That’s assuming that the warring parties are genuinely interested in negotiating a settlement. What would this solution have to look like?
First, any compromise would have to be acceptable for both in terms of domestic policy, allowing them to save face. Furthermore, it would have to be possible to balance the concessions: giving up one thing has to be compensated by receiving another. A diplomatic solution would then have to sustainably govern the relationship between Kyiv and Moscow and provide guarantees for all the other surrounding countries. And it will likely also be necessary to face the bitter realisation that Russia, as a nuclear superpower, is more able to assert its interests.
So the stronger party simply prevails?
It shouldn’t be like that, but unfortunately it’s often a sad reality that we see repeatedly in international relations: it is echoed, for instance, in the veto power of the United Nations Security Council, in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and in negotiations between small states and large ones. As a former diplomat of a small state, I have often experienced this. But this can by no means be used to justify Russia’s brutal war of aggression. Nor can it be justified by an alleged threat from NATO or Russia’s wounded soul.
What might the cornerstones of a diplomatic solution look like?
In terms of realpolitik, Ukraine would have to address two Russian demands. The first is relinquishing Crimea, which most observers do not see coming back under Kyiv’s control anyway. For the Russian-dominated Ukrainian territories in the east, on the other hand, a special autonomous status would be conceivable, even though it will be very difficult to define the appropriate modalities. Under international law, these territories would still belong to Ukraine, but they would largely be able to govern themselves. There are numerous models for this, from Cyprus to Transnistria to the “one country, two systems” Hong Kong model. What all these models have in common is that they prefer a constructive ambivalence or grey zone to open conflict. This autonomous status could be monitored by an OSCE mission.
And what is the second condition?
A declaration of neutrality by Ukraine – but it should leave some room for manoeuvre.
You’ll have to explain that.
Ukraine wouldn’t, for the time being, join any military alliance as long as doing so would be percevied as detrimental to stability and security in the region. After some time, at Ukraine’s request and together with the OSCE, an evaluation could be undertaken to determine whether the situation has changed. In other words, it wouldn’t be a permanent neutrality, as in Austria’s case, but a more adaptive concept.