Rather than joining the NATO military alliance – a red line for Moscow – Kyiv should opt for a position of neutrality. Adopting such a policy, as my colleague from Defense Priorities Mike Sweeny pointed out last year, “could not only serve Ukraine vis-à-vis assuaging Russian security concerns but also by giving the still relatively young nation time to consolidate itself internally.” That would allow Ukraine to continue its significant trade relations with Russia while also being free to expand markets into Western Europe.

Moscow’s red lines relate to its physical security, not Kyiv’s economic policies. Both Russia and Ukraine have previously agreed in principle to negotiate their differences through the Minsk Protocols. Encouraging Ukrainian negotiators to continue talks with Russia would be in its long-term interests.

Many will suggest that encouraging Kyiv to declare neutrality instead of seeking NATO membership is a sell-out to Moscow’s threats. Instead, it is a recognition of stark reality: Ukraine sits astride a 1,200 mile border with Russia and does not have Article 5 security guarantees – if NATO were to extend such guarantees, it would very possibly spark a major war that could devastate much of Central and Eastern Europe, and in a worst case, result in a nuclear exchange. Bluntly put, nothing at stake in Ukraine is worth risking plunging NATO into a war with nuclear-armed Russia. It’s time to accede to that reality and give Ukraine its best chance of a free and prosperous future.

Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis