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Resolving the Conflict Between Ukraine and Russia

Anatol Lieven spells out how the conflict between Ukraine and Russia could be resolved. He also rejects the idea of arming the Ukrainian government for many of the same reasons I gave earlierthis week:

For even if the West were to provide Kiev with enough military aid to give a real chance of crushing the rebels, this would also create a real chance of a full-scale Russian invasion. Such an invasion could only be stopped by the introduction of a Western army — something which is simply not a possibility. A Russian invasion would be a disaster for both Ukraine and Russia — and a disastrous humiliation for NATO and the West.

While sending weapons to Ukraine’s government is frequently portrayed as giving Ukraine the ability to defend itself, it would in reality be the trigger for a larger war in which the country suffers a much worse, more costly defeat. It may seem counter-intuitive, but sending arms to Ukraine will make the country less secure and expose it to more harm. It does Ukraine no favors to encourage it to persist in an armed conflict that it will lose one way or another. The U.S. and its allies would be much wiser to support a political compromise and to use whatever influence they have to persuade Ukraine’s government to accept it. Lieven outlines what such a compromise might look like:

This allows the possibility of a political solution, which can only consist of a special autonomous status for the Donbass region within Ukraine.

The West should take advantage of any cease-fire efforts to craft and strongly advocate this solution, and should then negotiate the precise terms with Kiev and Moscow. Legally and morally, there can be no Western objection to this — it is after all the solution that the West has put forward to end conflicts in many parts of the world. In another former Soviet territory, Nagorno-Karabakh, the West went further and proposed the loosest form of confederation with Azerbaijan. This solution corresponds to history and local reality; for the Donbass is in fact a region with its own culture and traditions.

To separate the Donbass in this way while preserving the principle of Ukrainian territorial integrity would allow the West to help in developing and consolidating the rest of Ukraine without constant disturbances in the East.

This will undoubtedly fail to satisfy many hawks in the U.S. and elsewhere that want to use the Ukraine crisis to score a “victory” against Russia, but it seems to be the best practical solution available that should lead to a cessation of hostilities and the prevention of further needless deaths.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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