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PostCould Negotiation with Putin Have Prevented This War? We'll Never Know (Cameron Sawyer, USA, 03/08/22 3:56 am)
John E commented on March 7th: "I am uneasy with any suggestion that Putin alone is not to blame for the destruction of an entire nation. The moral relativisms of 'poking the Russian bear' and the (unclear) promise not to expand NATO lost all weight once Putin's tanks crossed into Ukraine."
But NO war is entirely the fault of one side. This simply doesn't exist in nature. Even WWII, where have the consummately evil figure of Hitler with his evil plans of conquering all of Europe, was not a case where "Hitler alone was to blame." It is not "moral relativism" to try to understand our mistakes at Versailles and later which contributed to WWII.
Nor is it "moral relativism" to consider the very large and really nefarious role we played in creating the Ukraine war. This conversation takes nothing away from the deplorable (and in my opinion extremely stupid) act of Putin in launching this brutal invasion of Ukraine. And this conversation is essential to finding any solution to this crisis, and also, to avoid repeating the mistakes of ours which led to this crisis.
We don't know now whether a more reasonable position in negotiations with Russia late last year and at the beginning of this year would have stopped the war or not. A few days before the invasion, Putin stated that he had three conditions for peace--Ukrainian neutrality, giving up Western weapons, and recognition of the annexation of Crimea. He may or may not have stated these conditions in good faith; he may or may not have been planning to invade in any case. But we will never know, because we never took this seriously. If the war could have been averted on this basis, that would not have been "appeasement." Those are understandable desires which could have been the basis of a deal which would have stopped all of this, which would have left Ukraine vastly better off than today. We discussed a similar deal back in January. And I predicted back in January that the failure to make a deal along these lines would result in the destruction of Ukraine. I take no pleasure in my predictions coming true.
Now Putin has stated again that he will stop military action based on agreement to the same three conditions, plus recognizing the independence of Donbas. Again--this may or may not be stated in good faith. But we still do not seem to be inclined to take Russian concerns seriously enough to even find out.
In order to make a deal, you have to understand what the other party really wants and what his bottom line really is. It doesn't matter whether the other party is evil or not--the principles of dealmaking are the same. We do we stubbornly avoid doing this? As I've said before, we had three choices before the war started. And we still have three choices now:
1. Make a deal
2. Go to war over Ukraine
3. Allow Ukraine to be destroyed by Russia.
It is pretty easy to thump our chests and go on about "not appeasing dictators," while our own people and our own soldiers are safe at home or on their bases at peace, while the Ukrainians face destruction alone. In fact we have explicitly excluded 2. So why do we not take 1 seriously? Why did we not and why do we not negotiate in good faith, based on a realistic understanding of the other side's bottom line? What we are doing defaults to 3. Not taking 1 seriously, after prodding and pushing them into this conflict, is a crime against the Ukrainians committed by us, and the evil of Putin's brutal invasion doesn't change that.
I've written recently that this war will destroy Russia too. Russia will win the war, at least, Russia will defeat the Ukrainian regular military forces. But Russia will not be able to hold on to Ukraine after all this brutality and destruction. Is that any comfort? That we have contributed with our cravenness to the destruction of two countries?
JE comments: The bottom line is, can a deal still be struck with Putin, without conveying the "optics" of capitulation? I don't know. Ukraine will not give up without achieving a better result than Putin's original ultimatum. Before the shooting started, Cameron Sawyer suggested that Russia make a sizeable payment for Crimea. Now the price would have to go far higher--as a way to extract reparations from Russia without calling them that.
Massive reparations in exchange for an easing of sanctions? Might--just might--this be a way to satisfy everyone? The question of Ukraine's "neutrality" is another can of worms. My gut feeling is that this ship has sailed. Ukraine's "Russophiles" are now viewed as traitors.