President Putin apparently called President Obama to propose talks on Ukraine, and as I write the two countries’ foreign ministers are meeting. This is a welcome move in view of the distinct possibility that Russian troops deployed along Ukraine’s borders might intervene on the pretext of saving Russians, just as they did in Crimea. Fruitful talks would also sideline hawks in Congress who want to use the tense situation to upgrade US military activities in Ukraine and the NATO member-countries (such as Poland and the Baltic states) in Eastern Europe.
What might a reasonable agreement look like? Here are some thoughts.
- Ukraine becomes essentially a nonaligned country, linked economically to the West and Russia but not a NATO member. Military assistance to Ukraine is only defensive in nature, with prior agreement that defines “defensive” arms.
- Economic help to Ukraine comes from all sides—not just the US, the EU, the IMF, and the World Bank, but also Russia and China.
- All sides reaffirm the 1994 Budapest Memorandum under which Ukraine (along with Belarus and Kazakhstan) gave up the nuclear weapons Russia had stationed on its territory in return for a pledge from Russia, the US, and Great Britain to resist violations of its territorial integrity. Here is the relevant paragraph of that undertaking:
“2. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations . . . ” (www.cfr.org/arms-control-disarmament-and-nonproliferation/budapest-memorandums-security-assurances-1994/p32484 )
- Russia withdraws forces it has deployed along Ukraine’s frontier, and reduces its forces in Crimea. In response, the US and EU reduce and, in tandem with Russian troop withdrawals, eventually remove sanctions they have imposed on Russia.
- A federal formula is devised that protects the culture and political role of Russian and other minorities in Ukraine, including support of Russian as an official second language.
- All sides agree to avoid threats and hostile characterizations that impede a negotiated settlement.
- Russia and Ukraine agree to hold high-level talks aimed at restoring regular contact and reestablishing trust. Russia agrees to recognize the legitimacy of the Ukraine government within its new borders following the May 25 presidential election. (Crimea’s annexation remains unrecognized, but accepted for now as a reality.)
- The Ukraine government ratifies an agreement between the US and Russia.
Would these terms be politically acceptable to Russian nationalists and American hawks? Do you consider them acceptable? What are the alternatives to an agreement along these lines? It seems to me that an agreement “in the human interest” should take into account Russian security sensitivities, Ukraine’s vulnerability, and US and EU concerns about Ukraine’s and neighboring countries’ political and economic stability. We probably will not have long to wait to see if US-Russia dialogue makes progress and avoids the slippery slope to deeper conflict.