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There hasn’t been much news about the Ukraine war for the last 6-9 months, as it appears to have fallen into a stalemate and the summer offensives have achieved little. The good news is that this has finally inspired Ukraine’s supporters to begin urging the country to consider negotiations.

The best outcome for this war would have been if it had never started. I wish we had provided Ukraine with more concrete support when they gave up their nuclear weapons, rather than some vague assurances that apparently we never intended to keep. The second best outcome would have been if Russia’s initial offensive had never broken into Ukraine and had been stalled at the border.

Since neither of those happened, I think a stalemate followed by a negotiated peace is the best we can hope for. No one in the West wants Russia to overrun Ukraine; not only would that significantly strengthen Russia’s power in the long run, it would also be a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. Putin named “de-Nazification” as one of his initial war aims, and you can be sure that would include sham trials and executions (and probably torture along the way) for many Ukrainian politicians. The common people of Ukraine could expect no better, as the country would probably be looted to reward Putin’s supporters.

On the other hand, a strong Ukrainian counteroffensive that sweeps Russia back to its pre-war borders is scarcely more promising. It would be good for the occupied areas of Ukraine, although, as they have already been the scene of heavy fighting and would once again be a theater of war during the reconquest, it would only be good when viewed in the long term. It might help bring about an end to the war, but that is the point on which I am least confident. Putin has already arranged sham plebiscites in which the conquered regions voted to rejoin Russia. Would he accept their loss and make peace with his tail between his legs? I doubt it. I also doubt he would resort to nuclear weapons, but I wouldn’t want to count on that.

I read an article in National Review not too long ago (unfortunately I can’t find it now) in which the author scoffed at Putin’s threats, noting that Putin has drawn “red lines” several times and then done nothing when we crossed them. Fine; Putin likes to bluster where he is helpless. Do we really want to stake the fate of the world on the fact that he will continue to bluster when Russia faces ever more serious defeats? Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t. I’d rather not play nuclear poker with a desperate despot. There are better games we can play to weaken Putin in the long run, without having to count on his continuing acquiescence.

What now? If the push to get Ukraine to negotiate is real (which it may not be), then it will soon be time for diplomats. With the war going nowhere, future historians will probably describe whatever peace is made as the result of exhaustion and stalemate. That, however, obscures what are potentially very serious things that are yet to be decided. It seems likely that Russia would keep the territory it current occupies, but would Ukraine be required to accept it unconditionally, or could there be a clause allowing it to reserve its rights there, perhaps special rights over Ukrainian nationals? What will happen with water rights in the Crimea? And, most importantly of all, what security will Ukraine gain for its concession of those lands? Russia cannot expect Ukraine to give them up without some compensation. I suspect it will fight to keep Ukraine out of NATO, but I don’t think Ukraine will make peace unless it gets some sort of guarantee beyond mere Russian promises of its security. Perhaps NATO could be allowed a base in Ukrainian territory. Perhaps Ukraine could be allowed some special status as a NATO ally without formally joining the alliance (and all that entails, such as incorporating its military into NATO’s military structure). There are many possibilities, and many options for diplomats to propose creative solutions. We will be following any negitiations that occur with great assiduity.

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