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Why Won't Washington Negotiate?
Make It EXPLICIT That We Will Not Expand NATO!
We are two weeks into Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine; many thousands are dead, hundreds of thousands are fleeing the country, and millions are internally displaced.
How do we plan to meet this historic crisis?
Our approach so far has been to condemn Vladimir Putin, punish Russia, and support the Ukrainian resistance with close combat weaponry.
That’s fine as far as it goes. Now, how about trying to actually end the war itself, before it gets even more insanely out of control?
The Russian government stated goals for its invasion have shifted over time. But the core demand — a demand that goes back at least 14 years now — has been for Ukraine to be a militarily neutral state. That specifically means not a member of the NATO military alliance.
Russia will stop the invasion “in a moment” if Kyiv agrees to this:
Acknowledging Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk is all just extra. The Kremlin already holds that territory (and will likely hold more, probably the entire southern coast of Ukraine — swallowing Mariupol and Kherson and linking the Russian mainland to Crimea):
The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenksy, has in turn signaled that he is ready to negotiate accepting the losses of those regions, and also a commitment to a non-NATO future for his country:
It’s amazing how hard one has to look to find these moments. The war was started explicitly over Ukraine’s NATO flirtations; the NATO question was at the core of the last disaster that broke out in Ukraine (eight years ago, a civil war in the Donbass with one side Kyiv- and U.S.-backed, the other Kremlin-backed, that killed 14,000 people); the Kremlin has said the war could stop “in a moment” if Ukraine agrees to military neutrality.
Yet there is no discussion, no exploration of this tantalizing possibility.
Why is the American press corps silent on this?
Don’t you have a million questions about this? Don’t you wish it wasn’t just a lone Reuters reporter getting on the phone to the Kremlin, and it was the entire world press and political class asking?
We are only two weeks in; the longer this nightmare goes on, the harder it will be to ever stop. We should be seizing any possible moment for peace.
President Joe Biden is getting praise for his leadership, but he and his entire administration are conspicuously silent on a key moment — the crux of the whole crisis — Ukraine’s possible future with NATO.
Biden could probably end the crisis in a moment — just as he could have prevented it in the first place — by simply reiterating and formalizing a Barak Obama conviction that Ukraine doesn’t belong in NATO because it’s not a core strategic American interest.
Instead, we’re leaving the diplomacy to others — Turkey, France, the foreign services of Russia and Ukraine themselves, all trying to feel a way forward. Soon China will probably enter as the heroic mediators of a crisis we helped create and could have helped end.
Instead, our plan is apparently for “America and Russia to fight to the last Ukrainian.”
The Ukrainians will fight, and put up a stiff resistance. But they cannot win.
Pouring small arms and shoulder launched missiles into this nightmare might encourage the Ukrainian resistance to fool themselves into thinking otherwise, and it certainly widens and deepens the horrific unfolding violence. But it will not help Ukraine.
You may well cheer when Russian troops have embarrassing setbacks, when Ukrainian partisans take out planes or tanks and post their cell phone videos of this on social media; I cringe, because I remember covering the war in Chechnya as a reporter on the ground. It was the same story there: Initial embarrassing setbacks, followed by the enraged, punitive flattening of Grozny. I’m terrified to think of this happening to Kyiv, a beautiful city where my wife’s relatives live. I’m terrified of Ukrainians suffering the fate of Chechens.
Why won’t we offer to negotiate peace — even if it involves a militarily non-aligned, neutral Ukraine?