Russia–Ukraine: Negotiate!

Another headline and another “the West is going to impose more sanctions on Russia”. The harsh economic sanctions might impede the Russian war effort, thereby continuing Western dominance in the global scheme of things, but will do little to solve the long term source of the problem: continuing NATO expansion into the former Soviet sphere.

Certainly the Russian invasion of Ukraine is to be condemned. All war should be condemned. Western political types and the corporate media, however, have fed the public a narrative which complicates the achievement of a negotiated end to the war. This narrative would lead us to believe that Russia’s “unprovoked” Russian invasion of Ukraine is due to the evil machinations of one Vladimir Putin who is bent on imperial domination and resurrection of the former Soviet glory. Not Soviet glory in terms of its ideology, which Putin rejects–he harkens back to the days of the Tsars, but in terms of empire. He has stated that the Soviet collapse was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” But is this what motivates Putin?

But now we have fallen into the establishment’s trap, we are talking about Putin–the apparent face of evil, rather than the larger causes which have brought us to this place: 30 years of U.S. mismanagement of the U.S.-Russian relationship. The post-Soviet  Russian economic collapse, under the guidance of Western economic advisers and during which the Nation lost 40% of its national income,  was  followed by Russia being abandoned by the Western supported International Monetary Fund.  The West then proceeded to expand NATO eastward with the addition of 14 nations, three of which lie on a Russian border.

But that’s not all, Presidents Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin, all broached the idea of Russia also becoming a NATO member, an idea never given serious consideration by NATO member nations.  Add to this the  U.S. and NATO led invasions or bombings of Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, all roughly  in the Russian neighborhood, and you’d have to wonder about  Russia’s sanity if they didn’t feel threatened by the West.  

Whether Western invasions and NATO expansion are done with good or malicious intentions, matters little; researchers who think about U.S.-Russian relations on a full time basis, which include U.S.  Military personnel, academics, and members of respected Western think tanks,  generally understand that Russia, which includes the majority of Russia’s domestic population, has viewed these activities as highly threatening to the Russian state.

The long and the short of it is, the Russians have been warning the West about NATO’s threatening  expansion for over two decades, three decades really, but Russia was so weakened during the 1990s economic collapse that it could not offer much push back during this period.

The whole affair displays typical tough-guy political-speak among both Russian and western leaders but  this is not what the world needs.  Zelensky plays the tough guy and look where it has gotten him. He’s running around in military fatigues while his nation is being blown to bits. Great leadership would have found middle ground which leveraged investment from both the west and Russia and would have avoided the loss of life and infrastructure.

We need negotiators. The Russians want Crimea on a permanent basis–with perhaps some room for negotiations on Russia’s longer term holding of the peninsula. They want the portion of  Donbas region currently under their control, and now probably Mariupol as well,  to be constitutionally guaranteed  a large degree of autonomy, and they want a neutral Ukrainian state–not aligned with NATO.  The Ukrainians had previously agreed to greater autonomy for the substantially Russian speaking  Donbas region during the unfulfilled Minsk agreements. Russia’s list of demands, given the perceived Western threat, are not unreasonable.

Or at least they are more reasonable than continued death and destruction, the possibility of war spreading to the surrounding region which will then involve NATO, which will then involve the U.S., and then involve the possibility of nuclear war. 

The naysayers will call this appeasement and recall Hitler. There are two problems with this argument. You can’t be the aggressor–the West during the past 30 years–and then when the aggressee,  Russia,  strikes back, state that  to negotiate with Russia would be appeasement and will lead to future war. The aggressee is responding to the aggressor, not the other way around.

Second, Russia has an armed force of roughly one million personnel. NATO has a fighting force of 3.5 million; the West likely has better military technology; and it certainly has more resources to fight a major war. The Russian military budget is roughly $70 billion; the U.S military budget for 2022 is eleven times this size at $778 billion; the combined military budget of all NATO nations is over $1 trillion.  $70 billion vs. $1 trillion, the calculus is clear, Russia is unlikely to attack a NATO member nation once it has achieved secure borders via the current demands on Ukraine and also a non-NATO status for Georgia.

The U.S., sadly, took the position before the Russian invasion that it would not consider Russian demands that Ukraine not ever become a NATO nation. Russia during the past couple decades had conceded the border Baltic nations and central and southeastern Europe to the West, but drew a red line when it came to both Ukraine and Georgia, two nations with strong historical and cultural connections to Russia and which are important buffer states against Western aggression. The U.S. administration stated it does not recognize Russian red lines–typical tough-talk political-speak, and now we find ourselves on the perch of world war.

The U.S. insists that nations ought to be free to choose their alliances. This sounds noble and fine but look where this has brought us; the U.S. and NATO need to backtrack on this hardline. This would, of course, come with a political cost to western politicians which have spun a narrative which will be difficult to back out of–unless we the people demand otherwise. Otherwise politicians will do what politicians do, they will sacrifice human life in order to promote a political ideology and to maintain their positions of power.

Meanwhile, the war’s impact on inflation and food shortages in the Middle East and Africa, have already begun to destabilize some of these nations. Debt defaults will follow and the whole global system is perched on the edge of disaster. 

It is time to put the tough guy politics aside, to set aside political ambitions, and to do the right thing: negotiate–with words, not weapons.