On ending the Ukraine conflict and reducing nuclear dangers

Note by the President and the Secretary General of Pugwash

1. We note with great concern the worsening situation in the ongoing conflict between the Russian Federation and Ukraine. The annexation of areas currently controlled by the Russian military will exacerbate tensions as Ukraine seems determined to recover the occupied regions and is supported by several NATO countries. The situation is quite complex as armed hostilities continue unabated, and opposing security perceptions by the parties involved do not appear easily reconcilable. Despite the fact that prospects for a ceasefire look dim under this current situation, a ceasefire is a necessary step towards stopping this dangerous conflict which, while it is heavily affecting Ukraine, is also a very destabilizing element that threatens international security.

2. All United Nations member states are bound to fulfill in good faith and to act in accordance with the Principles contained in the Charter, which do not permit the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of any state (Article 2.4), and call for the peaceful settlement of disputes (Article 2.3). We must remember that the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation as a response to perceived threats to its security is in any case unlawful under international law. As was the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

3. The actual use of either “tactical” or “strategic” nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction is unacceptable under any circumstances, as it carries the risk of escalation, and would entail untold suffering for both the directly affected populations as well as countries not party to the conflict, and catastrophic consequences and potentially irreversible environmental damage for the whole planet. Leaders and politicians of all countries, especially those which are directly or indirectly involved, should refrain from even mentioning that possibility, as it can only increase tensions between the belligerents, and provoke further disquiet and insecurity for the remainder of the international community.

4. This war also has some repercussions in terms of promoting the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In Ukraine, the argument that the war would not have happened had the nuclear weapons located there prior to 1990 been retained, has some obvious support. Poland has asked to host American nuclear weapons, and the same may be true for other countries in Eastern Europe. Belarus has declared that some of its airplanes are in position to carry nuclear weapons on board.

5. The economic consequences of the conflict in Ukraine are going to be very serious for the coming period, including the export of grain, energy supplies and other items to many countries worldwide, including Europe.

6. A determined effort must be made to achieve a ceasefire, and to start and conclude a negotiating process—taking into consideration the will and interests of all populations concerned—aimed at avoiding further strife in order to ensure a lasting peace in the whole region. Achieving a ceasefire will certainly not be an easy process, but a necessary one to avoid more dramatic consequences.

7. When possible, the international community should be united and active on a global level, in order to bring about the prompt cessation of hostilities in Ukraine, and the opening of negotiations aimed at ultimately establishing peace and stability in the region.

8. The Russian Federation and the United States are of course in the best position to lead and help carry out the peace process. International institutions should of course help.

Sergio De Queiroz Duarte, President of Pugwash

Paolo Cotta-Ramusino, Secretary-General of Pugwash