Ukraine: A Path Forward

A free Ukraine represents the future of Russian speaking peoples, democracy, and forces fighting Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. How long must the bloody conflict continue? How will we reach a cease fire? Is it worth generational conflict with nuclear-armed Russia to protect perhaps 20% of Ukrainian territory from permanent Russian occupation? These, and other important matters, are analyzed below followed by peace proposals.

Analysis

If NATO ensures that Ukraine prevails, the influence on Russia towards democracy would be  strengthened. Imagine a thriving democracy bordering Russia - Ukrainian Internet and television broadcasting democracy daily to tens of millions of Russians living in oppression. Over a generation, it might change Russia and its leaders The defeat of dictatorship in Russia is crucial to the world‘s future. We still have 20th century demons to defeat. Putin made that clear.

Many are upset by the massive killing in a World War I-like stalemate of attrition and  death - over half a million casualties by most estimates, likely increasing 1000+ weekly. Many want America to stop helping Ukraine and end our involvement. But there are valid reasons to continue support and it is important to not forget 1930s appeasement, which allowed the Nazis to do far worse things than ever imagined. NATO allies (especially the Baltics, Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania) deserve protection.

Policies by our government involve depletion of Russian arms, tanks, airplanes, and navy. The more Russia is weakened, the better. But is it realistic to think a country 6000 miles wide with endless resources can be defeated? Napoleon and Hitler tried with devastating results. We may fare no better. The best we can hope for is regime change in Russia, and thus far we’re not doing well. Putin’s grasp of power is strong. 


Russian Goals

it is conjecture what Putin intends to do, but military occupation is probably not his goal. It’s costly. His aspiration is likely Ukrainian collapse followed by Russian establishment of a rump government controlling Ukraine - a vassal state modeled like Belorussia: technically independent, but captive to the whims of Moscow. Such a rump Ukrainian state would ruthlessly imprison, torture and kill thousands of people in order to maintain power. This is a situation the West must prevent. Keeping Ukraine independent and western-leaning must be an imperative in U.S. policy. 

Russian Oil & Price Caps

An effective way to weaken Russia would be to crash oil prices or, more appropriately, lower the cap on Russian oil/barrel to $50. The problem is that this cap, currently $60, has not been fully enforced - too much cheating, too much help from countries like China and India. Russia finds ways to get around it. 

In reality, only plummeting Russian revenues by enforcing the cap will starve the Russian government of revenues to the point where it may honestly negotiate for peace (and resumption of oil sales to normal prices). If Russia endured collapsed oil prices/caps we could break its economic back.

The question is how to enforce the cap. How do you block Russian oil tankers or oil transfers to other tankers? It appears the President at present has failed to accomplish this goal. Why? 

I recommend senate and congressional investigations on why cap enforcement has failed and been ineffective

Sanctions Failed

Western sanctions failed. The oil caps have not been enforced and put adequate pressure on the rushing. The Russian economy is doing just fine. Closing IKEA or McDonald’s hardly stares the Russian government. The only meaningful sanction would be, as discussed above, full implementation of caps on Russian oil revenues

Is disrupting Russian stability in our best interest? Poverty and government starving for revenues causes instability. Civil War conditions in Russia or factional fighting could emerge, placing poorly guarded nuclear weapons facilities at risk. What happens to those thousands of nuclear weapons?

Nuclear Threat

There is a cynical saying: Russia is a huge gas station. Shut that pump and the West may face catastrophic chaos if Russian central authority collapses and thousands of nuclear weapons are increasingly unguarded. Strange as it sounds, we have worse enemies in terrorist groups in the Middle East that would gladly grab Russian nuclear arms and use them against us. 

Keeping a central Russian government intact may actually serve our interests. Collapse could lead to nuclear attack if terrorist groups got hold of nuclear weapons - complete destruction of our cities. Talk about nightmares. 

We are better off ending the war. Indeed, whereas the Russian government is hateful, the alternative of a Balkanized Russia broken into many countries would create a graver danger - Islamic terrorist groups obtaining nuclear weapons from corrupt Russians looking to make money.

We must wwI repercussions. Sad as it sounds, we may be better off with Russian dictatorship in control of the entire country, for the alternative is far worse.

Ukraine Regains Lost Land?

Hopes that Ukraine regains lost territory, especially Crimea, are delusional. The war is comparable to a World War I stalemate: enormous loss of life for minimal change in the front line. Ukraine would take huge losses going through mine fields with likely 10,000s of mines. It doesn’t have enough tanks or men to succeed. Russia, 6000 miles wide and ruled by a determined military dictatorship, will not collapse. Korean War comparisons are striking. Short of American capitulation, it does not appear NATO will give in or Russia will suffer serious military setbacks. It is advisable to seek armistice, however unsatisfactory. It’s easy for you and me to say fight on, but it’s not our husbands and sons that are dying.

Russian Collapse?

Unlikely. Some analysts correctly compare this war with World War I: attrition, stalemate, bloodbath, minimal change at the front line. But one comparison that is not accurate is the German collapse of 1918: it was landlocked and unable to receive food and supplies because of the British naval blockade. Russia is 6000 miles wide, with ample resources and food, endless oil, and dependable trade with China. Economic collapse is not likely. Inflation and debt are possible, but are not existential as Wilhelmian and Nazi Germany faced. The ability of the Russian people to accept deprivation is notorious: read how they endured terrible problems during the World War I, Stalin and World War II eras. They are a tough people who don’t easily give up and surrender to tyrannical governments, czars and dictators.

Ukraine Admission to EU & NATO

We’re pushing too hard and fast on Ukrainian admission to the EU and NATO. It would perpetuate a generational conflict between our country and Russia. Nuclear armed Russia, 6000 miles wide

Consider this. Imagine if our northern neighbor Canada were suddenly armed and in a hot war with us. Imagine if the Canadian government was being asked to join an economic and military union with Russia. Imagine if Canada controlled our primary naval base at Pearl Harbor or was fighting to take over Pearl Harbor  Well, that is pretty much how Russia sees Ukraine and its sole warm water naval base in Crimea. 

Democrats and Republicans alike must recognize that moving too quickly in bringing Ukraine into the EU and NATO is not in our best interest. If done, it will take years and a much reformed Russian government. For the next 10 years, don’t hold your breath. 

Much as we hate Putin and Russian tyranny, it is pragmatic to recognize, however reluctantly, that they have legitimate concerns about not having a mortal enemy endlessly at war at its border. The only realistic path to ending the war and calming Russo/US tensions is an independent Ukraine but somewhat neutral. It means not rushing into NATO membership. 

If Ukraine were a full member, Article 5 would trigger a direct hot war between us and Russia. Any military skirmishes between the two countries would require us to send troops, tanks, airplanes. Who needs this headache? 

We have to make some compromises for the sake of peace with Russia. Ukraine, ceding control to Russia of 1/5 of its territory, is a necessary compromise to keep its independence and allow us to continue our arms control negotiations with Russia to de-escalate the horrible tensions and potential that this turns nuclear. Time and decades eventually change Russia, make it peaceful and cooperative, but meantime, let’s just get back to the negotiating table.

Conclusions: “A Peace Treaty“

Just what will a peace treaty look like? It would be a Korea-like cease fire like the 1953 agreement. Unresolved. Looking forward, it’s easy to say keep fighting as Ukraine bleeds its youth. To continue the war, Ukraine must likely lower its draft age from 25 to 20. 

France after World War I was left with 25% of men age 18 to 35 dead. Do we want Ukraine to face that fate? Can a depleted Ukraine win? Doubtful. Collapse is more likely. 

It’s easy to resist appeasement as Ukrainians die by the hundreds of thousands. Hundreds of thousands more Russian soldiers will die. That will poison future US/Russia relations.

1.  The armistice that Russia may realistically accept entails remaining in the Luhansk, Donbas and Crimea territories.

2. Accept that Russia keeps Crimea. It’s Russia’s equivalent of Pearl Harbor, their primary naval base. We cannot expect them to give that up.

3. Agreement that Ukraine will NOT enter the EU or NATO for 10 years to ease Russian fears. Think how we would feel if a warlike Canada or Mexico were heavily armed by Russia? Further, it is not in our interest for at-war Ukraine as a member of NATO and Article 5, which would require us to put our military forces in Ukraine to fight Russia... Nuclear Russia. This is insanity. 

4. Russia must pull back all troops 200 miles from the Ukrainian border, cease all combat, end all drone and missile attacks, allow Ukrainian grain shipments and keep warm water ports like Odessa open, and recognize Ukraine as an independent entity with occupied territories temporarily remaining under Russian control. 

5. Poisonous relations between America and Russia are not in our interest. There is minimal communication. Our “sanctions“ failed to break the Russian economy. We underestimated their intelligence and determination. We both have enormous stockpiles of nuclear weapons. It is not in our interest to have poisonous relations where we don’t talk - especially about nuclear disarmament or arms controls.

Russia rejects peace - then what? 

The tragic reality is Russia may reject peace under any conditions (besides total defeat of Ukraine). Perhaps the ruthless dictator Putin plans to wait this out, bleed Ukraine resources, and break NATO patience. We then face a multi-year war, casualties approaching 1 million, and the grave question of how long Ukraine can continue the fight. 

How long are we willing to fund this bloody and costly war and are we ready to take truly harsh steps that really cripple the Russian economy, namely, making oil prices plunge to $50 per barrel to starve of the Russian government of cash? News reports indicate roughly $50 per barrel is the breakeven cost for Russia to produce oil/gas.

Are we willing to take this complicated step and deal with the economic repercussions? Can we get major oil producers like Saudi Arabia to glut the market with oil, or dramatically increase American oil output to bring a price drop? If you have better ideas, let us know. Even our leaders are scratching their heads about what to do. 

Peace will require ugly compromises. Ukraine faces a shortage of men and cannot win a war that way. If Russia breaks into smaller countries we would face the grave threat of terrorists obtaining nuclear weapons - and put our cities at risk of annihilation. Be realistic. Choose icy but effective communication with a centralized Russia. Cease-fire will be ugly, but the alternative is worse.