RUSSIAN AND UKRAINIAN NEGOTIATORS are getting closer to a deal, perhaps by the end of this month, after more losses on each side. Experts believe Russian troop fatalities now exceed 7,000 — an astonishing figure that includes at least three generals.
THE FINANCIAL TIMES REPORTED YESTERDAY that negotiations were becoming “more realistic,” while Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said the proposals now being discussed were “close to an agreement.”
THE PROPOSED DEAL, according to the FT, would include a cease-fire, the Ukrainian government declaring neutrality; Kyiv accepting limits on its armed forces; eastern provinces annexed to Russia; and Putin’s forces withdrawing from the rest of the country.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, THE DEAL would require Kyiv to formally drop its ambition to join NATO and not host foreign military bases or weaponry. In exchange, Ukraine would get protection from allies, such as the US, UK and Turkey.
RUSSIA WOULD ACCEPT a status for Ukraine similar to that of Austria or Finland, which are outside the NATO military alliance. Significantly, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has indicated that he could accept that arrangement.
SANCTIONS — THE POTENTIAL ROADBLOCK: Even if negotiators agree on a neutral Ukraine, the more difficult issue may involve the massive economic sanctions imposed on Russia. Could they get lifted quickly? That’s unlikely — the war criminal Putin is responsible for thousands of deaths in the past month, and has to be held accountable.
NEVERTHELESS, A DEAL would have major plusses for each country —
What Putin gets: He would claim a victory — a greatly reduced NATO presence on his Western borders. What Zelensky gets: The slaughter of innocent Ukrainians would end, and he could move on to a massive re-building of his country, aided by the West.
REGARDLESS OF WHAT EITHER LEADER SAYS, it will be very difficult for Putin to claim a victory; this has been a humiliation. And that’s the great wild card: could the furious dictator reject a deal, lashing out with more lethal weapons? He’s a pariah for life, even with his own people, which makes him even more unpredictable.
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