Russia and the West are locked in a scorpions’ embrace in Ukraine that threatens to explode into a major European, even world war. The consequences of such a war would certainly be hundreds of thousands and likely millions of military casualties and civilian victims. Such a war could be easily escalate to a nuclear confrontation that would push the world into disease, starvation, chaos, and perhaps oblivion. Even without a larger war, the presence of five nuclear power plants in Ukraine risks a grave nuclear accident, and there are radicals on both the Russian but especially the Ukrainian side that might seek to construct a ‘dirty’ bomb or some other means for delivering a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapon of mass destruction. Given these terrible dangers, there is a striking, criminal level of negligence in the nearly non-existent diplomatic efforts to end the NATO-Russia Ukrainian war.
Yet there are some very feasible ways, some already well-trodden paths, for putting an end to this conflict and restoring peace in Ukraine, Russia, and the West. Some are very simple: for example, talk.
The first order item is a ceasefire agreement that will stop the blood letting. An OSCE monitoring agreements and mission would control a no man’s land to create a broad ‘contact line’ separating the sides’ forces. The agreement should include mutual withdrawals in order to separate the forces and allow an OSCE Monitoring Mission to be deployed. All artillery pieces and mortars should be shuttered in OSCE controlled areas. All drone use will be banned, and only OSCE monitoring drones will be permitted to fly.
A more ambitious ceasefire plan could establish a UN peacekeeping force made up of peacekeeping troops from completely neutral countries from outside the region and that are not members of NATO, the CSTO, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), BRICS, the Eurasian Economic Union, or European Union. Mexico, Malaysia, and Indonesia might be examples of candidates for such a mission. These peacekeeping troops would occupy the separation zone and have the right to intercept any diversionary groups sent by one side to attack the other.
Now that the Ukrainian Pandora’s box has been opened, there will be no peace in Europe or Russia until the Ukrainian question is resolved. The West has led Kiev down the road to destruction, and in order to save what remains of Ukraine the West, particularly Washington, and Ukraine must engage Russia in peace talks. In lieu of this, there are only two possible outcomes: Russia’s seizure of at least all Ukraine’s lands east of the Dnepr and along the Black Sea coast or a broader European war involving direct fighting between NATO, Russian, and perhaps other forces. The main cause of the NATO-Russia Ukrainian War was Washington’s and Brussels’ insistence on expansion of world history’s most powerful military bloc to Russia’s borders, especially to Ukraine. The Maidan revolt was cultivated by the West in order to achieve NATO expansion to Ukraine. Instead, it predictably sparked a reaction in southeastern Ukraine and Moscow, a civil war, and finally the ongoing larger Ukrainian war in which the West and Russia are poised to enter into conflict with each other, coming ever closer to that fateful day with each month’s escalations to new levels of violence and terror.
The genesis of NATO expansion was ‘lone superpower’ America’s unbridled post-Cold War ambitions to establish a U.S.-dominated ‘new world order.’ Moscow views the Maidan regime in Kiev as a dagger pointed by Washington at Russia’s heart. So for Moscow to be willing to engage in any peace talks, especially as Ukraine falters on the battlefield, is for Washington to make the first move and propose to sponsor and engage in ceasefire negotiations with Russia and Ukraine. Moscow will simply not trust or see any prospect for stability through direct talks with Kiev. Russian President Vladimir Putin knows who is calling the shots. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s recent statement that if Moscow proposes talks, Kiev will accept, and the U.S. will be right behind them signaled this dynamic as well as the curious antinomy of hubris and cowardice that prevails in Washington under the present administration. Something that limits hope that escalation of this war can be stopped, but let us forge ahead with the necessary, if misplaced optimism.
It is possible that Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy will balk at the idea of talks with Putin. After all, he is surrounded by ultra-nationalist and neofascist elements that bear a burning hatred for Russia and Russians and great ambitions to master Europe. But if West was able in March 2022 to convince Zelenskiy to end the Istanbul process talks and instead continue what obviously would have to be a supremely destructive war with Russia war, then it certainly can push Kiev to resume talks with Moscow. It is often said that Putin will never negotiate because he seeks restoration of the Soviet empire and domination over all Europe. This is an odd claim. Putin’s troops were with within 50 miles of Georgia’s capitol Tbilisi and had defeated the Georgian army in August 2008 Georgia-Russia Ossetiyan war, and yet he did not even consider taking the far easier opponent down in order to start his ‘rebuilding of the Soviet empire.’ Putin and Russians have neither the desire and know they lack the capability to dominate their neighbors. So talks are possible. The nut to crack is how to initiate them and what sorts of agreements with Moscow and Kiev are feasible.
Since NATO expansion was the cause of the conflict, the issue of NATO and Ukraine will be central to any peace settlement, and Washington calls the shots in NATO. Some noise was made a while back when a NATO official suggested Ukraine might trade Russian-occupied territories for NATO membership. NATO, by itself, will never forego its expansion to Ukraine. That decision can only come from higher up—from Washington. For that to happen it must be realized on the Potomac that Russia will never accept Ukraine in NATO even if it is offered all Ukraine east of the Dniepr. The only way Moscow would accept NATO in Ukraine is for Moscow’s full defeat in the Ukrainian war or an entirely new order having been installed in Moscow. By now it must be becoming clear to some in Washington that this is a bridge exceedingly too far and was never a realistic goal. More likely would be Russia taking all Ukraine east of the Dniepr and then offering all but the four oblasts plus Crimea back to Kiev in return for an international agreement on no NATO membership and Ukrainian neutrality. That level of Russian magnanimity regarding the West and Ukraine is a pipedream.
It is worth repeating: There will be no peace treaty signed by Russia that does not guarantee Ukraine’s neutrality. Therefore, for any proposal of a Russian-Ukrainian peace treaty to be viable it must stipulate that Kiev is a neutral state and will not join any military bloc. Moreover, NATO and the CSTO will be banned from carrying out any activity with the Ukrainian military. This treaty should have international status and be signed by Russia, Ukraine, NATO, and the UN. Regarding Ukraine’s territory and territorial integrity, Russia, should it choose, shall retain all territory it holds as of implementation of the ceasefire agreement. Ukraine’s future territorial integrity and any future exchange of territory agreed upon by Russia and Ukraine will be anchored in a separate treaty signed by both states, the OSCE, and the UN.
NATO and Russia ought to sign a separate treaty along with Ukraine repeating and thus reinforcing the stipulation of Ukraine’s neutral status contained in the Russian-Ukrainian peace treaty outlined above. Under this kind of a more global treaty or in a separate agreement, Russia, the EU, the US, and the OSCE must hold negotiations on a treaty or set of treaties that would regulate the explosive situation in Moldova and its breakaway region of Transdnestria, including a withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldovan territory. The Moldovan Treaty or Treaties must stipulate Moldova’s neutral status and the Russian troop withdrawal. At the same time, a treaty between Moldova and breakaway Transdnestria and an amended Moldovan constitution should include Kishinev’s neutral and sovereign independent state status and afford Tiraspol and the Gagauz territory broad autonomy within the Moldovan state. After these treaties are signed and implemented, Russia will withdraw all its troops and weapons from Moldova, including Transdnestria. Beyond the more explicit statement on the inviolability of Moldova’s state sovereignty and independence, Kishinev would be obligated to sign a treaty with the OSCE pledging it will not seek to unify with Romania. It cannot be excluded that Russia will demand a treaty clause holding that NATO cannot expand to any more countries directly adjacent to its borders, as the issue is relevant for Georgia especially given August 2008 but also Azerbaijan and Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhaziya, which Russia recognizes it and North Ossetiya as independent states. Moreover, the U.S. continues to poke around in Central Asia – witness the recent and first US-Central Asian summit – and NATO is establishing an office in Japan.
In addition, there must be a reaffirmation and strengthening of the OSCE’s commitment to the principle of non-interference of the organization’s member-states in the domestic politics of other member-states. Western commentators have made much of Russia’s violation of the Budapest Memorandum when it incorporated Crimea into the federation, as the memorandum had been signed by Moscow, Kiev, and the West as part of a deal exchanging Kiev’s surrender to Moscow of nuclear weapons on its territory inherited from the USSR for Moscow’s pledge to renounce its right to Crimea and honor Ukraine’s territorial integrity. What is lost on those who make such superficial comments is that the West egregiously violated the OSCE Founding Act’s Helsinki Accords’ stipulation that commits OSCE members from interfering in co-members politics. US senators, congressmen, deputy secretary of state, and billions of dollars spent to network anti-Yanukovych Ukrainians in the nurturing of the Maidan revolt committed violation of the OSCE’s mutual non-interference clause.
Reviving the Late Cold War Treaties and Security Architecture
More globally, the perestroika-era arms control and verification treaty architecture must be revived in order to restore strategic stability to Europe and central Eurasia. This would include NEW Start as well as new INF, CFE, ABM, and Open Skies agreements should be concluded and should be signed and adhered to by all NATO and CSTO members. The INF treaty and particularly the CFE treaty will have to be renegotiated and amended given the drastic shifts in the deployments of intermediate range missiles and conventional forces since the early 2000s and even more so since February 2022.
Thus, there is a multi-tier structure for reviving strategic stability in Europe: Russo-Ukrainian agreement, Russo-European agreements for eastern Europe and western Eurasia’s frozen conflicts, Russo-Western agreements on arms and mutual non-interference in domestic politics, and a more global infrastructure of interlocking strategic nuclear and conventional forces treaties for Russia and NATO member countries. These are the basic building blocks for any future stability in Europe, but at some point China will need to be brought into this or a similar understanding and security architecture for Asia.
EUROPE BOOKS, 2022
MCFARLAND BOOKS, 2021
MCFARLAND BOOKS, 2018
About the Author –
Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, www.canalyt.com. Websites: Russian and Eurasian Politics, gordonhahn.com and gordonhahn.academia.edu
Dr. Hahn is the author of the new book: Russian Tselostnost’: Wholeness in Russian Thought, Culture, History, and Politics (Europe Books, 2022). He has authored five previous, well-received books: The Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, 2021); Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.
Dr. Hahn taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and was a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group.