More deaths in the Ukraine. More posturing from all sides. Denials by Russia of involvement, insistence by NATO that Moscow is supplying armaments of all kinds. More sanctions to hurt the Russian economy. Plenty of anger and resentment to go around and no end in sight. But isn’t the endgame pretty clear? It’s not going to end with Russia and the rebels giving in. Too much face to be lost. The Ukrainian army is not going to defeat them militarily. It doesn’t have the muscle to beat a determined opponent supplied by a powerful backer. It’s not going to end with the Ukrainian government giving in. Again too much face is at stake. It might end with the rebel forces driving the Ukrainian army out of the territory they claim as their own, but then the worst- case scenario would be that NATO would start supplying the Ukrainians and we’d have a proxy war like we had in Spain in the 1930s with thousands of deaths, atrocities, and all the usual horrors of war.
The answer is clearly to make peace now on terms everyone can agree on. That would mean compromises on both sides. The Ukrainians should let the eastern regions go, if a meaningful referendum indicates that they in fact want to go. Some would call it a Russian land-grab, but isn’t it simply self-determination? Put down the guns and vote, a real vote, not the questionable ones that were held earlier, with international monitors to guarantee fairness. The vote should be town by town, county by county, to ascertain who wants to stay in the Ukraine and who wants to become part of an independent Donbass, a new country. Ethnic Russians are concentrated in the cities, and less well represented in the rural parts of this region, so the results of these referendums will create a puzzle that will need to be sorted out. But given the destruction that has already occurred, wouldn’t the inhabitants rather have a peaceful outcome? The alternative is years of fighting, decades of bad feeling or worse. If there are Russians on the Ukraine side of the new boundary who want to live in Donbass, they should receive assistance in resettling. Likewise any Ukrainian patriots who don’t want to live in Donbass should be able to move to the Ukraine. The resettlement funds should be regarded as money saved from armaments that would have been used to kill these same people in a war of attrition.
All this is a good job for the UN to take on. Further, the new Donbass (if it arises) and the old Ukraine should pledge to be neutral. They should not ally themselves in any way with Russia or with Europe, but serve as examples of how independent countries can thrive trading with both sides and with each other. Transdniester should be part of this neutral group as well to relax the tensions on that front. It’s 2015, let’s get out of the 1940s. “Ukraine” means “the frontier”: its role as a buffer state is an appropriate one, and with the help of both Europe AND Russia, and with an end to corruption, it would have a promising future. If the diplomats don’t get busy and stop repeating the same old accusations, the whole country is going to look like the ruins of the Donetsk Airport before too long and we’ll be stuck in another Cold War.