A Ray of Hope: Russian Proposals Offer a Way Out of Our Common Predicament

Earlier this week, Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov made explicit the terms under which his country would be willing to cease its invasion of Ukraine. Russia insists that the Ukrainian military must lay down its arms, that Ukraine’s constitution be amended to guarantee the country’s neutrality, that Crimea be recognized as part of Russia, and that the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine’s east be recognized as independent. 

While anti-Russian zealots in the West and fervent Ukrainian patriots may balk at these demands, they nonetheless reveal a path by which Russia, Ukraine, NATO, and the United States could reverse the current momentum favoring constant escalation in fiery rhetoric, harsh economic sanctions, and direct military action. We should, in fact, consider meeting some of Russia’s demands, or at least encouraging the Ukrainians to do so, in order to unwind the toxic dynamics of a conflict that, arguably, serves the interests of no one.

Russia’s demand that the Ukrainian military cease its operations amounts to a proposal for an effective ceasefire. Many such ceasefires have been proposed in the course of the long-running war in eastern Ukraine as well as in the course of more recent hostilities, but few have worked in practice. Nonetheless, if sufficient will exists on both sides, the termination of active fighting is achievable.

Russia’s demand that Ukraine pledge its neutrality, forswear NATO membership, and enshrine these commitments in its constitution represents the core Russian proposal, the spurning of which necessitated, in Putin’s eyes, the invasion of Ukraine in the first place. Ukraine was encouraged by the West to reject Russian suggestions that Ukraine’s burgeoning ties with NATO and the EU represented a threat to Russian security. Ukraine is now reaping the bitter harvest that such well-meaning advice has produced.

It is hard to see why Ukraine would not have agreed to pursue a neutral political-military course before Russia launched its invasion, given its obvious exposure to Russian political, economic, and military power. Now that the very survival of Ukraine as an independent state has been cast into doubt, one would think that the arguments for a policy of strict neutrality have become, if anything, even more compelling. 

Ukraine should agree to give up its ambitions of joining NATO, and if necessary the EU as well. Positive, fruitful relations between Ukraine and the West can and will be achieved, but only if Ukraine gets its house in order in terms of Russia-Ukraine relations and avoids provocations that offend its much more powerful neighbor. Simply put, Ukraine cannot prosper, and it may not even endure as a country, unless it finds a way to coexist amicably with Russia.

If Ukraine had learned these vital lessons earlier, it likely would not be facing the more-or-less inevitable loss of its pro-Russian regions, including Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk. Ukraine should accept that these areas will not again come under its direct control. Formalizing its loss of sovereignty over Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk would, as a matter of fact, be preferable to leaving these regions in political limbo, and thus leaving open the possibility that their status might be resolved in the future by military means. 

Forfeiting these areas is the price Ukraine must pay for a comprehensive, lasting solution to its poor relations with Moscow. It is a price worth paying, especially given the fact that Russia is militarily capable of taking even more of Ukraine and of causing far greater harm, to vulnerable Ukrainian civilians and to Ukraine’s vital infrastructure and social and economic fabric.

Western leaders are clearly now in the full bloom of moral indignation against Vladimir Putin and the Russian military. Their outrage and their anger will make it difficult for them to make clear-headed decisions about what is best for Ukraine, for NATO, for the West, and ultimately for Russia, too. The current conflict is one that imposes, or could impose, horrific damage on all the interested parties. The longer the conflict goes on, moreover, the more the Ukrainian and Russian peoples will suffer, albeit in different ways. Worse, the longer the conflict lasts, and the more it escalates, the greater is the danger of a fatal miscalculation leading to armed conflict between Russia and NATO, the full consequences of which would be horrific in the extreme.

Leaders in Ukraine, Russia, and throughout the West should thus consider the risks of proceeding on our current path, and they should make affirmative decisions to change course. The differences between Russia and Ukraine are far from irresolvable, and they need not—must not!—drag us all into World War III.

Now is the moment for statesmanlike leaders to step back from the brink, therefore, before the war of words between Russia and the West becomes a shooting war, and stakes considerably graver than the peace, prosperity, and freedom of Ukraine are on the line.

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About Nicholas L. Waddy

Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at: www.waddyisright.com. He appears on the Newsmaker Show on WLEA 1480/106.9.

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