A diplomatic trip to Ukraine – News

While Russia faces drawbacks if it opts for war, diplomacy has a reasonable chance of avoiding conflict


By Charles A Kupchan

Posted: Sun 26 Dec 2021, 22:23

Last update: Sun 26 Dec 2021, 22:24

During his annual press conference on December 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced NATO enlargement. “How would the United States react if we delivered rockets near their borders with Canada or Mexico?” He asked pointedly.

Putin’s increasingly combative rhetoric, coupled with the huge build-up of Russian troops on its border with Ukraine, suggests that the Kremlin is preparing an invasion to bring the country back into Russia’s sphere of influence and prevent its NATO membership. Europe may well be heading for its deadliest interstate conflict since World War II.

But war is hardly predestined, given the costs that Russia could face if it invaded its neighbor. While Ukraine’s military forces are still not up to par with Russia, they would be much better at defending the country than they were in 2014, when Russia captured Crimea and intervened. in the eastern Donbass region to support pro-Russian separatists. Russian aggression has alienated most Ukrainians, making widespread popular resistance likely if Russia attempts to take over much of the country. Putin can expect not only heavy Russian losses, but also severe economic sanctions that the United States and its European allies are currently weighing.

With Russia facing such obvious drawbacks if it opts for war, diplomacy has a reasonable chance of avoiding conflict. Indeed, Moscow recently published a detailed agenda for broad negotiations on European security. Even though many of Russia’s proposals are unfounded, the United States and its European partners appear ready to engage, with the United States hinting that talks with the Kremlin could begin early next year. In preparation, Western allies are expected to identify a combination of carrots and sticks that will increase the lure of a diplomatic route to de-escalation while increasing the potential costs if Putin chooses war.

As for carrots, NATO should reassure the Kremlin that it is not about to integrate Ukraine or to make the country an outpost of the best Western weapons. While Russia’s aggression and coercion against its neighbor is unacceptable, its concern over the entry of militarized Ukraine into NATO is understandable. Major powers don’t like other major powers to show up on their doorstep.

Even so, US President Joe Biden and his NATO counterparts are right to reject Putin’s demand to ensure that NATO does not offer membership to Ukraine. After all, one of the fundamental principles of the alliance is that sovereign countries should be free to choose their geopolitical alignments.

In practice, however, NATO membership for Ukraine is not on the cards. Admitting this would not only provoke Russia, but also force the alliance to defend a nation that has a 2,414 km border with Russia. Biden has already made it clear that “school is out” regarding Ukraine’s potential NATO membership and that sending US combat troops to the country is “not on the table.”

This reality creates a diplomatic openness. As NATO admission requires the consent of all members, Biden can credibly reassure Putin that Ukraine’s membership is not to be considered. And NATO members can guarantee that they would impose quantitative and qualitative limits on the weapons they supply to Ukraine. Meanwhile, the alliance can, at least in theory, keep its door open policy. Such deals may not meet Putin’s demand for a codified guarantee, but they should be enough to allay his fears that Ukraine will become a NATO garrison on Russia’s southern border.

The United States should also lead efforts to implement the Minsk Accords – a roadmap negotiated in 2014 and 2015 to end Russia’s intervention in the Donbass. This agreement provided for Ukraine to grant some regional autonomy to areas now controlled by Russian-backed separatists. In return, Russia would end its proxy war and Ukraine would regain control of Donbass.

Despite the best efforts of France and Germany, who helped negotiate the Minsk deal, the implementation came to naught as Ukraine and Russia dragged their feet. Washington should now team up with Paris and Berlin to move the Minsk process forward. While the West and Russia will likely have to agree to disagree on Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, the Minsk cadre promises to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which killed more than 10,000 people.

If the Kremlin fulfilled its obligations in Minsk, Western allies would reduce economic sanctions imposed since 2014. And since they are relying on Ukraine to meet its commitments in Minsk, they should also pressure the Kiev government to do so. it implements anti-corruption measures. The long-term well-being of Ukraine depends not only on an end to Russian aggression, but also on the control of its oligarchs and the consolidation of its politics.

Finally, NATO allies should capitalize on Russia’s offer to discuss broader European security issues. The growing rift between Russia and the West has brought it much closer to China, creating a coupling that emboldens both Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. But Russia is the junior partner and must be silently uncomfortable with China’s growing power and ambition, which offers the United States and Europe an opportunity to pull Russia west. The Kremlin should know that improving its relations with the West is an option – provided it stops its predatory behavior towards Ukraine and its unrest in the distance.

At the same time as it pursues this diplomatic plan, the West must signal its readiness to impose punitive economic sanctions if Russian forces enter Ukraine. On the program: exclude Russia from the Swift international payment system, sanction the big Russian banks, eliminate the Nord Stream 2 Russia-Germany pipeline and target the oligarchs of Putin’s inner circle.

NATO allies should also make it clear that they are ready to strengthen their eastern border and help arm the Ukrainian resistance if Russia invades. Putin tends to choose fights that he can win at relatively low cost. He must know that invading Ukraine would be extremely costly.

The United States must lead a determined NATO effort to give diplomacy a chance, while preparing tough sanctions if diplomacy fails. This approach offers the best way to avoid a conflict that would not produce a winner. – Project union

Charles A Kupchan, professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and senior researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations, served on the United States National Security Council from 2014 to 2017.

Christi C. Elwood