Acceptable Ukraine End States?

What will Zelensky, Putin, and the West settle for?

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, and especially once it became clear that Putin’s forces were not going to achieve an easy victory, I have been struggling to figure out how the conflict could be resolved. Ideally, for pretty much everyone except Putin, Russia would suffer a humiliating and total defeat that sent all its troops scurrying back across the border, with Ukraine restored to its pre-2014 state of sovereignty, and with Putin dead or in irons awaiting international war crimes trials. But, to put it mildly, that’s incredibly unlikely. Putin will almost certainly avoid that humiliation down to the last Russian soldier.

Any negotiated settlement, on the other hand, requires Ukraine to concede enough to allow Putin to declare victory. And, not only is President Zelensky loathe to give up anything to the monster who has killed so many of his people but the Western countries backing him may not be willing to lift sanctions on Russia if that appears to reward Putin’s crimes.

John Hudson, Michael Birnbaum and Karen DeYoung encapsulate a lot of this in a longish analysis for WaPo (“Mixed signals from Ukraine’s president and his aides leave West confused about his end game”)

The mounting death toll in Ukraine has forced President Volodymyr Zelensky to consider concessions to Russia in order to bring an end to the devastating conflict, but the specific elements of any peace deal his government may be discussing with Moscow remain a mystery to Western leaders, said U.S. and European officials.


The conflicting forecasts have led to some confusion among Western leaders who see limited movement toward reconciling Russia’s demands with what Ukraine would find acceptable. Moscow has called for the full demilitarization of Ukraine and for Kyiv to recognize the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014, as Russian territory and the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent countries. Moscow has also called for the “de-Nazification” of Ukraine, a Kremlin term believed to mean the dissolution of the Zelensky government. Ukrainian officials have said all four demands are non-starters but have been open to discussing the issue of neutrality and the country’s relationship to NATO.

“There’s no indication on our end that the Ukrainians are suing for peace. They want to fight,” said a senior U.S. official.

When asked to account for some of Ukraine’s optimistic messaging about a deal, the official said “we’ve been puzzling over this too. We’ve been getting mixed messages.”

A second U.S. administration official said Ukraine’s statements suggest that Zelensky and his top aides haven’t come to a firm conclusion on what the Ukrainian people are willing to concede in exchange for a cease-fire and withdrawal of Russian troops.


Others close to Zelensky say he is under extraordinary pressure to convey progress in negotiations with Russia even if the reality is less sanguine.

“Many Ukrainians are now suffering enormously. That puts our delegation under pressure to show some kind of progress in the talks,” said Yuri Vitrenko, the CEO of Naftogaz, the country’s largest state-owned oil and gas company.

“There are people in Ukraine who say ‘we don’t want to hear about talks, we want to fight until the end.’ But others are saying ‘at least try to negotiate.’ That’s why for the negotiating team, it’s important to be constructive,” he said.


Speculation about an emerging peace deal surged on Wednesday following a report in the Financial Times that Ukrainian and Russian negotiators discussed a 15-point draft on Monday that would see Kyiv renouncing its ambitions to join NATO and swear off hosting foreign military bases or weaponry in exchange for security guarantees from countries such as Britain, the United States or Turkey.

That same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Ukraine’s “neutral status is now being seriously discussed” and said the two sides “are close to agreeing.” A day earlier, Zelensky said Ukrainians “must admit” that the West has indicated Ukraine won’t be a member of NATO — remarks that seemed designed to prepare the Ukrainian people for concessions.

But officials from Russia and Ukraine later denied that the 15-point plan represented a possible solution, and Ukrainian officials said most of the reported document was merely a restatement of Russian positions.

Zelensky will have to sell any peace deal to his own people — a tricky task if he is forced to concede too much. He has been a wildly popular wartime president, but he was an unpopular peacetime one. And Ukraine’s westward ambitions have only been strengthened by Russia’s assault. Before February, many residents of cities like Kharkiv were sympathetic to Russia. Now much of the city has been reduced to rubble, and pro-Russian voices have turned into fiercely pro-Kyiv ones.

In Ukraine’s second-largest city, a furious rain of bombs and rockets takes a toll: ‘There are no coffins left’

Any potential deal will also require buy-in from the West, which will need to lift sanctions on Moscow in exchange for its withdrawal of Russian forces.

Maj. Gen. Mick Ryan, who recently retired from the Australian Defense Forces, argues that “Putin needs a revised theory of victory that excludes the capture of Kyiv.”

American scholar Eliot Cohen describes this as “a story line explaining why we think things will turn out the way we wish”. The Russian President needs a story line that preserves his presidency, relaxes some of the sanctions strangling his country, and gives the appearance that the massive military failure in Ukraine bore some success for Russia.

Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine and the heart of the resistance to the Russian invasion, might seem to be the answer to Putin’s wishes. It is currently the main effort for the Russian military campaign as it slowly approaches, attempts to encircle and then capture the city.

This is an unlikely outcome, however. The Russian forces in Ukraine are under severe strain. According to official US sources and news agencies, the Russians have lost about 10 per cent of their manpower killed or wounded in the past three weeks. At the same time, their logistics have been found wanting, their soldiers are going hungry, they are being targeted because of the use of insecure communications and are probably running out of precision weapons.


Putin may need to look elsewhere to satisfy his theory of victory. The south and south-east of the country are probably where he will look to for his “victory”.

Russian forces have seized almost all of Ukraine’s coastline. This includes a large proportion of Ukraine’s ability to trade with the outside world. The only city remaining in the path of the Russian military in the south is Odessa. But the Russians probably don’t need to seize that city to declare a successful campaign in the south. It has already delivered a corridor from Crimea to Russia, and a larger defensive buffer for Russia north of the Crimean Peninsula.

In the south-east, the Russians have made steady progress. Russians, and their proxies, continue to pressure Ukrainian forces in Luhansk and Donetsk, while advancing from the north and the south in a pincer movement to encircle all Ukrainian forces east of the city of Dnipro.

If the Russians were able to achieve this – and it is no foregone conclusion that they can – they might then destroy Ukraine’s military forces defending the south-eastern part of the country. And it might give the Russians a large swathe of territory that can be a bargaining chip in negotiations over an armistice or peace treaty. Of course, they might also want to keep it, but it is almost certain they would then face a Ukrainian insurgency.

Ultimately, Ryan doesn’t provide a precise solution, just a direction: accepting half a loaf based on territory already controlled.

The obvious settlement is one in which Ukraine concedes Crimea, which is already a fait accompli, as well as Eastern Ukraine to Russia along with a pledge to never join NATO. That would be a bitter pill, indeed, for Zelensky. But he’s more-or-less made the NATO pledge already and Crimea was gone years ago.

Would President Biden and other Western leaders go along with this? I’m not so sure. While far short of his original war aims, it would be a clear victory for Putin and a massive reward for his atrocities.

Then again, the West has very little skin in this game. We’re supplying massive amounts of weapons to help the Ukrainians fight on. But will that be enough to achieve a total victory? If not, how many Ukrainians do we want to die by prolonging this fight for months, or even years?

Which leaves me where I’ve been for weeks: I simply don’t know the answer to these questions.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Lounsbury says:

    Realistically the best outcome possible is something similar to the result of the Finnish war(s) against the Sovs, losing some territory on the margins and forced ‘neutrality’ but one that only papers over deep anti-Russian State regime orientation at the popular level.

    How much territory…

    Ukraine probably needs to think less of Kiev and more about Mariupol, and relieving or stopping that Russian operation.

  2. JohnSF says:

    Problem: Zelensky might, just, at the outside and under pressure, concede Eastern Ukraine.
    The Ukrainian parliament almost certainly would not.
    And the inhabitants of the new Russian territory will include hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian military regulars, reservists and veterans.
    Most of them armed; some of them very armed indeed.

    It doesn’t matter even if the Ukrainian government and parliament improbably agreed.
    The Russians would have a huge insurgency problem on their hands.

    No Russian military or security police troops will be safe in that area.
    I’d expect hundreds to thousands of dead per year, without end.

    Russia simply does not have the manpower to sustain an occupation of around 10 to 20 million unwilling and highly militarised subjects.
    It would take a pacification force of around a million to hold it down and quell it by terror over several years.
    Russia does not have that many soldiers and national security guard police available,

    It’s not on.

  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    Given the brutality and the terror reined down on Ukraine by Putin, the west may find it impossible to lift sanctions to any extent, regardless of what deal Zalensky and Putin may agree on. For western leaders, the public pressure to punish Russia will be too great. Every dollar spent by the West to rebuild Ukraine will be another reminder of the perfidy of Russia.

  4. Modulo Myself says:

    Would President Biden and other Western leaders go along with this? I’m not so sure. While far short of his original war aims, it would be a clear victory for Putin and a massive reward for his atrocities.

    I’m not so sure that it would be a clear victory. He basically fought a costly war for a more formal status quo. Meanwhile, the alleged Nazis were still be in power. And what does neutrality entail? No EU money flowing in? No rebuilding efforts sparked by NGOs? The weirdo apologists in America seem to be angry that there’s sympathy for the Ukrainian people, because they’re maybe it’s all an emotional trick about the priors of being shelled or whatever spectrumy logic these morons use. Putin is almost certainly the same. The fact that the Ukraine has now become a symbol is going to be twisted by him into another action by the Soros/LGBQT puppet masters running the world.

    Honestly, for him the war ends with Kiev being captured and Zelensky being executed live on Russian TV, and then a poll released to the west saying 100% of Russians think Putin is good.

  5. Chip Daniels says:

    It should be a given that for both Ukrainians and Russians, historical memory and grievances are long lasting.

    Meaning any agreement will be, for some people, only a temporary pause in a long term struggle.

    What is critical is how large that group of people will be.
    Just a small fringe of radicals? Or a sufficiently large body which can carry on a campaign of low intensity guerilla war for decades?

    Northern Ireland offers one example, Spanish Basque separatists another, American neo-Confederates yet another.

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    The best outcome for Mr. Zelensky may not be the best outcome for us. He’s trying to minimize territorial loss and Ukrainian deaths. But our best outcome, per@JohnSF: above:

    It doesn’t matter even if the Ukrainian government and parliament improbably agreed. The Russians would have a huge insurgency problem on their hands. No Russian military or security police troops will be safe in that area. I’d expect hundreds to thousands of dead per year, without end.

    Russians dead, Russians losing equipment as Russia’s economy buckles under Western sanctions – short of regime change in Russia, that’s our best outcome. The US and the West don’t just want to save Ukraine, we want Russia defanged. We want that belligerent little twat in Moscow to be clearly and unmistakably beaten because we have to think about other sections of Russia’s claimed sphere of influence.

  7. CSK says:

    This is interesting:

    In a nutshell: “NATO intervention in Russia’s war on Ukraine could halt that country’s barbarous attacks. But it would mean war between Putin’s regime and the West, and this war would be such a gift to Putin that we should expect he will soon do everything he can to provoke it.”

    We should resist this, Nichols adds.

  8. JohnSF says:

    @Chip Daniels:
    Ukrainians are (or were) generally not hostile to Russians; unsurprisingly as a lot of them ARE “Russians”.
    For an arbitrary value of “Russian”.
    What they are hostile to is the Russian state in it’s usual mode of “imperial autocracy”, for reasons that go back centuries, and are now turned up by orders of magnitude.

    For some of the root reasons for this hostility a quick look at the life of Ukraines iconic “poet of nationalism” Taras Shevchenko, the Kobzar, might give some clues.

  9. Kathy says:

    I can see Ukraine agreeing to cede Crimea to the Russian empire, in exchange for money. A big sum. Say, $1 trillion USD, payable over 20 years at a decent rate of interest, in Dollars or Euros only.

    And Putin’s head.

  10. Liberal Capitalist says:

    The challenge we face is sadly the same “Domino Theory” that kept the Viet Nam war going far beyond reason.

    If Putin is successful in taking ANY territory as part of ending the war, then he will have won. Internally the message in Russia will be that it was worth the effort, ethnic Russians have been liberated from “Nazi” Ukraine domination, and though their unified stance were able to resist western influence and punishing sanctions.

    Putin, emboldened by this victory then turn his focus on other “traditionally Russian” countries: The Baltic States. And I fear that global interest in round two of sanctions will not be as unified as the current Ukrainian battles.

    If Russia keeps Ukrainian territory, Biden – while NONE of this is really his fight – suddenly becomes a GOP target: Damned for spending money on a non-American issue with terrible outcome, and damned for not spending more and providing NATO air cover. (… and damned for being part of NATO as well).

    The only outcome that likely works for Zelensky and Biden: Full withdrawal of any Russian troops from Ukraine (including the disputed Crimea) with Putin being provided reassurance that Ukraine will not join NATO.

  11. Kathy says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    The Baltic states are in NATO. This changes things.

    It’s possible, maybe even likely, some NATO countries would decline to aid their Baltic allies. But the way Putin’s army has been doing in Ukraine, it seems likely these three small countries alone might beat it back, especially with help from even a few willing NATO allies. I’d think Poland would certainly get involved (Russia has historical territorial claims on Poland*), and maybe most of the former Warsaw Pact countries.

    *Let’s not forget the USSR invaded Poland twice in WWII, eventually subjugating it as a vassal state.

  12. JohnSF says:

    The obvious solution, especially as it provides a climb down for Russia from feeling compelled, by their own idiocy, to claim the Donbas/East Ukraine is for UN supervised plebiscites for Crimea and the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (the latter possibly not unitary basis: tricky point for negotiators)
    Including voting rights for refugees/exiles/displaced.

    And with terms and supervision to ensure Russia doesn’t assign “Crimean residence rights” to half of Moscow on the basis of a weekend break in Sebastopol ten years ago.

    That plus guaranteed neutrality and some sort of “yeah, we don’t like nazis either” purely pro forma. Watch for Kremlin games on that also, as also on neutrality definitions and guarantees.

    Most likely outcome: Russia gets Crimea, guarantees passage rights at Kerch, Ukraine gets the rest.
    The trick is going to be making Russia realise that this is the outcome that is best for Russia as well.
    It requires Putin to stop being deluded; and the signs for that are not promising.

  13. JohnSF says:

    Re. the Baltics, other allies would be involved from the outset.
    There are European battlegroups and combat aircraft in place; have been since 2017.
    Only notable absentee, until the past couple of months, has been the US.
    But even absent the US, the networked firepower and logistic support is sufficient to inflict casualties in the high tens of thousands on any Russian attack, if not defeat it entirely.

    European NATO would be in the fight from day 1.
    Only question would be, would Finland and Sweden join the party.

  14. gVOR08 says:


    Yeah, we don’t like nazis either

    That’s one of the few hopeful things I see. The anti-Nazi thing is undefined, so Putin and state media can redefine it to claim whatever he got as a win.

  15. JohnSF says:

    All depends whether Rusia is going to be reasonable or maximalist.
    If history is any guide, they’ll shift and quibble and double back and get pernickety, and pretend to be offended etc etc.

    And will also try to “twin track” negotiationand fighting, hoping to abandon talks for force if they see the chance, or induce despair or “reaching for a solution”.
    Even if this in fact contrary to their own best interests.

    Hence comment by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian:

    …Russia is only pretending to negotiate…
    “Unfortunately we’re still facing the same Russian logic – making maximalist demands, wanting Ukraine to surrender and intensifying siege warfare,
    …there are three typical elements – indiscriminate bombardment, so-called humanitarian ‘corridors’ designed to allow them to accuse the other side of failing to respect them, and talks with no objective other than pretending that they are negotiating.”

  16. drj says:


    The anti-Nazi thing is undefined

    I don’t think so, I’m afraid. “Denazification” has a pretty specific meaning in contemporary Russian political discourse.

    Any kind of nationalism that doesn’t accept the leading role of Russian culture and Russian political dominance in (roughly) the ex-Soviet space is nazism. This (sort of) goes back to German attempts to exploit anti-Russian sentiments among the various nationalities living in the Soviet Union during WW2.

    In other words, “denazification” is the same as “deukrainization,” i.e., the Ukrainians admitting that they are actually wayward Russians who should properly submit to Moscow’s leadership.

    And the Russian public knows that this is what is meant by “denazification.” Whatever happens, this won’t be easy to fudge.

  17. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    What will Zelensky, Putin, and the West settle for?

    If the original proposition was that Putin needed to deal with Zelensky and only him, why should the West get a say about the outcome? If the West declined to enter the negotiation at the beginning (a wise and proper choice, I would add), it needs to stay out now. What Western nations did to support the Ukraine is superfluous to the original question.

    Of course, the West can insert itself wherever it wants to on virtue of being “the West.” That option doesn’t make hubris wise tho.

  18. JohnSF says:

    Might be easier than you might think.
    The government dominates the media channels.
    The “liberals” will wlcome peace, the oligarch want to go back to enjoying their ill-gotten, a lot of young men and their mothers will be happy to get conscripted to fight in Ukraine.
    There has been little Russian popular agitation for the return of the “lost lands” since 1991.

    Some siloviki who are committed Great Russia fascists may be upset, but a little purging should deal with that.
    And of course, the genuine wider Russian far right will be upset.
    But the Kremlin can just invite them for tea and biscuits.
    Politically marginal anyway.
    Most Russians just want to get on with their own lives.

  19. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    We in Europe have an interest, even if Americans don’t.
    A Russian government/ruling elite that is bent on imperial revanche is a unacceptably dangerous neighbour.
    It is imperative to devise terms that minimise the likelihood of Russia continuing on that course.

    Therefore continuing sanctions might be an option for us, and re-militarizing Europe.

    Obviously, we could not compel Ukraine to reject terms it wished to object; nor should we wish to.
    But that is hardly likely to be a problem.

    The real problem, post-peace, is going to be dissuading Ukrainian death squads from hunting down and killing every Russian war criminal they can, from Putin down through the generals and right on down to Russian soldiers guilty of rapes and murders.

  20. Gustopher says:


    In other words, “denazification” is the same as “deukrainization,” i.e., the Ukrainians admitting that they are actually wayward Russians who should properly submit to Moscow’s leadership.

    Historically, it’s a better case to say that Russians are wayward Ukrainians than the other way around. Moscow was only even founded in the 12th century, while Kyiv predates it by about 500 years. The Rus empires, states, etc (there’s a lot going on) we’re centered around Ukraine. The eastern expansion, into what we think of as Russia, was later. Many of the founding Russian myths and heroes are Ukrainian — Cossack rebellions against the Polish domination in particular are used as the roots of both Ukrainian and Russian nationalism.

    It’s not a great case, but it’s a better case.

  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JohnSF: I’ve never seen removing sanctions as part of the negotiations. The sanctions came about in the wake of Russian aggression, but will need to be removed via separate deals with the various sanctioners. That’s what I mean by the West needing to continue to stay out of the negotiations. Russia and the Ukraine is one thing. Russia and the rest of the world is a different one. Putin created two problems and now he will have to solve two problems.

  22. drj says:


    Well, it’s not so much that the average Russian wants to “denazify” Ukraine, but rather that Putin’s failure to do so would become immediately evident to the Russian public.

    Can Putin survive (in both a political and personal sense) such a blatant failure? I genuinely do not know.

  23. dazedandconfused says:

    The situation appears to be..

    Zelensky: “We can grind you down. You can’t sustain this. Eventually you will be forced to leave.”

    Putin: “Yes, but in the time it takes to do that we can pound your cities into rubble.”

    They have each other by the short ones. May common sense prevail. I rather doubt Zelensky would face a lot of blow-back for ending the carnage by officially conceding Crimea and the two separatist oblasts. He can probably get that defined as the line of contact which was only half those oblasts as well. It would be worth re-establishing the old arrangement the Ukrainains have always granted Russia for access and water to Crimea to remove a point of contention…if it saves Kyiv and several other cities from the sort of destruction which is happening elsewhere. The promises to not join NATO and the EU can be ignored down the road. Just tell them what they want to hear on those points. Demilitarization is the one thing that can’t be ceded. That would be surrender.

    Putin has screwed himself. I don’t think it worth 10s of thousands of Ukrainian lives to humiliate him further. Deal with his successor.

  24. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Informally, sanctions will, inevitably, be part of the negotiations; they are part of the carrot that can be offered to Russia.
    And as agreed, privately, with Ukraine to co-ordinate the “offer”.

    For instance, unfreeze the national reserve accounts when Russian troopps exit.
    Other remain on until terms concluded, to avoid tricksiness.
    Others (eg tech transfer? hydrocarbons partnerships?) remain until full normalisation.

  25. Gustopher says:

    Is there any evidence that the Russians are negotiating in good faith?

    I don’t see any point in getting worked up about what Zelenskyy* will accept when the Russians still have things like denazification on their list of demands.

    *: the second y is for “why is there a second y on the transliteration on his passport?”

  26. gVOR08 says:

    @drj: That’s true. But in autocratic political language, words are like putty. If tomorrow Russian state media says “We’ve de-Nazified Ukraine, Zelensky has agreed to not join EastasiaNATO.”, de-Nazification means not joining NATO. And the week after that it can mean banning Maus.

  27. Kathy says:


    What treaty obligations are and what countries wind up doing are not always the same thing.

  28. JohnSF says:

    It’s not just treaty obligations.
    It’s that Euro-NATO is on the front line there already.
    British, French, German, Italian, Polish, Spanish would be fighting, killing, dying from the outset.
    And the thing about NATO is, its military command moves automatically in event of engagement.

    Even if the politicians wanted to back out, it would be virtually impossible.

    And I can’t judge all Continental politics perfectly, but chance of UK not going full Article 5 in that situation: zero.
    (Unless in some alt-history where Jeremy Corbyn was PM; and even there I suspect he would cease being PM quite quickly)
    RAF and Navy would be downing any Russian Tu-95’s over the North Sea as soon as fighting began, for instance.

  29. dazedandconfused says:

    Doesn’t matter what it means if there is no way to enforce it.

  30. Andy says:

    At this point, I think some kind of negotiated settlement is the most likely outcome. The reason is that neither side is likely able to achieve their maximalist political objectives. The character and details of such a settlement are highly speculative.

    I don’t give recommendations very often, but if there’s one podcast I’d recommend listening to this weekend, it’s this episode of Ezra Klein’s podcast.

  31. James Joyner says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    If the original proposition was that Putin needed to deal with Zelensky and only him, why should the West get a say about the outcome? If the West declined to enter the negotiation at the beginning (a wise and proper choice, I would add), it needs to stay out now.

    As @JohnSF notes, we have interests in the fight, too. More importantly, Putin isn’t going to cease the war without assurances that some or all of the new sanctions are lifted. That requires our acquiescence and, essentially, that has to be part of the settlement negotiation.

  32. James Joyner says:

    @Andy: Emma’s quite sensible on these things. She winds up pretty much where I am on the parameters of a deal:

    And there are going to be some issues that will be very difficult to resolve. The status of territories in Eastern Ukraine, the ones that Russia now claims as independent states, Ukraine obviously claims as its territory, that’s going to be tough. But if the Russians have, indeed, backed off of their demands for regime change or power sharing in Kyiv, and the Ukrainians are willing to talk about neutrality, which it seems like they are, you know again, I think we’re starting to see some movement there towards an agreement that both sides might be able to accept.

    That would be a bitter pill, indeed, for Ukraine and still might not satisfy key Western players who really, really don’t want to reward Putin for his crimes.

  33. dazedandconfused says:

    Putin can’t put a demand for sanction ending in front of Zelensky, they are not his sanctions, so I suspect an armistice would be honored. It’s not as if the Russian armed forces are running the table. Things are not going well.

    I suspect the sanctions will only be fully lifted when Putin steps down, but maybe not. If not it will be difficult to justify not easing them somewhat though. The sanctions hurt both sides, particularly oil prices. I suspect the Russians will be willing to assume that will be the case, a continuing the carnage with a signed armistice in place would be extremely awkward, and they are seeking an armistice.

  34. DK says:

    @dazedandconfused: The Biden administration already drew its red line for lifting American sanctions: removal of all Russian troops from Ukrainian territory with a gusrantee of no future attack.

    Granted, there may be wiggle-room on the final definition of “Ukrainian territory” and Russian guarantees are worthless. But there is possibility sanctions will continue regardless of what Zelenskyy does.

    Putin has wars going in Ukraine, Syria, and Libya — with an economy smaller than Texas’s economy, even pre-sanctions. How long can he afford this? It may be in American, European, and Ukrainian interests to bankrupt Russia’s military.

  35. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner:

    requires our acquiescence

    I don’t see that my original–or subsequent–statement is in disagreement with either you or JohnSF.

    What will Zelensky, Putin, and the West settle for[emphasis added]?

    Putting “the West” into the role of exercising veto power (what will we not settle for) has a different rhetorical feel than acknowledging that whatever settlement finally evolves requires agreement to lift sanctions. Certainly, coordinating with the Ukrainian government about how to get to yes will be key to success and Zelensky is not likely to be willing to “sell the farm” in order to get peace. Still, “the West” may well end up lifting sanctions in a manner that various stakeholders “would not settle for” under other circumstances. The manner will be dictated by the informality of the background conversations with the players in my “separate dispute” model. But “The West” will end up “settling for” whatever the final terms are between Russia and the Ukraine. It might actually be cleaner if the two sets of conflicts could be kept separate, but they can’t.

    Or the West can decide to interpose itself into the negotiations to assure that its interests become equally important/foremost–and end up giving Putin what he wanted to have in the first place.

  36. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “The Biden administration already drew its red line for lifting American sanctions: removal of all Russian troops from Ukrainian territory with a gusrantee of no future attack.”

    Open question: Has Biden, inadvertently or otherwise, backed us into a future need to defend the Ukraine against Russian attack by demanding “a guarantee?” If not, what will happen when Putin decides to go back on his guarantee… say, a year or so from now? (Biden with an opposition Congress looks like a good opportunity to test the demand, n’est pas?)

    And either way, the guarantee is only good until FG or some other GQP knothead’s election in 2024 anyway. (I hope that Zelensky can look ahead.)

  37. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    The Ukrainian ask for guaranteed neutrality is based on their quite reasonable distrust of Russian promises.
    Analogous to British guarantee of Belgian neutrality 1839-1914, or pan-European guarantee of Swiss neutrality post 1815.

    Of course, being a guarantor has its downsides.
    See UK re. Belgium 1914.
    Tough being a Power, eh?

    Anyway, if Ukraine is sensible (which it is) it will be a pan-NATO guarantee, not just a US one.
    (One reason for Ukraine desire for EU membership: Article 47.2)

  38. DK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    If not, what will happen when Putin decides to go back on his guarantee… say, a year or so from now?

    Sanctions return?

    Ukraine got security guarantees from Russia and the US in 1994’s Bupadest Memorandum, requiring Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan give up nuclear weapons. Russia broke the agreement in 2014 by invading Ukraine anyway, and the West’s response was…sanctions.

    So based on that history, Ukraine would have 15-20 years to arm itself to the teeth in preparation for the next eruption of Russian autocracy and Western realpolitik. All should now be aware that guarantees guarantee nothing.

  39. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Putting “the West” into the role of exercising veto power …

    “West” certainly won’t have veto power re. a Ukraine-Russia deal.
    Will be able, to the extent it holds a common line, which is always iffy, to nominally determine it’s own course re. sanctions.

    In practice, unless everyone’s drunk and brain-dead, will co-ordinate on sanctions and ceasefire/treaty terms with Kyiv.

    Cross alliance co-ordination will, as ever, be a pain in the rear.
    Especially if (as I consider likely) at least some Europeans (France, UK?, Poland) likely to much harder line on this than Washington consensus.

  40. JohnSF says:

    If it survives this crisis, within a few years Ukraine will have NATO style networked defence systems (in fact, it will probably be able to teach NATO lessons on the subject) including equivalent to THAAD/Patriot/Iron Dome and deep strike PGM multi-munitions systems.

    It’s also a fair bet that European defence spending is going to go through the roof.
    And only in the short term will it be primarily US sourced; longer term the politics of it will mean that European defence industry will be back on a scale not seen since the 1980’s.
    And Ukraine will benefit from that; as we will benefit from Ukrainian combat experience and technical innovation.
    (I suspect they have a lot to teach re. electronic/cyber warfare)

    Hence the Russians will be trying to exclude ANY Euro-Ukraine defence co-operation from the settlement.

    Silly Russians.
    They can’t stop us donating the entire tech, or informally ensuring the defence systems compatibility, and Ukraine has industrial/tech capacity to build and implement.

  41. Lounsbury says:

    @JohnSF: What was unacceptable to the Finns in 39 turned acceptable in 40.

    Everyone’s blood is up and emotional and moral posturing is the order of the day, understandably. But that’s not a great mode for analysis. Realistically a Finnish Winter War result is the best State-to-State end of current hostilities. Secondary results (like whether Russia faces long-term guerilla warfare in an East depends also on if the Putin Russia follows a Stalin model and Ukranians are expelled). Of course the end result is quite terrible, the best result being bad, and Russia wins quite a Pyrrhic ‘victory’ for Donbas and Crimea.

    @Liberal Capitalist: Completee nonsense and emotive American maximalist posturing.

    @dazedandconfused: Yes, this is in essence the resolution path of the Finnish Winter War(s) against the Soviets. In quite similar (but of course not identical) circumstances. The similarities of positions and evolution in these two cases. The Finns ground down to stalemate a Russian series of attacks, but lost frontier ground. They also inflicted maximal pain but could not (except for their awkward interlude as Nazi German allies of convenience) push Russians out. End result, lost border areas to Russia but were able to avoid total annexation.

    The most likely “Good Outcome” of this, once the stalemete has ground on a few more months. (Most likely good outcome is not my prediction of most likely outcome, only the most likely outcome that is not full disaster)

    This regardless means a summer global food catastrophe unless North America and W. Europe take some really intentional actions now. People are focused on the wrong things now, nattering on about Putin and what he will accept. That’s not the problem. The problem now is this summer and wheat and corn and global prices.

    @JohnSF: Agreed, the idea that NATO members do not go full Article 5 is nonsense. There is no pathway there now. French official news (RFI, France24) is full of NATO talk and it’s not anti. In fact as I type the talking heads on France24 are discussion “the Nuclear dissuasion” of France. (also re @JohnSF: )

    Putin has managed to utterly change the entire dynamic of NATO, and not in his favour.

    @DK: An accurate statement is Ukraine, Kazakhstan reached agreement about Soviet, but Russian controlled, nuclear weapons stationed on their territory. They never had own nuclear weapons under own launch control – the Russians had the launch codes. They ended up with Sov/Russian nukes on their own territory. That’s not the same thing as really having their own nukes.

  42. drj says:


    Realistically a Finnish Winter War result is the best State-to-State end of current hostilities.



    * Population Finland (1939): 3.7m
    * Population Soviet Union (1939): 168.5m

    * Population Ukraine (2022): 41m
    * Population Russia (2022): 145m

    To be honest, it is hard to see how Russia will lose outright (as opposed to reaching a tactical stalemate). But where will they find the trucks to supply their forces in a month’s time? An artillery army without a massive logistical tail isn’t much of an army at all.

    And where will they find the men? Why bother with Syrians if there are alternative sources of manpower?

    Perhaps Ukraine will break before these things become insurmountable issues. But right now, at least, that is not the trajectory I’m seeing.

  43. Lounsbury says:

    @drj: the men is not really the problem, food is, but if the Putin regime switches from trying to take Kiev to a Crimean plus Donbass strategy (as seems to be developing, although who knows if Putin will go Hitleresque and order self-destructive and impossible military strategy), the ability to hold and cause ongoing pain (although Pyrhhicly) is there. Conquest of the Ukraine clearly is not going to happen, at the same time neither is the Ukrainians throwing back the Russians on all fronts.

    The Winter War example is of course inexact, but then Russia is not facing Nazi Germany as another front, Finland was not a development in isolation.

    For the world the other front is not the military situation as such, it is Corn and Wheat. Unless active action is taken, having Ukrainian (and perhaps Russian) production off the market is a catastrophe, with developing world starvation level catastrophe. The cascade effects of this are quite dangerous and widen the impact well beyond the Ukraine borders.

  44. dazedandconfused says:

    @Lounsbury: Were the Russians able to maintain a position from which they could shell large cities in the Finnish conflict?

    I see credible reports the Russian offensive is petering out and they are preparing defensive positions for fire bases in range of Kyiv, so my fear is that may be the only card Putin has to play, so he will play it.

    Subordinate main effort along the west bank of the Dnipro

    Russian forces did not conduct any offensive operations northwest of Kyiv on March 20.[11] The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Russian forces continued to strengthen defensive positions in previously captured terrain.[12] The General Staff additionally specified Russian forces are deploying engineering support, preparing logistics, and extending their fire control systems.[13] The Ukrainian General staff has not previously mentioned a Russian focus on fire control systems. This Ukrainian assessment supports ISW’s forecast that Russian forces are likely seeking to set conditions for an expanded artillery and missile bombardment of Kyiv by moving into effective artillery range of its center after abandoning plans to encircle or assault the city in the coming weeks.[14]