Henry Kissinger says conditions are right for negotiations on Ukraine by the end of the year. He bases his calculation on the fact that China has emerged as a broker, which puts the Russians on the spot to a degree.
However, there is one missing part to Kissinger’s prediction. While it may not directly concern China, Russia wants far more than just a deal with Ukraine – although even in that context Russia probably won’t take anything less than a demilitarized, non-NATO Ukraine.
The US thinking on the subject is almost the reverse. Washington thinks it can accept a deal provided Ukraine is “enticed” by being brought into NATO.
Other similar ideas have popped up from time to time. Among them are ideas that some European states and the US will guarantee Ukraine’s future security. The reason for this approach is that it is increasingly unlikely that the US has enough votes in NATO to bring Ukraine into the alliance.
While the NATO approach is anathema to Moscow, it is conceivable that some sort of surrogate security system, if clearly defined, might pass muster with Russia.
But even if some sort of deal could be hammered out on Ukraine’s future security, there are two stumbling blocks.
The first is the territory that Russia now holds inside Ukraine’s boundaries. This includes Donetsk, the Zaporizhia region, Kherson and, most important, Crimea.
It would be extremely difficult for Ukraine to agree to any permanent solution on the future of these territories. Nonetheless, unless the Russians take a beating militarily in the next few months and are pushed back, it is unlikely that Moscow will agree to anything less than redrawing Ukraine’s borders.
The current Ukrainian government cannot go down that path, so almost certainly no negotiation is possible unless Ukraine’s government changes hands, or unless the Russians lose.
The other problem in the Russian mind is even more important than Ukraine itself.
Russia believes it is at war with NATO and the United States, and believes that while the war is being fought in Ukraine it is supported out of bases in Europe and it is part of a US/NATO plan for fracturing Russia, splitting it into bite-sized pieces for NATO to dominate. Adding Finland and maybe Sweden to the alliance also increases Russian doubts about NATO and the United States and the collective threat Russia faces on its own.
Thus while Western pundits are worried about Ukraine’s future, Russia is concerned with its own survival.
It is worth recalling that before Russia invaded Ukraine, it sent two messages, one to the US president and the other to the head of NATO. One letter – the one sent to the US – was focused on the Ukraine problem; the other, addressed to NATO, called for a new security regime for Eastern Europe. Both letters were ignored and treated in a disdainful, hostile manner by both the US and NATO.
Had the letters formed the basis for a political negotiation, it is at least possible that the Russian so-called special military operation would not have occurred. Surely it was a missed chance to avoid bloodshed and destruction. The cavalier Western rejection of Russia’s proposals was, thereafter, used as proof by Russia’s security establishment that NATO’s goal was to destroy Russia and use Ukraine as the lightning rod.
If the above analysis is correct, it follows that a negotiation limited to Ukraine won’t solve the security crisis that is looming over both Russia and Europe. There is plenty of evidence that fear is growing in Europe, where it is understood that the outcome in Ukraine could turn out badly. There is collateral concern that sticking it to the Russians could well backfire in the future.
It would seem that the only practical way out is for European security to be addressed in a straightforward manner – especially by the United States, which is driving the Ukraine war and NATO’s expansion.
It would be good if Kissinger would address this sensitive but critical security issue.
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