U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wants to supply Ukraine
with “defensive weapons” to combat the Russian-supported separatists occupying parts of eastern Ukraine.
Yet however justified the outrage over Moscow’s behavior, retaliation is risky. If the US
arms Ukraine, the Kremlin will almost certainly respond in ways that could damage American
national security interests, such as sending additional troops or arms to support its separatist proxies in Ukraine
or retaliating against American
interests in other parts of the world.
Bringing an end to the war will require creative diplomacy along with some unpleasant compromises by both sides, but it can be done. Here’s what a realistic settlement might look like:
To begin, the possibility of Ukraine’s joining NATO
should be taken off the table. Ukrainian membership in the organization remains a neuralgic issue for the Kremlin, with Putin saying in his 2014 speech announcing the annexation of Crimea that Kiev’s statements about Ukraine
soon joining NATO
“would create not an illusory but a perfectly real threat to the whole of southern Russia.”
out of NATO
wouldn’t be a big sacrifice for its members. Russia’s overwhelming military strength in the Black Sea
region makes it unlikely NATO
could effectively defend Ukraine
and many NATO
countries don’t support Kiev’s admission anyway, so Kiev gives up little by foregoing NATO
membership while potentially setting itself up to demand concessions from Moscow in other areas.
In exchange for concessions on NATO, Moscow must accept it cannot block Ukraine’s right to pursue membership in the EU - a priority for Kiev. This will be difficult for Moscow since it wants Ukraine
to join a Russian-dominated free trade bloc aimed at consolidating Russian
influence in the former Soviet Union.
However it’s time for the Kremlin to accept that Kiev wants a decisive break from Russia’s orbit - and Washington should make clear to Moscow it has no right to prevent Ukraine
from pursuing what it sees as its Western destiny.
Once these two geopolitical issues are resolved it will be easier for Washington to help Russia
to reach agreement in other areas. Any final deal must require that the Kremlin end military support for its separatist proxies in Eastern Ukraine
and allow Kiev to regain full control over its border with Russia. In exchange, Kiev should forswear using military force to reclaim and offer some kind of autonomy to its separatist-occupied eastern territories.
The issue of Crimea may be hardest to solve. Moscow says that it considers Crimea part of Russia
while Ukrainian officials insist it’s part of Ukraine. For this reason, any final agreement may have to defer negotiations over Crimea – perhaps by suggesting some kind of formula for shared sovereignty or Russian
payment to Ukraine
for the territory taken. The US
can make this more palatable to Ukraine
by not recognizing Crimea is part of Russia
until a deal on the peninsula’s status acceptable to Kiev is reached.
Forging a deal of this sort won’t be easy. Putin may not settle for anything other than pulling Ukraine
back into the Russian
orbit, while Kiev may consider any deal preventing NATO
membership or fudging on Crimea to be unacceptable. However, the US
could provide a sweetener such as offering to ease sanctions against Russia
could be offered assistance in rebuilding its war-torn Donbass region.
These are hard compromises. But they beat the alternative of an endless war.*The full text of this article was published by Reuters