A six-point plan to end the Russia-Ukraine war

An impasse continues to develop in the war between Russia and Ukraine.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, they hoped for a quick victory. Their best-case scenario had Russian troops occupying the entire country, arresting Volodymyr Zelensky and the rest of the Ukrainian government, and asserting their ability to dictate policy to their neighbors, especially those neighbors that once were part of the Soviet Union. An acceptable scenario featured destruction of the Ukrainian military and the national infrastructure, firm control of the eastern provinces, and a negotiated settlement that would again have asserted control in the internal affairs of their neighbors. Putin’s Russia did not expect the vigorous resistance of Ukraine, its ability to withstand the Russian offensive, its support from many other nations in Europe as well as from the United States, and the surprising failure of the Russian army to achieve its objectives.

Meanwhile, a best-case scenario for Ukraine would be removal of the Russian military presence from all of Ukraine, including the Crimean peninsula, unanimous condemnation of Russia’s invasion around the world, and international assistance to rebuild the war-damaged structure of Ukraine. Zelensky could perhaps accept Russian withdrawal to the borders that were recognized as of January 1 of this year and some assistance in rebuilding his country.

The Russian government and military have been embarrassed in Ukraine, and as a consequence, they will not accept total defeat. They want something to show for the lives, the equipment, the money, and the time they have spent on this war. Ukrainian resistance has been remarkable, noble, and inspiring to date, but they cannot hope to continue to defeat the Russians week after week and month after month. Even as they are reequipped by NATO governments, they are not receiving additional soldiers to replace those who have been killed, injured, or captured in the conflict. Unless a Russian miscalculation expands the fighting into Poland or some other neighboring country, the Ukrainian army will not be able to maintain its resistance to the Russian invasion. Russia can continue sending additional soldiers into the fight; Ukraine cannot match Russia in that regard.

Ending a conflict like this war requires compromise on both sides. As much as people want to criticize Russia’s invasion and condemn its actions, the fight will not end well for Ukraine without some sort of concession to Russian power. I suggest a resolution to the war, one that may satisfy both sides in the conflict and also be acceptable to the rest of the world.

First, both sides agree to an immediate cease-fire.

Second, effective July 1, 2022, the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, and the Crimea are each declared to be semi-autonomous states, given five years to exist apart from direct control of Russia or of Ukraine. The borders of these regions are defined by the boundaries between Russian troops and Ukrainian troops as of the cease fire. Russia withdraws its military personnel and equipment from those areas, and Ukraine agrees not to enter those areas militarily.

Third, during the next five years, the government of Russia (and any other government that so wishes) helps to rebuild the war-ravaged territory within those three regions. The government of Ukraine (and any other government that so wishes) does the same rebuilding in Ukraine. Economic agreements are negotiated and followed according to the desires of the world’s nations. Members of NATO and other supporters of Ukraine are free to continue economic punishment of Russia for the invasion. They also are free, if they wish, to release Russian property seized during the conflict to the Ukrainian government to help rebuild Ukraine.

Fourth, refugees from Ukraine, including those from the three contested (and, for five years, semiautonomous) regions, are allowed to return to their home cities and villages. Russia is help accountable for the Ukrainian citizens that were displaced into Russia during the conflict. Following their return, citizens of Ukraine and of the three semiautonomous regions have freedom to relocate, to cross borders, and to make their homes wherever they choose to live, provided they are accepted by the populations among whom they choose to live.

Fifth, in June 2027 (five years from now), an election is held in each of the semiautonomous regions. The voters in each region are asked whether they want their homeland to be part of Ukraine or to be under Russian protection and control. Voting privileges are restricted to voters who lived in the three contested regions as of January 1, 2022; neither Russia nor any other government will be allowed to sway the elections of 2027 by relocating new families into those regions.

Sixth, during the five-year period of semiautonomous status, peace-keeping forces from the United Nations will patrol the three contested regions, preventing fights among the diverse populations within each region and discouraging invasion of the regions from outside forces (including, but not limited to, Russia and Ukraine). The United Nations will also oversee the elections of June 2027 to ensure that no outside government (including, but not limited to, Russia and Ukraine) interferes with those elections.

This six-part proposal allows Russia to save face over its failed invasion, but it also provides justice in the long term for Ukraine. An immediate vote in those regions would be neither practical nor reliable; given five years to recover and rebuild, the people living in those regions will be able to weigh the benefits and costs of both options—of returning to full membership in Ukraine or of existing under Russian control. Meanwhile, the killing stops, the destruction of property stops, the disruption of farming and manufacture and exportation of goods stops, and the international economy is somewhat stabilized for the time being.

The other benefit of this five-year waiting period is hope that Russia’s government and its perspective on its place in the world change for the better, beginning at the top of Russia’s political pyramid. One hopes that, having learned his lesson, Putin will not consider invading any other neighbor. Given his age and rumors of his ill health, Putin might not even be around five years from now to cause problems when the elections are held in June 2027. For that, we will have to wait and see. J.

War in Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine was not as much as a surprise as many seemingly-informed people have pretended. Russian seizure of the Crimean region several years ago (and the inadequate response by the rest of the world’s governments) signaled what Vladimir Putin intended. Placing Russian troops on the border of Ukraine for so-called “training exercises” this winter was an obvious preparation for invasion. The biggest surprises thus far have been the inadequacy of the Russian army to achieve its goals and the ability of the Ukrainian army and people to resist the Russian forces with any degree of success.

All the same, Russia has far too many resources—soldiers, ammunition, and equipment—for Ukraine to prevail against a long and determined Russian assault. Economic sanctions from the rest of the world can do very little to stop Russia from doing whatever it wants. In both short-term and long-term scenarios, Russia and can will survive economic warfare. Ukrainian forces can be re-equipped by the United States and its NATO allies. Sooner or later, though, the Ukraine will run out of soldiers able to use those supplies. If Putin’s government was going to collapse and drive him from power, that would have happened in the first month of the war. He is too entrenched at the top of the Russian government to be removed by his own people. The current resistance of the Ukrainian people to the Russian invasion is inspiring. In the course of history, though, inspiring defiance does not defeat the tyranny of those who are both powerful and determined.

Henry Kissinger has suggested publicly that Ukraine will have to cede territory to Russia to end the war. This public statement is unfortunate, but it represents the realism of Kissinger’s sense of history. It would be nice for the rest of the world to present a united front against Russian aggression, but global unity against Russia is an illusion. China is content to remain on the sidelines, taking neither side in the conflict. Many nations in Africa and Latin America prefer not to offend the Russian nation and its powerful economy. Unless Russian forces themselves cross borders and go beyond Ukraine, the nations of NATO will remain unwilling to commit their own forces to the defense of Ukraine. A larger war will happen only if Russia—or some part of Russia’s invading army—makes an enormous mistake. Not only is such a mistake unlikely; the United States and its NATO allies do not really want to confront such a mistake and the world war that would be its result.

Vladimir Putin is very clever. Even though he miscalculated the ability of his army to seize control throughout Ukraine, he has timed his invasions skillfully. He recognizes weakness on the stage of world leaders. Knowing when and how to seize the Crimean peninsula, he also knew when the time was wrong to grab for more of Ukraine and when the opportunity was most in his favor.

After all, Ukraine’s history is closely entwined with Russian history. The first capital of the Russian Empire was Kyiv/Kiev. The region historically identified as “the Ukraine” has been part of other empires for most of its existence: it was once part of Poland, once part of Lithuania (yes, really!), and once part of the Mongol Empire. The Ukraine’s existence as a separate Republic in the Soviet Union was more a political convenience than a recognition by the Soviet government that Ukrainians are a distinct culture and people deserving recognition as their own nation.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is, in one sense, no more forgivable than the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Building an alliance to oppose Iraq and free Kuwait, though, was far easier than building an alliance to oppose Russia and free Ukraine. By its invasion, Russia under Putin has risked upsetting the balance of powers in the world. The risk is clever, though, because of its skillful timing, recognizing the limits other governments must place upon themselves to maintain that same balance of powers.

Future generations will recognize Vladimir Putin as a tyrant who consolidated political control in Russia and strove to regain some of the power lost by Moscow in the collapse of the Soviet Union. They will report the invasion of Ukraine as one of Putin’s mistakes, a costly mistake for his nation, in part because his invasion has revealed weaknesses in the Russian military system. But, living in the present, we cannot let history’s verdict cloud our vision of the present reality. Ukraine is in a bad place today, reeling from destruction and unable to cling to its borders and its population. Things will get darker before they improve. For the time being, Putin and his Russian Empire are here to stay. J.

The Great War

The Great War was not great in the sense that it was good. It might better be called the Great Big War. It was a world war, involving not just European governments but people from Africa, Asia, and the Americas as well. Battles were fought in places colonized by the Europeans, and millions of Africans and Asians were brought from the colonies to support troops in Europe. But the Roman numeral was not assigned to the first World War until it had been over for a time—not until the second World War was clearly about to begin.

Everyone knows that the spark that ignited the Great War was the assassination of an Austrian archduke visiting Sarajevo. The fuel for the explosion, though, had been gathering over time. That fuel included the balance of power in Europe, the ideology of Nationalism, and the increase of technology that contributed to the war effort.

A century before the Great War, the wars of Napoleon were concluded and settled by the Congress of Vienna. Diplomats at that Congress recognized that power must be balanced among nations, with no single nation allowed to overwhelm the others. Five great powers were recognized: Great Britain, France, Prussia, Austria, and Russia. Over the next hundred years, these five powers coexisted in creative tension. They dealt with the rest of the world from a position of power—sometimes claiming land for their own colonies, and sometimes working with existing governments in the western hemisphere and in eastern Asia. Prussia consolidated pieces of the defunct Holy Roman Empire because of Nationalism—because they had a common German language, culture, and history. Bavaria wavered between joining Prussia and Austria, finally selecting the former; Bohemia, part of the Austrian Empire, hoped for independence but was denied its dream until after the Great War.

Austria and Russia had both been gaining land and population at the expense of the declining Ottoman Empire. Nationalism inspired eastern Europeans to prefer independence over a transfer from one empire to another, and Russia urged people in Austrian-held lands to keep the flame of nationalism burning, to take pride in their Slavic heritage. Nationalism united the several small portions of Italy under one government, leaving the Pope only a few acres within the city of Rome (Vatican City, still an independent country today). The consolidation of Germany was completed through three swift border wars with Austria, Denmark, and France, all of which Germany won. The German government, led by Otto von Bismarck, declared itself satisfied and rededicated itself to maintaining a balance of power. Representatives of European governments even met in Berlin to divide Africa among themselves, preventing conflict between the European nations, but failing to ask the opinions of any Africans.

European governments used the latest military technology to maintain control in their colonies. Machine guns were particularly effective at ending native uprisings. To maintain the British Empire (upon which the sun never set), Great Britain strengthened its navy, building larger and more powerful battleships. Germany competed with Britain, building its own battleships and also a fleet of submarines. Other inventions that would complicate the Great War included barbed wire, poison gases, armored vehicles, and aircraft. Aircraft would be used more for observation of enemy positions than for offensive capabilities, but the dogfights between pilots of different nations became part of the legend of the Great War.

Germany and Austria signed a pact agreeing that, if any nation attacked one of them, both would respond. France and Russia then adopted a similar agreement, fearing the united power of the two German-speaking nations. Italy, fearful of French power, joined the agreement with Germany and Austria, making a Tripartite Pact. Great Britain long remained aloof from these agreements, having no need to rely on other countries for its defense. Eventually, though, Britain entered an agreement with France and Russia.

Then came the assassination. Germany was eager to go to war. The German government had a plan, the Schlieffen Plan, under which they would sweep through the Netherlands and Belgium, entering France by the back door and quickly knocking it out of the war. The Austrian government was not so eager to start a war, but under German pressure they made demands upon the Serbians that could not be met. To support the Serbians, the Russians mobilized their army at the Austrian border. This allowed Germany to mobilize its forces, which then prompted France to do the same. Throughout July, European forces wavered on the brink of war—a war that both sides believed they would quickly win. Finally, at the beginning of August, the Germans took the first step to commit themselves to war. The Schlieffen Plan brought German troops into France, but the Germans did not advance as far as they hoped before French resistance brought them to a halt. Machine guns and barbed war inhibited the charges across a battlefield that were customary in war. Any such charge was disastrous, even suicidal—which did not prevent such charges from being attempted by both sides. Instead of a war rapidly fought and over by Christmas, as both sides expected, the conflict turned into trench warfare that stretched beyond Christmas 1914… and Christmas 1915… and Christmas 1916… and Christmas 1917….

Because Germany began the war, Italy did not feel compelled to join the fighting on the German side. The Tripartite Pact referred only to an attack upon one of the members; it did not require participation if one of the partners began the war. Italy held out for the best offer, and the side of the French and British and Russians made the better offer. They promised Italy new territory in eastern Europe, to be taken from the Austrian Empire, when the war was won. (That promise was not kept after the war.) Meanwhile, Germany and Austria made better progress in the east against Russia than they made against France and Britain. They found, however, that winning battles against the Russian army is not the same as defeating Russia—a lesson already learned by Charles XII of Sweden and by Napoleon. The best move made against the Russians occurred when the Germans located am exiled Russian revolutionary who called himself Vladimir Lenin in Switzerland. They put him on a train that carried him back into Russia. Organizing the soviets (groups of workers comparable to labor unions in the west), Lenin triggered a revolution that overthrew the Czar’s government. His new government pulled Russia out of the war, although Lenin’s government had to surrender control of much territory that the Czars’ armies had captured for Russia over many years.

When the Great War began in 1914, most citizens of the United States were determined to remain uninvolved. A generation earlier, the United States had tasted all-out warfare, and Americans had no interest in committing to a foreign war. True, the United States had (like Bismarck’s Germany) fought a brief and relatively painless war to gain territory: they had battled Spain in 1898, freeing the island of Cuba and gaining Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Hawaii, and other Pacific islands. But the United States was more concerned about a civil war in Mexico. They sent troops to guard the southern border and had no inclination to go farther from home than Mexico. President Wilson even won reelection in 1916 with the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” Shortly after his inauguration, however, Wilson changed policies, and the United States entered the Great War.

The British navy had tried blockading Germany to keep supplies (even food and clothing) from reaching Germany. The Germans responded with submarine attacks upon the blockade. Some American ships were lost during these campaigns. But freedom on the oceans was only one issue for Wilson and the Americans. Matters had calmed in Mexico, and the Czar had lost power in Russia. The war could now be portrayed as democracy (of the British and the French) against monarchy (of the German and Austrian). America’s soldiers could “make the world safe for democracy” while tilting the scales to conclude “the war to end all wars.” This hope of reshaping history and civilization brought the United States into the conflict. The difference was not felt immediately, but by the middle of 1918 the Germans and Austrians knew they could not win. Fighting continued while negotiating began. By November, the Germans had overthrown their government, and the new leaders called for an armistice. This armistice—which went into effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month (11 a.m. November 11) of 1918 was only an agreement to stop shooting, and to sit down and talk. The actual agreements and their enforcement could not take place until 1919. No enemy troops had yet crossed into Germany or Austria when the armistice was declared. The actual agreements established in 1919 would differ greatly from what Germany, Austria, or even the United States expected. J.

Foreign policy today

I have never agreed with any United States President one hundred percent of the time, and I have never disagreed with any United States President one hundred percent of the time. Although President Biden represents some ideas and policies with which I strongly disagree, I also believe that responsible citizenship includes support in the areas where President Biden is doing the right thing.

I am glad that the Biden administration is taking a firm position regarding Russia and China. Those two nations and the United States are the three most powerful countries in the world. A balance of power based on mutual respect is needed among these countries. Russia and China are both essentially dictatorships; neither has the checks and balances of a true democracy. Moreover, both countries are historically led by small centers of power. Neither has a history of government that is of the people, for the people, and by the people. As a result, their foreign policies must be shaped by pressure from outside their borders. The United States must be ready to protect and defend its friends. Our government must work with friendly governments in other parts of the world, showing a united front against Russian and Chinese aggression. At the same time, the United States and its friends must continue to speak openly about human rights around the world, including human rights in Russia and in China. We cannot meddle directly in the internal affairs of either country. We can, however, remind those governments and the rest of the world that human rights are important. We can also use economic agreements and negotiations to support policies in Russia and in China that recognize human rights and to punish actions that work against human rights in those places. President Biden and his administration have made commendable first steps in these areas, and we can hope that the course continues to be followed.

Working with people of west Asia and north Africa, the United States must continue to oppose terrorist organizations and rogue governments that threaten peace and security and that would deny human rights wherever they seize power. President Biden passed an early test of his determination to stand by American principles last month when he ordered air strikes against militias in Syria that receive support from Iran. President Obama was unable to end American military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, and President Biden should not make the mistake of promising to withdraw all American troops from those countries. (After all, the United States still has military bases in Germany and Japan.) A reduced American presence in those places is not necessarily a problem. But we do not want to appear to be abandoning our friends or to be leaving that part of the world in the hands of determined enemies to our core values of democracy, freedom, and human rights. These values are not opposed to Islam; we should never be seen as fighting against an entire religion, but we should also not surrender the battlefield to religious extremists who seek power and control at the expense of freedom and human rights.

The Biden administration has already learned that it cannot hold to the illusion of an open border with Mexico. We need (as we have always needed) control over immigration to embrace incoming people who agree with American values and will support and benefit our country while barring the entrance of criminals and others who would undermine the American way of life. Efforts to elicit the cooperation of the governments of Mexico and of Central American countries to control migration into the United States are a good step and should continue to be pursued. At the same time, the United States must continue to have border security while dealing with would-be immigrants in a way that is both just and compassionate.

A joke during the eight years that President Obama was in the White House claimed that Obama’s solution to the immigration crisis was to change the United States so it became a less desirable place to live. Some of President Biden’s policies threaten to follow the same path. As he said during the campaign last year, though, Biden’s policies are not as extreme as many of those suggested by his opponents for the Democratic nomination in 2020. Evidence shows that President Biden will have to negotiate with Republicans in Congress to achieve any of his goals. The American system of checks and balances is working and will continue to work. We should continue to pray for all our elected leaders, and we should be prepared to support the best candidates for Congress in 2022. Meanwhile, the presidency of President Biden is not, thus far, the unmitigated disaster that some Trump supporters predicted. J.