moldova, Georgia, as well as the Caucasus region. Moldova has had to suffer the Russian occupation of its Transnistria region since 1992, as well as Moscow’s disinformation and political blackmail, all done under the pretext of “keeping the peace”. The Transdniestrian region is recognized as part of Moldova by every single UN member-state, including Russia. This fact does not prevent the Kremlin from keeping a contingent of 1,500 occupying soldiers, a military base, and a large ammunition stockpile in the region.

Georgia has had to face a similar Russian military threat in its regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. On paper, up to 2008, Russia recognized Georgia’s territorial integrity. The Russian-Georgian border was finalized in 1993 and included South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In reality, Russia stoked regional conflict by supplying weapons to the region. Its “peacekeeping” forces stationed in the area would later be used as invasion troops. In 1999, the 6th Summit of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was held in Turkey. At the summit, Russia pledged to withdraw its troops from Moldova and Georgia by December 2002. The heads of state of all participating countries signed the corresponding document. The withdrawal never happened. This particular lie about de-escalation would become the precondition to a coming Russian invasion several years down the line.

“The General Staff of the Armed Forces prepared the plan of military action against Georgia at the end of 2006, and I authorized it in 2007,” – Russian President Vladimir Putin

In August of 2008, the Kremlin launched its war against Georgia. Russian aviation bombed Georgian cities, and Moscow’s troops occupied Georgian territories. The short but brutal war led to 224 civilian casualties and more than 190,000 refugees. Human Rights Watch observed that Russia targeted fleeing civilians and residential areas. All of this was done after Russia’s deceptive promises to the OSCE. The invasion was framed as “peacekeeping operations” and “protection of Russian-speaking minorities”. In the 2008 ceasefire negotiated with the help of Western leaders, Russia promised to withdraw its troops to their pre-war positions and allow access for the delivery of humanitarian aid. Moscow has never fulfilled this promise, as highlighted by the US Department of State in 2023.

Despite international obligations to withdraw them, the Russian occupational forces in Moldova and Georgia have been there for nearly 30 years.

Can Russia be trusted in peace negotiations?

“Little green men”, Russian soldiers without insignia, patrol in front of the Crimean Parliament in Simferopol on March 1, 2014.
Photo: AFP

History shows that taking Russia’s promises of peace at face value is an extremely risky proposition. Historically, such decisions have inevitably led to catastrophe and further bloodshed since the underlying problems of Russian aggressive imperial policies have never been solved. True accountability was never part of the equation. The fate of Chechnya shows one of the most clear-cut scenarios of Russia’s political tactics: sue for peace, recover its military strength, and come back for a second decisive attack. The Chechens fought Russia to near-defeat in the first war, then believed Moscow’s safety assurances. In two years, the Chechen capital was all but obliterated, and Chechnya was entirely subjugated by Moscow.

This highlights an unfortunate fact: promises and treaties are not enough to ensure Russia stops its armed aggression in Europe. Unlike most governments that sign international agreements in good faith, the Kremlin sees its promises merely as tools to be used and discarded for territorial or political gain. For a ruling class with a background in KGB methods and government oppression, treaties are merely a convenient disguise for military action, economic coercion, and hybrid warfare.

Treating only the symptoms of Russian aggression has led to worse and worse outcomes from 1992 to 2023. Each instance of Moscow’s political and military maneuverings has been bloodier than the last. The path from Chechnya to Moldova, from Georgia to Syria, and onwards, has culminated in the most horrific war in Europe since World War II. Even today, Russia has no reason to change the tactic that has brought it “success” for over 30 years. If the historic trend continues, putting a band-aid on Russian aggression would likely later lead to an even worse geopolitical crisis in Europe, where the war in Ukraine would have been just the beginning.

What is the path toward true stability in Europe and an end to the war in Ukraine then? The answer lies in learning the lessons of modern history. Not addressing the core problems of Russia’s illegal actions has always led to further escalation. 

So far, the only actionable path towards a final resolution of the war is President Zelenskyy’s ten-point Peace Formula. It is the only proposal that has a clear vision of European (and global) security in the face of Russia’s military aggression. The key points of the Peace Formula include:

  • restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity in accordance with the United Nations Charter, 
  • complete withdrawal of Russian troops, 
  • seeking justice for war crimes, 
  • environmental protection in the face of Russia’s ecocide, 
  • a strategy for food, energy, and nuclear security
  • prevention of military escalation
  • a clear and recorded end to hostilities.

No treaty or peace agreement that ignores these key points will ever provide lasting peace. Russian promises alone can never be enough to prevent a European or global conflict, especially considering Moscow’s consistent history of breaking such promises. Consequently, efforts to implement Ukraine’s Peace Formula are already underway, with more and more countries joining the initiative (83 states by the last count during the World Economic Forum). President Zelenskyy’s plan to establish a Global Peace Summit is the next logical step in this direction and looks to be the only pragmatic and justice-based plan of action announced so far.