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Russia’s War in Ukraine: How It Could End

Anatol Lieven is a senior fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. He wrote the book Ukraine and Russia. His writing has appeared in Jacobin, the Financial Times, The American Prospect, and The Nation. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Jon Wiener: We’re speaking on day 40 of the war in Ukraine. Russia has pulled its forces back from around Kiev. Putin has been talking about victory in defending the Russians in the Donbas from the fascists who he claims were threatening them. That seems to point towards the possibility of some kind of settlement. On the other hand, all the news about Russian troops killing civilians has led Biden to say Putin should be put on trial for war crimes. That seems to make a settlement less likely. You wrote in November that we already had the outlines of a settlement in Ukraine. What was that proposal? Is any of it still relevant after 40 days of war?

Anatol Lieven: Minsk II was an agreement between Ukraine and Russia brokered by France and Germany, whereby the two separatist parts of the Donbas in Eastern Ukraine, which had rebelled against Ukraine with Russian support, would go back into Ukraine, but on the basis of full local autonomy. There were all sorts of problems about Minsk II, but the basic one was that the Ukrainians refused either to let the Donbas republics become independent or to pass the laws on autonomy which were necessary in order to implement the Minsk agreement—because they were afraid that an autonomous Donbas within Ukraine would act as a break on Ukraine moving towards the West. That was probably true, but of course it was only on the basis of autonomy that you could solve that issue.

The United States and the UN both endorsed the Minsk agreement in 2015. But the West did nothing really to push the Ukrainians into implementing it, or, on the other hand, allowing the Donbas to go. Along with that was the offer of NATO membership that was not really an offer of NATO membership. And Ukraine also refused to offer a treaty of neutrality. I must make very clear: Nothing can excuse the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But it must be said that we and the Ukrainians also missed numerous diplomatic chances of averting this war.

JW: Let’s talk about neutrality for Ukraine. It’s usually regarded as something that would be a huge and dangerous sacrifice for Ukraine. Is that the way you see it?

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