It Is Not Too Late to Save Ukraine

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Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with Army Chief Valery Gerasimov

Pittsburgh / December 22, 2021

Russia is getting close to invading Ukraine. Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told senior military officers that he would "react harshly to hostile steps" taken by the West. Last week, Russia published a list of demands (link) that they want in exchange for no invasion of Ukraine.

Putin thinks the West seeks to provoke conflict with Russia. Putin blames "the West" for the misfortunes of Russian civilization after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He is very sensitive to the identity and political ideology of the government in Kyiv. Napoleon invaded Russia via Ukraine and that historical memory still triggers paranoia in Putin.

Russia has gathered 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border. Last week's proposal gives Russia a pre-text to "justify" an invasion. All the pieces are in place for Russia to invade Ukraine.

The US and NATO should protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Ukraine is a democracy and ideas matter. I actually believe if the US defends its political ideas, that advances our moral standing in the world. That does matter.

Putin's latest proposal calls for NATO to restrict military deployments to its borders before 1997. The problem with acceding to Putin's demand in this situation is -- what stops him from doing this again? Putin can gather troops in another conflict area, make extreme demands that seek return to a prior position, and trigger a raw and unnecessary conflict.

The US's optimal strategy is to reject Putin's demands, insist that Russia will be the "aggressor" if it enters Ukrainian territory, and also be ready to provide direct assistance to the Ukrainian military in case Russia does invade.

The US offered bilateral talks with Russia (link). This is good. Ideally, the US should try to change the Russian mindset so their top diplomats do not imagine that the US or NATO is the "aggressor" in Ukraine.