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Books Proposals for peace in Ukraine

WILL PODMORE is intrigued by a dispassionate assessment of the war in Ukraine and a proposal for its resolution put forward by the US peace movement

The Diplomatic Path to a Secure Ukraine
George Beebe and Anatol Lieven
quincyinst.org, free

THIS excellent publication outlines a way to end the war in Ukraine. It is published by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, an American research institution which promotes ideas that would move US foreign policy away from endless war. 

It presents alternative policies based on military restraint and diplomacy. It advocates a ceasefire in Gaza and a peaceful unification of Taiwan with China. Its distinguished members include the respected historians Andrew Bacevich (its co-founder), John Mearsheimer (a non-resident fellow), and Stephen Walt (a board member).

The authors show that Ukraine’s best hope lies in a negotiated settlement that protects its security, and minimises the risks of renewed attacks. A settlement could secure independence for the greater part of Ukraine, and provide a viable path toward its prosperity. 

Ukraine defeated Russia’s initial effort to seize Kiev, to overwhelm Ukraine’s forces, and replace Ukraine’s government with a pro–Russia one. Russian forces have proven unable to conquer — let alone govern — all of Ukraine’s territory. 

If the war ended today, all but the south-eastern fringe of Ukraine would be free of Russian control and the country would be at least informally aligned with the West. While this would not be a complete victory for Ukraine, its government could still hail this defiance of the Russian aggression as a great achievement.

However, Ukraine’s 2023 counteroffensive failed to recapture Russian–occupied territory, and its subsequent move to what it calls an “active defence” strategy marked the end of its hopes to regain control of all the Russian–occupied territory. Ukraine cannot recover all the land within its 1991 borders. 

Sanctions have not crippled Russia’s war effort. Russia has now adopted an attrition strategy that is gradually exhausting Ukraine’s forces, draining American military stocks, and sapping the West’s political resolve. Nato cannot fix Ukraine’s acute manpower shortage without sending troops, directly intervening in the war. 

This Russian strategy has largely succeeded. At the negotiating table, Russia will not want to surrender land largely occupied by people more sympathetic to Russia than to Ukraine, and for which it has sacrificed considerable blood and capital. 

Ukraine’s government has formally banned all negotiations, on top of which its “peace formula” of complete Russian withdrawal — and holding war crimes trials — makes negotiations impossible, and implies a total Russian defeat that is becoming ever less likely.

The Biden administration says that it will discuss “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.” The British government also rejects negotiations and insists that the people of Ukraine fight on for total victory, for the expulsion of all Russian forces from all the territory defined by the country’s 1991 borders. 

The lesson we should learn from the authors’ soberly realistic analysis is that we should press for a ceasefire leading to a settlement process. Agreeing on borders should not be a prerequisite for ending the war. Ukraine’s 2022 proposal envisaged such an approach, positing a 15–year consultation period on the status of Crimea that would come into force only after a complete ceasefire.

In March and April 2022, the two sides outlined a draft agreement that traded Ukrainian neutrality for multilateral security guarantees and a multilateral arms control regime, in return for Ukrainian independence and a path toward prosperity.

Putin’s repeated statements (for example in his interview with Tucker Carlson on February 8) that Russia wants to enter negotiations should be tested, and could recognise Ukraine’s independence as long as Ukraine is not actively hostile to Russia.

A ceasefire and a peace settlement would end this ghastly war. This would serve the interests of Ukraine, and, by removing the dangers of escalation, would serve the interests of all the other peoples of Europe. 

This publication, like the Quincy Institute’s other papers, videos and events, is making an important contribution to the USA’s growing peace movement.

DOWNHILL PATH: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, during a meeting in Berlin in February 2024

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