The limited options to end Russia’s war in Ukraine

A Ukrainian service member walks near residential buildings damaged by a Russian military attack, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the frontline town of Bakhmut in Donetsk region, Ukraine April 21, 2023. REUTERS/Anna Kudriavtseva (STRINGER/)

In recent days it has transpired that the North Atlantic Organization (NATO), Washington and even Moscow have shown signs of looking for options to end the war between Russia and Ukraine. The European Union (EU) and most of the member countries of the international community want the same. However, Neither the West nor the Kremlin yet have a unified strategy that reaches all of Russia’s interests and makes it possible to achieve peace. However, this week the number of European governments issuing daily press releases in their respective countries has grown, informing them that they are working to find a solution to achieve this objective.

The main problem faced by those who claim to be working hard to end the war is that the options they handle are simplistic and are based on scenarios disconnected from reality, hence the possibility of success is doubtful. At the same time, others -the most realistic- recognize the existence of a deep complexity in the solution to the problem. Thus, it is understandable that the former are more attractive to the international press because they promise the success of the result with very little effort.

The truth is that the current state of affairs offers no more than two options to favorably resolve the crisis and reach an end to the confrontation. However, none of them provide an immediate solution to end the war. For European experts, the first variable to be evaluated assumes that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine triggered the war solely because of NATO’s expansion plans and his idea of ​​including Ukraine as a member of the Alliance. The next option assumes that you have to approach Vladimir Putin without ruling out that the Russian leader can accept negotiations as long as he obtains benefits.

Those who adhere to the hypothesis of the expansion of NATO as a causal link and trigger of the war, maintain that the solution is not complex and defend the idea that in order to end the war, NATO must make its position public to the world. and clearly inform that Ukraine will never be a member of it. In this line of thought, many believe that the Russians will be pleased to learn of the Alliance’s rejection of Ukraine and will withdraw their military forces, cease firing missiles at civilian targets, and agree to some kind of dignified pacification for the parties.

The problem for those who hold this position is that the war “It was not and is not about NATO’s actions and it has nothing to do with its geographical expansion or with the threat that such a move would represent for Moscow.” Ukraine’s desire to join NATO has no bearing either, since if that were the problem, the Kremlin would have taken reactive measures a long time ago. If NATO were a threat and if Ukraine’s inclusion were imminent, European, American and Russian politicians would not have asserted as they always have that this would not happen now or in the future. In February 2022, Moscow had no logical reason to fear NATO or Ukraine and neither did it in 2014, when Russia actually started the war by invading southeastern Ukraine.

Thus, focusing the analysis on NATO’s culpability is not only a flimsy argument, but it also lacks support and makes no sense since the formal declaration of NATO’s lack of interest in incorporating Ukraine, which makes it clear that Kiev does not It is a problem for Russia. The reality is that NATO did not start the war and neither can it end it with mere formal statements stating its position of rejecting Ukraine.

Today, the concrete point for reaching an agreement with Putin is based on the assumption that the strongman in the Kremlin needs peace and that he does not intend to destroy the Ukrainians. Some European analysts have even proposed that in this negotiation strategy Ukraine hand over parts of its territory to Russia; others have gone so far as to suggest that Ukraine sell the territories that Russia claims as its own; and another sector has argued that a definitive referendum be held in the disputed territories to settle the controversy and that the result be accepted without question by the Ukrainian government. However, these variables in the search for a solution became unfeasible in September 2022, when Putin officially annexed the Kherson, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Lugansk regions to the territory of the Russian Federation, and considering that the Russian Constitution does not allow no clause that authorizes the disconnection of their own territories regardless of the way in which they have been incorporated into the Federation, from the perspective of Moscow it is interpreted that the four provinces are not occupied but that they belong to Russia and cannot be returned and although Vladimir Putin systematically violates the rule of law, is not empowered to ignore the constitutional procedure. In fact, the legitimacy that it claims finds its roots in its own claim to follow the rules. Nor does the position of Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky help in this option with a view to the next NATO summit in June to be held in Lithuania, in which he hopes that Ukraine will be accepted as a member, something difficult to happen but not improbable.

On the other hand, Putin has no urgency in the immediate search for a peace that he says he does not need. However, in view of the negative implications of the war for Russia, its army and its economy, Putin is clear that his physical and political survival has no other option than that of a crushing victory, which will not be easy for him since he will have to assume the continuity of the bloodshed of his own military forces – something that is happening in the current state of the war – although that seems to be the strategy towards which the Russian leader leaned. However, Putin is not going to put aside his personal issue with Ukraine and his strategy -always- to resolve the Ukrainian problem definitively in his own way.

As it is, the options for ending the war through the application of policies that are plausible to satisfy both sides is the equivalent of taking into account that the main obstacle to any kind of legitimate peace plan remains Vladimir Putin. If he left -whether of his own free will or not- the solution will be possible. Today Putin is part of the problem and will never be a solution that will change the current political-military scenario. As long as Putin is in command there will always be serious pitfalls to overcome. If he he were replaced by one person or a multi-person government, the Russian Constitution could be amended on a few much-needed points and in a non-traumatic way. Then, the nonsense of the war could be behind us and Russia could be in a much more favorable place to mend its relations with the West. Thus, the power struggle that would inevitably occur with Putin’s departure would focus the Kremlin on more important internal issues than the war in Ukraine, and the departure of the Russian leader may help end the military conflict, especially if non-imperial Russian nationalists intervene in a new government and it would still happen if they were left out but manage to form a strong opposition.

The continuation of the war or the fact that it enters a stalemate while remaining encapsulated is functional to Putin and helps him to continue with his leadership, it is also very useful for him to reaffirm his argument about the need for Russia to continue defending itself from Western imperialism and of the Ukrainian “Nazis”, this reduces any possibility of a reaction to the internal political opposition within the Kremlin and among the Russian people

In other words, ending the war and reaching a peace agreement will only be possible if Ukraine wins or Putin leaves. If any of those variables happen, reaching a lasting agreement with a post-Vladimir Putin-era Russian Federation will not be easy, but it is possible. Any other idea in this regard will be a road to nowhere, a spiral of violence with no end in sight that will prolong the war and cause thousands of civilian and military deaths. This will not only be a greater calamity but it will ruin the future and the interests of each state party to the conflict.

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