Tag Archives: Resolving the Ukraine conflict

A Way Out of the Ukraine Crisis

Time is of the essence.  Many lives hang in the balance.  Will the fate of Kyiv and Kharkiv conjure Aleppo and Grozny?  The Ukrainian resistance to the reprehensible and vicious Russian invasion has been heroic.  But continued Ukrainian bravery and the considerable financial and military support offered by most of the world will not change the eventual outcome.  The inability to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine will ensure an eventual Russian military victory.  If necessary, Russian forces will destroy and capture Kyiv.   Of course, defeating an army and capturing a city remains quite different than controlling an entire country.   

Ukrainian resistance demonstrated to Russia and the entire world that Ukraine will not become Belarus.  The capture of Kyiv, the removal of the Zelensky government and the establishment of a puppet regime, will immediately trigger a fierce and determined partisan guerrilla war.  Maintaining a loyal government will require a permanent Russian occupation that will become the target of continual violent attack.  Russia does not have the ability to vanquish Ukrainian resistance.

Despite the utter futility of his extraordinary military gamble, Putin remains determined to pursue his current course of action.  While his decision to invade represents the most significant strategic blunder of his political tenure, Putin will double down on his military offensive if necessary.  Accordingly, the Zelensky government has an important choice to make.  It is an awful choice, but one that must be made immediately to save many lives and maintain Ukraine’s political sovereignty.  Zelensky should renounce any desire for Ukraine to join NATO and the EU. In effect, Zelensky must declare Ukraine’s political and military neutrality.  

Zelensky must be persuaded to accept the geopolitical significance of how Ukraine borders Russia.  Ukraine is not Canada.  Russia’s perception of Ukraine joining NATO as an existential threat must be recognized and respected.  Would Biden or any president accept Mexico or Canada establishing a military alliance with Russia?  We must understand Russia’s insistence on Ukraine remaining neutral as asserting its version of the Monroe Doctrine.  

Zelensky’s choice before the Russian invasion remained stark and clear:  to decide to become Finland or risk sharing the fate of Czechoslovakia in 1968, when Russian tanks rolled into Prague.  Finland remained neutral during the cold war and avoided Russian invasion, while remaining an independent democratic nation.  Ideally, all sovereign nations should enjoy the freedom to determine its political alliances.  But the world has never worked that way.  The Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz, who ruled Mexico before its Revolution in the early 20th century, once said:  Poor Mexico, so far away from God, so close to the United States.  With rueful wisdom, Porfirio simply acknowledged how countries living in the shadow of a great power must respect the interests of that power.  The same holds true for Ukraine today.   

Even at this moment, Ukraine might be able to maintain its political sovereignty, its freely elected government and independent civic institutions.   But it must safeguard these right now by renouncing any desire to join the Western alliance.  It must become and remain officially neutral to protect the Ukrainian people and its cities from further devastation.  

Some will consider this to be a policy of appeasement.  But there is a great difference between appeasement and acknowledging brute geopolitical reality. Where a country is physically located in relation to a great power has enormous consequence.  The world has united in its opposition to Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.  We are operating from a position of strength not weakness, the way Chamberlain approached Hitler in 1938.  Biden should get on the phone right now to tell Putin he cannot win.  In fact, he should add, no one wins.  Everyone loses.  Russia, the West and the entire world loses, if he continues with his invasion.  Perhaps Putin has received that message from friends like Erdogan and other leaders like Macron. It is a message that bears repeating.  

To those who want to continue to arm Ukraine, what is the goal of that strategy?  To defeat Russia on the ground?  To engineer a stalemate forcing Russia to negotiate?  That is extremely unlikely. Meanwhile, many more Ukrainians will be killed and whole cities will be destroyed.  The West and the world must accept the fact that no matter how many weapons Ukraine is given, the grim military outcome will remain the same.  Offering Ukraine’s political and military neutrality in exchange for an immediate end to the violence is a deal worth making.  

Zelensky’s decision to publicly declare Ukrainian neutrality would be exceedingly difficult and painful.  It would have to be explained not as a surrender, but as an acceptance of geopolitical reality and the inevitable military outcome.  It would have to be framed as the best decision to save lives and Ukraine’s continued sovereignty.  In exchange, Russia would have to withdraw its troops and accept the Zelensky government as expressing the will of an independent Ukraine.  And the Minsk accords would be reaffirmed by all parties.  Would Russia accept these terms?  Ukraine and the world would do well to find out.  If Putin refused, it would reinforce his political isolation, expose Russia to the full weight of economic sanctions and elevate the risk of political instability at home and in friendly countries like Belarus and Kazakhstan.  Time is of the essence.  Zelensky must make his decision.  Many lives and cities, and Ukraine’s political sovereignty itself, hangs in precarious balance.  

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.

Editor of Delano   

Resolving the Ukraine Crisis

 The Ukraine crisis feels like déjà vu all over again.  Russian troops poised to invade a neighboring country.  American threats of unprecedented economic sanctions.  Russian demands that NATO never expand eastward.  American troops on high alert.  Russian threats to place nuclear weapons near America’s coastline.  Thirty years after the Soviet Union dissolved, Russia and the West are engaged in a second cold-war.  

What is Putin thinking?  What will he do?  An aura of inscrutability surrounds him in the West.  No one can predict his next move.  Upon closer inspection, the mystique dissipates like mist.  He is an authoritarian nationalist leader of a humiliated country.  He aims to restore Russia to its rightful place on the world stage as a military and political force to be reckoned with.  There is nothing mysterious about Putin’s aim:  to make Russia great again by restoring its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.   

The sources of national humiliation are several.  Its military adventure in Afghanistan ended in dismal failure.  Zbigniew Brzezinski crowed the US would turn Afghanistan into a Russian Vietnam. Thwarted by Mujahadeen guerillas, engulfed in an interminable military quagmire, the Russian military suffered an ignominious defeat and the Soviet puppet regime in Kabul was removed.  

With the stroke of a pen, Mikhail Gorbachev dissolved the Soviet Union in 1991.  Its de facto empire, ranging from the Warsaw Pact in Eastern Europe to its satellite republics in Central Asia, suddenly and unceremoniously vanished.  Some years later, Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin agreed Warsaw Pact nations were free to pursue NATO membership.  Putin referred to the demise of the Soviet Union as one of the greatest catastrophes of the 20thCentury.  His personal experience as a KGB agent working in East Germany awaiting orders that never came from Moscow was personally devastating.  

But there is another enduring source of humiliation sustained by Russia.  And this rarely gets mentioned.  In 1979, Deng Xiaoping pronounced the Chinese would become capitalist roaders.  Hamstrung by Maoist policies, China remained a poor economic backwater.  Deng envisioned a radical departure.  

During the last forty-five years, the Chinese engineered the most breathtaking industrial transformation in human history.  It became an economic and financial superpower and the world’s largest exporter.  Meanwhile, Russia’s economy remained dependent on extracting its vast natural resources like oil and gas and the production of metals, like steel and aluminum.  Being eclipsed by their erstwhile Communist comrades represents an enduring national humiliation for Russian leaders.  

While 2022 reprises the political tensions of 1962, we should recall another pivotal year.  In 1992, Boris Yeltsin came to Washington to address a joint session of Congress.  He extended a hand of friendship, proclaiming an end to enmity between Russia and the United States.  Politicians from both parties applauded vigorously and leapt to their feet chanting his name.  It is astonishing to recall that moment almost thirty years later.   

Equally remarkable is the fact that shortly after being appointed Yeltsin’s successor, Putin consulted Madeleine Albright in 2000 about Russia joining NATO, but was flatly rebuffed. For almost twenty years, from 1991 to 2008, the West was afforded an extraordinary opportunity to bring Russia into the European community.  Vanquished in the Cold War, the post -Soviet leadership, first Yeltsin then Putin, wanted to join the winning side.  While Western leaders would not allow their ex-communist adversary to join NATO or the EU, a Marshall Plan for Russia in the 1990’s or 2000’s might have done wonders to cement ties between Russia and the West.  Unfortunately, that opportunity was not recognized and seized. 

Putin once said Russia’s mistake was trusting the West.  He added the West’s mistake was trying to take advantage of that trust.  There is truth in Putin’s observation.  Russia was not going to become a Western style liberal democracy, a new-fangled version of the UK or France, no matter what the circumstances.   But a program of economic liberalization and market reform introduced gradually in the immediate post-Soviet era, not a doctrinaire program of shock and awe, involving fiscal austerity and a significant decline in living standards, could have generated an economic engine for political liberalization.  Of course, we will never know what that may have accomplished.  

Currently, the West is reaping the bitter harvest of that missed opportunity.  Putin fears, as all Soviet leaders did, that Russia will be surrounded by hostile forces.  But here too Putin has a point.  Imagine a regime change in Mexico or Canada that resulted in a military alliance with Russia.  Any American president would invoke the Monroe Doctrine to overcome the threat, as Kennedy did during the Cuban missile crisis.  

So what does Putin want?  He wants to restore Russia’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and diminish NATO’s presence on his doorstep.  Think of it as Putin’s equivalent of the Monroe Doctrine.  But we should not assume Putin wants to invade Ukraine.  Consider the consequences to Russia if he did.  Installing a puppet regime in Kyiv would subject Russian occupiers to a tenacious armed resistance.  Sustained violent opposition to Russian occupation broadcast to the world would probably embolden political dissidents in other countries like Belarus or Kazakhstan, to renew calls for regime change, generating a potential Eastern European/Central Asian “Arab Spring”.  Ukrainian resistance to Putin’s invasion could even fuel resurgent opposition at home and threaten his grip on power.  Moreover, the financial toll of an invasion would likely be enormous and unpopular with Russian citizens, even if they construe Ukraine to be a legitimate part of Russia.  

We can be sure Putin has considered all this extensively.  Perhaps the troops at Ukraine’s border are designed to announce to the world that Russia is, once again, a significant political and military force.  If nothing else, Putin has conveyed how its national interests must be considered and respected by Europe and the US.  

Mindful of Russia’s enduring national humiliation and the threat posed by NATO expansion to its border, the West should consider imposing a moratorium of, say, 25 years, on any NATO expansion, while asserting the West would respond swiftly and severely to any threat to Ukraine’s territorial integrity.  Moreover, the West should propose ways to help Russia become more competitive in the global marketplace, perhaps establishing mutually beneficial trade agreements.  If Putin can extract these important concessions, Russian citizens would applaud his show of strength.  And the West would avert a military conflict in Ukraine.  Finally, the West should view the current crisis as a valuable opportunity to engineer a rapprochement between Russia and the West including a new round of arms control negotiations.   This would alleviate a potent source of Russia’s national humiliation and reduce geopolitical tensions in Europe. 

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.

Editor of Delano