How Not to Discourage the Russians

In his regular Washington Post column David Ignatius sets out to explain why the U. S. intelligence apparatus is worried about Russia’s invading Ukraine:

The CIA discovered something scary in October: Russia was moving troops toward the Ukrainian border — and, unlike in previous border thrusts, was making secret plans about how to use them.

The agency also worried that the potential conflict zone didn’t appear to be just the eastern sliver of Ukraine occupied by Russian-backed separatists, which Russian troops had approached the previous April, but a much broader swath of the country. Alarm bells rang at the agency, and then across the U.S. government.

going on to propose that President Biden talk to President Putin, explaining to Mr. Putin how bad such an invasion would be for Russia:

How do you stop a “master of audacity,” as a former CIA official describes Putin? One way is to talk to him, as Biden is planning to do, and offer a dignified retreat. But if that fails and Putin invades Ukraine, the United States and its allies are discussing this week how to make him pay as heavy a cost as possible.

I think he’s looking at the matter through the wrong prism. More than a century ago Lord Palmerston said of the British Empire that it had no permanent friends or enemies but it did have permanent interests. So does Russia. Among those interests are:

  • Russia seeks to be the leading Slavic country and the defender of all Slavs.
  • Russia seeks to be the leading Orthodox country and the defender of the Orthodox.
  • Russia wants a warm water port.

Those have been Russian national goals for hundreds of years. Ukrainian rapprochement with the West threatens all of those goals.

If we are genuinely interested in preserving anything like Ukrainian independence, I would like to suggest the following:

  • End all talk of Ukraine joining the European Union (unless you’re prepared to admit Russia, too).
  • End all talk of Ukraine joining NATO (ditto).
  • Accept permanently the notion of a neutral Ukraine.

Anything short of those steps are just non-starters for Russia.

3 comments… add one
  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    I too have suggested permanent neutrality as a solution for the Ukrainian question.

    Russia accepted it as a solution for Finland / Austria post WWII.

    But it will be hard now, to get there (neutrality), Ukraine would have to give up claims to the Crimea / Donbass.

    At least the risk of grey ops / hot conflict is low for next few months. Winter is a thing in Ukraine and Russia is in the midst of a catastrophic COVID wave, those don’t like good reasons to start a unpredictable conflict.

  • bob sykes Link

    We seem to have entered a new international regime. Russia now publicly rejects any American claim to leadership, democracy, and even government legitimacy:

    For at least a year, both Russian and Chinese diplomats have repeatedly rebuked the US for aggression, hypocrisy, racism… Neither China nor Russia will accept American leadership in any area. But the tone and substance of the Russia’s Foreign Ministry state cited above indicates we have entered a whole new level of opposition. A very dangerous level.

    Putin has indicated that if war breaks out in Ukraine they will eliminate the Ukrainian government in toto. No doubt a puppet government would be installed. There are plenty of ethnic Russians left in Ukraine to staff it.

    Such a war would doubtless bring down a new Iron Curtain even more impervious than the first. There would be NO trade or any kind of interaction between US/EU/NATO and Russia. That will hurt Russia’s economy in the short run, but it will necessitate Russia’s evolution into autarchy and full membership in Asia. China would be delighted.

    Europe, too, will suffer. There will be severe energy shortages, and possible food shortages, as Russia is the main wheat exporter in the world. A US military defeat on the ground in Eastern Europe would end our hegemony everywhere.

    Some twenty odd years ago, Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Medvedev, and Putin himself all called for a united Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok (Putin’s actual words). Putin and the others wanted Russia in both NATO and the EU. The US prevented that. The worst foreign policy mistake in history.

    US aggression against Ukraine created the coup that removed Yanukovych (and almost killed him), and now US aggression against Russia, using Country 404, threatens a large-scale European war. Again China is delighted.

    Gnon laughs.

  • Russia accepted it as a solution for Finland / Austria post WWII.

    Yes, those were the examples to which I hearkened.

    The worst foreign policy mistake in history.

    Just one of many over the last 50 years.

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