Russia, Ukraine & The Crisis Solution

It’s becoming increasingly clear that a protracted standoff is in the cards in Crimea. With Russia’s interests in Ukraine, top of which is assuring Ukraine does not tilt West, Putin is unlikely to cave to U.S./E.U demands. And, with the U.S. strategy of trying to demonize Putin and impose weak sanctions, nothing will change in the short run.

It is also clear that all parties involved understand the stakes: The U.S. has imposed toothless “sanctions” to appear strong at home, understanding that real sanctions targeted at banks or harming the economy of Russia would draw unacceptable retaliation – higher gas prices for Ukraine, an impediment to trade with the EU, and worldwide economic pain. The Russians continue to hang on to Crimea, using this chip to illustrate its resonance in the world, and underscore that further encroachment on its buffer zone interests are not acceptable.  And, with Putin’s approval rate at home at 70%, he has no reason to flinch.

The sad thing is that despite the rhetoric, a solution is visible. Initiating dialogue is a must to progress and the first step must come from the U.S. Understanding that Russia feels that their sphere of influence is at stake, the U.S. or E.U. must allay Putin’s fears and illustrate a willingness to work toward a solution. They need to recognize the why behind Putin’s actions – that he feels threatened by the potential loss of Ukraine and that he sees the West meddling in his perceived sphere of influence. Like it or not, this is how he views the conflict.

Given that, what does a potential solution look like? A neutral Ukraine.

A Ukraine that makes it clear they neither tilt West nor East, and that invites pro-Moscow politicians to work within the government. A requirement to such an agreement would be the peaceful retreat of Russian forces from Crimea, with an understanding from Ukraine that Crimea has some autonomy in its affairs.

It’s a messy solution but one that must be considered. It’s important not only for the current crisis, but to avoid a collapse of diplomatic work being done with Syria, Iran, and on Nuclear weaponry. It also truly can “restart” the relationship between Putin and Obama, something Obama claimed to initiate in 2008, but failed to actually accomplish.

 

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