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.

War in Ukraine–best case scenario

The best-case scenario to result from this week’s warfare in Ukraine is that the Russian people realize that Vladimir Putin is a failed despot, arrest him, replace him, withdraw their armed forces from Ukraine, and seek to reestablish proper diplomatic relations with the rest of the world. Sadly, we are unlikely to reach that scenario soon, not without more violence and destruction between now and then.

I can picture Putin confined to house arrest in one of his mansions, with falsified battle reports delivered to him hourly while the Russian army withdraws to its bases and leaves its neighbors unharmed. Putin could have long, rambling, pointless conversations with Presidents Biden and Macron and could tape speeches to the Russian nation which would be broadcast only inside his house. Meanwhile, a new Russian government could work diligently to repair all that Putin has broken. But Putin, like any intelligent and skillful tyrant, has removed from the Russian government all competition to his leadership. Anyone who disagreed with him in the past has been cut off from access to power. Anyone capable of running Russia without Putin has been isolated, kept from been heard by the Russian people. An uprising in Russia overthrowing Putin would be welcome news to the rest of the world, but we cannot hope to hear news of that sort in the immediate, foreseeable future.

The worst-case scenario to result from this week’s warfare is World War III and the end of civilization. Putin has been willing to risk that possibility, largely because he is confident that no other leader would allow matters to go that far. But almost as bad a scenario is that Putin and the Russian army capture control of Ukraine and make it another satellite of Russia, as subservient as Belarus and Kazakhstan. Allowing Ukraine to fall without much of a fight merely kicks the can of World War III down the road a bit, until Putin decides that he also wants to control Poland or Romania or some other nation that was once under the thumb of the Czars and of the Soviet government. Diplomacy and economic sanctions might not be enough to preserve the independence of Ukraine. Handing Putin the victory he wants today mortgages the future for the questionable benefit of a slightly longer time of peaceful coexistence in the present.

I wish I could believe that NATO’s leaders have a plan to stop Putin’s Russia in its tracks and to reverse the process of expansion and domination that Putin has been pursuing for years. If economic sanctions are sufficient to end Putin’s reign, to inspire the Russians to form a new government, I will be pleased and surprised. As for diplomacy, it is a necessary skill that has its time and place, but Putin has pushed events beyond the line where diplomacy can function. He already seized the Crimea away from Ukraine while President Obama led the United States; permitting Putin to claim and hold more pieces of Ukraine  as a way to end the current fighting does nothing more than prolong the process. Diplomacy and economic sanctions did not rescue the Crimea, and they will not suffice to rescue Ukraine this year.

A lengthy war in eastern Europe is far from ideal. War should be a last resort, not a first or second choice of methods to deal with other nations. When the other side chooses war, though, our side has scant hope to avoid war. If the battle against Russian imperialism, fought today in Ukraine, can prompt the Russian people to rise up against their tyrant and his plans, the end of ousting Putin may be worth the means of our military involvement today. Vladimir Putin has misled the Russian people long enough. In support of the true Russia and of its neighbors in today’s world, the rest of the world may be obliged to flex military muscles before the opportunity has passed. J.

Movie review: Dr. Strangelove

With Vladimir Putin rattling the Russian sabers last week, it seemed time to watch again the classic Cold War movie Dr. Strangelove; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Made in 1964, Dr. Strangelove depicts the possibility of the world’s superpowers going to war because of the belligerence of one United States general.

The movie opens with a comforting statement from the United States Air Force that the events depicted in the movie could not possibly happen in real life. Yet the rules and regulations used by Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper seem entirely reasonable and likely in the context of the film. Usually described as a black comedy, the script contains remarkably few laugh-out-loud lines. (“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here—this is the War Room,” is one of the few.) The humor consists rather in situational comedy and irony bordering on parody: an Air Force pilot replaces his regulation helmet with a cowboy hat after receiving the order to bomb targets in the Soviet Union; a military officer with the code that can call off the attack attempts to reach the President and his advisors from a pay phone but does not have enough spare change to place the call.

Dr. Strangelove combines the extemporaneous comedy of Peter Sellers with the micromanaging direction of Stanley Kubrick. Sellers is one of the very few actors who has had a major role in more than one Kubrick film. This improbable pairing shows the enormous respect the two professionals held for one another. The cast also includes Sterling Hayden as General Ripper, George C. Scott as General Turgidson (a gung-ho, gum-chomping general who must explain to the President and his advisors what is happening and why—the gravely voice of Scott’s future portrayal of General Patton can be heard from time to time), Slim Pickens as the Air Force pilot, and James Earl Jones as a member of his crew. Sellers is given three roles: the title character, the American President, and a RAF officer assigned to General Ripper’s staff.

The title character, Dr. Strangelove, is meant to portray German scientists like Werner Von Braun, who were brought to the United States after World War II to assist the military and the space program. As portrayed by Sellers, he is uncannily reminiscent of a then-unknown Harvard Professor of Government named Henry Kissinger. Of his three characters, Sellers spends the least time on the screen as Strangelove. His portrayal of President Merkin Muffley—said to be based on unsuccessful presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson—makes the character a single voice of calm and reason surrounded by insanity, yet Sellers’ comedic genius shines in his telephone conversations (during which only his words are heard) with the Soviet Premier. Group Captain Lionel Mandrake is also, for Sellers, an understated character, played against the madness of General Ripper. Yet his efforts to wheedle the call-back code from the general, along with his scene in the telephone booth, are among the highlights of the movie.

Kubrick based the movie on a serious novel and only realized along the way that the movie would play better as a comedy than as a serious war film. The foolishness of a Mutually Assured Destruction policy, followed by both the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1960s, is skillfully portrayed in the film. This movie may have help lead to the turn toward détente that both governments attempted in the 1970s. Peter Sellers was the first actor to be nominated for an Academy Award for a film in which he portrayed more than one character. The movie was nominated for Best Picture (and remains the longest-titled movie to be so honored) along with Zorba the Greek, Becket, and Mary Poppins, but they all lost to My Fair Lady.

Much has changed in the world since 1964, but Putin’s boasts last week about Russian weaponry remind us that much has also stayed the same. It may be only the grace of God that has spared the world thus far from the incredible damage humanity is capable of causing, whether through a deliberate act of hate or through mere carelessness and stupidity. For this divine protection we should be thankful every day. J.