Point-blank: A Ukraine compromise

Mohamed Salmawy
Friday 18 Mar 2022

Anyone following the media coverage of the Russia-Ukrainian war will immediately understand that the two sides could never reach a settlement amidst the roar of battle.

The Ukrainians, since independence, have followed the lure of EU accession, making their land accessible to the NATO. The Russians regard the presence of a hostile military alliance on their borders as an unacceptable threat that has to be stopped by force. Clearly, any solution to the conflict can only be based on a mutually acceptable compromise. But how? 

Just as the West would not allow Russia to take over Ukraine, as it did the Crimean peninsula, so Russia will not allow NATO forces and bases on its southern border. Recall how the US refused to permit Soviet ballistic missiles in Cuba in 1962. If the Cuban missile crisis did not end in a nuclear face-down, it was because the two sides reached a compromise that enabled them to achieve some of their aims. Moscow refrained from establishing a missile base in Cuba in exchange for an American concession that was not made public at the time: the withdrawal of US forces stationed in Turkey near the southern borders of the Soviet Union. 

A settlement to the current conflict might take its cue from the solution to the 1962 crisis. Russia would withdraw from Ukraine in exchange for an explicit Western declaration that Ukraine would remain neutral and not be admitted into NATO. 

I believe things are slowly moving in that direction. Before the conflict erupted, Putin indicated that this was what he was looking for, even if the Western media played down his remarks to this effect. Recently, there has been an important shift in this direction in Ukrainian rhetoric. President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that he is no longer that keen on NATO membership for his country. At the same time, Europe has begun to hesitate on implementing the sanctions that Washington demands against Moscow. 

Could reciprocal moves towards a middle ground achieve some of the aims of both sides and end a war that has displaced millions and thrown the international economy into havoc?

*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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