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A Peaceful Path Forward for Ukraine

It was once observed, long ago, that “opinion governs the world.” And while that may be overstating things, it is true that the West’s opinion of Russian President Vladimir Putin has wholly governed its policy throughout the ongoing Ukrainian crisis by allowing personal animus and a distaste for his brand of atavistic nationalist politics to lead it to take actions that are divergent from its interests. By the end of last week reports were flooding in from NATO and Western intelligence that a Russian invasion and the opening of a second front between the Ukrainian port cities of Novoazovsk and Mariupol were well underway. Some estimates put the number of Russian troops near 1,000; enough to help the rebels but few enough to provide Putin and the Russian government with the cover of plausible deniability.

Such was the alarm over the maneuvers, alternately referred to as an “invasion” or “incursion” or “escalation” (distinctions without a difference, really) that CNN’s Jake Tapper finally came around to informing viewers that nearly 2,600 Ukrainians had died so far in conflict. The juxtaposition of video footage of the Russian invasion with this bit of information was certainly no accident; the inference viewers were clearly meant to draw was that it is Russia that is to blame for the casualties, not the forces controlled by Kiev. A quick glance at any of the numerous OSCE reports coming out of Luhansk and Donetsk would, however, lead one to the very opposite conclusion.

The growing alarm evinced by the American media, by the NATO Secretary General, by the President of the European Commission, by the French Foreign Minister, and by the British Prime Minister over this, the opening of a second front, is somewhat puzzling. After all, we have been repeatedly told for months now that Russia has been sending in all manner of men and material over its border to assist the Ukrainian rebels. That they continue to do so surely cannot come as too big a surprise to informed observers.

It did come, however, as a rude shock to Kiev’s Western patrons that the one-on-one meeting last week between Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk went nowhere. In the days and weeks leading up to the meeting, Kiev was all but certain that they were on the verge of breaking the insurgency and capturing the disputed territories. Poroshenko, so the thinking went, would be negotiating from a position of strength. It was not to be. At the meeting Putin brushed off Poroshenko’s overtures and told him the crisis was an internal Ukrainian affair: negotiate with the rebels.

Because of Russia’s overwhelming military strength compared to Kiev’s; because sanctions, no matter how severe, will not sway him; because NATO, despite the pledges of solidarity with Kiev, will not undertake military action against Russia; because ensuring non-block status for Ukraine is of existential importance to the Russian regime; because Ukraine is on the verge of bankruptcy; and because Europe is deeply reliant on the supply of Russian energy, it was Putin who was negotiating from a position of strength.

This is the hard truth: in the current crisis, he will always be the one negotiating from a position of strength and to suggest otherwise is to engage in a variant of magical thinking.

The timing of the launch of this second front is not too big of a mystery. A NATO summit is scheduled to take place in Wales at the end of the week where we can expect NATO to disingenuously signal to Kiev that its membership bid will be met with open arms. This, in turn, will likely result in the following: 1) Kiev will take NATO’s overtures at face value and redouble its eastern offensive and 2) Putin will secure not only a land corridor to Crimea, he may even attempt to carve Novorossiya out of southern Ukraine.

There are of course other options open to NATO, and a good place to start would be to level with their clients in Kiev: tell them NATO membership is not in the offing and politely refer them to the terms of the Austrian State Treaty. The latter suggestion will be greeted with howls of protest from the usual suspects, but the right to national self-determination does not necessarily possess inherent value and anyway cannot be operative at all times and places, especially in the absence of a state’s stability or at the expense of regional security. Guaranteeing Ukraine’s non-block status will secure the peace and start Ukraine on the path back from ruin.

This is simply the reality of the situation and Western policymakers, if they really do want to end the ongoing crisis, ought to be pressuring Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk to begin negotiations with the rebels. This, as is painfully obvious, will not happen; at least as long as Yatsenyuk is head of government. On Friday, he announced his intention to introduce a bill to the Verkhovna Rada which would put Ukraine on the path towards NATO membership. The very idea should be dismissed out of hand by Western leaders.

The Wales summit offers the West (and in particular the U.S., which, as we’ve seen, has far bigger problems both domestically and internationally at the moment) a chance to level with Kiev’s overanxious Westernizers. Secretary Kerry’s protestations to the contrary, geography, spheres of influence, and great power politics are not relics from the “19th century”. Pretending otherwise does Ukraine no favors.

James Carden is a TAC contributing editor, and served as an advisor to the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission at the State Department from 2011-2012.

8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "A Peaceful Path Forward for Ukraine"

#1 Comment By Kurt Gayle On September 3, 2014 @ 7:06 am

James Carden makes a spot-on suggestion for NATO:

“…A good place [for NATO] to start would be to level with their clients in Kiev: tell them NATO membership is not in the offing and politely refer them to the terms of the Austrian State Treaty.”

The Austrian State Treaty is, indeed, a good place to start in working to resolve the Ukraine crisis!

Before the signing of the Austrian State Treaty in 1955 Austria agreed that after the last of the Allied (U.S., British, French, and Soviet) occupation troops left the country it would pass a formal Declaration of Neutrality, declaring itself permanently neutral (which it did on Oct. 26, 1955). By this Declaration of Neutrality Austria guaranteed that it would never join military alliances or any other organizations that might compromise its neutrality.

The importance of the Austrian model for the Ukraine crisis is well-presented by Franz-Stefan Gady in his excellent “Austrian Neutrality: A Model for Ukraine” in “The National Interest” March 6, 2014:

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Thanks to James Carden for a very useful presentation.

#2 Comment By John Sobieski On September 3, 2014 @ 7:32 am

“A quick glance at any of the numerous OSCE reports coming out of Luhansk and Donetsk would, however, lead one to the very opposite conclusion.”

I took a glance, and don’t come to that conclusion. Seems to me that were it not for Russia’s sponsorship, there wouldn’t be any terrorists to fight.

#3 Comment By Aaron Paolozzi On September 3, 2014 @ 10:20 am

I do love it when other people aside from myself argue the realist point of view in the argument.

I cannot understand why we must “stand up” to Russia. It gains us nothing and loses us a potential partner in other areas; such as actions against terrorist organizations, or diplomacy with Iran over their nuclear program, or any other myriad of things Russia is involved with. Russia is not a second class power in terms of the world, it may not be the equal of the United States but it is a very different Russia than the one that emerged in the 90’s and it behooves us to realize this and act with this in mind.

Russia is a partner to be courted not a client to be bullied.

#4 Comment By James Canning On September 3, 2014 @ 1:21 pm

I agree Ukraine should not become a member of Nato. However, Putin surely recognizes that his actions regarding Ukraine easily can undermine his programme for greater integration of the Russian Federation with Belarus and Kazakhstan.

#5 Comment By Ken – Russia On September 3, 2014 @ 10:25 pm

I could never understand – why Putin is depicted “nationalist” in globalist MSM. Here in Russia Putin keeps sending Russian nationalists to prison in shoals – his power gang is in this or that way allied to local liberals (zi-type), his government is pro-liberal – and you call him nationalist. And then I got it – this is the agenda in globalist media mobilized by globalist bankers. Russia will be good when totally submitted (by the way I personally despise Vova Putin – and sometimes agree with the West’s choice of personalities on the sanctions list. The guy is quite happy with local jewich bankeroilygarchs)

#6 Comment By Sergey from St-Petersburg On September 4, 2014 @ 4:23 am

Why do you repeat stupid accusations about the mythical Russian soldiers in Donbas. Why Putin will send soldiers if in fact there is a large number of experienced veterans volunteers? Western politicians use absolutely unfounded accusations against Russia because due to they own ignorance forget national peculiarities of any Russian men (Since all Russian men are warriors). So military engineer Fyodor Dostoevskys and artillery officer Leo Tolstoy were no exception to the rule. 2-3 thousands of Russian veterans of volunteers and Cossacks are more formidable real power than the mythical one thousand soldiers. Lugansk region is a historic part of the area of the don Cossack army (there own Cossacks).

#7 Comment By Fran Macadam On September 4, 2014 @ 2:35 pm

“Some estimates put the number of Russian troops near 1,000; enough to help the rebels but few enough to provide Putin and the Russian government with the cover of plausible deniability.”

At the same time, reports from western media in Kurdish Iraq have the Kurds informing journalists that the US has ordered them kept back so that they won’t see the “guest” troops leading the fight – similar numbers of US boots on the ground. Reports say that the forces reporters have seen are US and German, with identifying insignia ripped off. Guess what you accuse others of, you do yourself – stealth invasion.

Putin may be realpolitik negotiating from a position of strength with Europe – but Europe is not the USA. The USA is not going to suffer directly if at all as it directs policy in the area – NATO is an American military force, with camp followers, and it is deployed according to American policy. As the shepherd of the Ukraine coup, the State Department’s Victoria Nuland put it, this is not about European interests or desires, but America’s. “F— the E.U.” she said in regards to what Europeans wanted.

European politicians, many of them deeply compromised through association with US financial interests they benefit from, are behind US policy, while their citizens are not. For instance, the Finnish Prime Minister, who wants to drag his country into NATO membership now, while around 80% of his citizens oppose it.

#8 Comment By Fran Macadam On September 4, 2014 @ 2:44 pm

“And then I got it – this is the agenda in globalist media mobilized by globalist bankers. Russia will be good when totally submitted.”

Some of us “good Americans” do understand this. Meanwhile fast food workers employed by the same Mcdonald’s Corp. in Moscow are among those living below poverty in our own nation, who are protesting and striking in 150 American cities for enough pay to live on. The images are Ferguson-style, with police arresting them. It’s no crime to be poor in America, but it might as well be – and it’s that cabal of 1% global banksters who buy domestic and foreign policy who direct this hegemony of the super rich.