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.