A new diplomatic off-Ramp for Russia

By | March 17, 2022

Richard Wilcox writes:

The war in Ukraine will end in some form. The longer it persists, the higher the costs to both Ukraine and Russia. Clearly a diplomatic solution is preferable, but it is difficult to identify a diplomatic construct that could provide a sufficient and face-saving off-ramp for Russia as well as the kind of security that Ukraine needs.

The center of gravity of any negotiated settlement to this war will be the question of Ukraine’s status between the Western alliance and Russia. Russia will insist on a neutral Ukraine, not part of any military alliance that could conceivably threaten Russia. Ukraine, on the other hand, cannot possibly agree simply to declare itself neutral, at the mercy of its neighbor, as Russia demands.

If there is an acceptable diplomatic formula to end this war, it would need to involve some secure form of Ukrainian neutrality and an open path for Ukraine toward its democratic and economic aspirations in the European Union.

Most proposals involve commitments for Ukraine to never join NATO or to commit not to do so for some specified time. That may be acceptable to Russia, but would leave a de facto neutral Ukraine without any reassurance in the aftermath of a devastating invasion and no obvious way to pursue an economic and political alignment with the West.

But there’s a present-day model for this kind of balancing: Austria. As part of a deal to end Allied occupation in 1955, the Soviet Union recognized Austria’s sovereignty and Austria pledged permanent military neutrality — it would not join NATO, and it would not allow foreign troops to be stationed on its territory. But at the same time, Austria was free to chart its own economic and political course. That deal has held to this day: Neutral Austria joined the European Union in 1995, including, subsequently, the Union’s Schengen free travel area and the eurozone. [Continue reading…]

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