Russian forces currently occupy an area stretching from pieces of the Kharkiv region in Ukraine’s north, circling around the Donbas in the east, and extending along the country’s southern Black Sea coast near the city of Mykolaiv. The occupied territories include rich agricultural land, multiple seaports, and a nuclear power plant. Russia has sacrificed considerably for some of it, especially in places like Mariupol, along front lines in the Donbas, and on the outskirts of Kherson city. Putin is building local governments in some of these areas, too, and his share of the Donbas is increasing…
Perhaps one reason nobody wants to talk specifically or realistically about a diplomatic solution is that it, like war, augurs horrifying prospects.
Consider a peace that leaves all occupied territory in Russian hands. In reality, this would mean Ukraine loses seaports, much of its core agricultural base, and substantial, vital energy sources. Alternatively, any deal that incentivized Russia to return to the 2014 boundaries would likely entail spectacular concessions.
Indeed, it is hard to conceive of a settlement that maintains Ukraine’s fundamental nationhood while not emboldening Russian expansionism. Rather, toleration of Putin’s land-grab or offering major bounty in exchange will likely forge a new order not simply honoring Russia’s borders, but also accepting that its foreign escapades—however immoral or poorly executed—get to succeed.
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