Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


We Think We Know What a Ukraine War Peace Deal Looks Like

Soldiers assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, fire a M777 towed 155 mm Howitzer on Qayyarah West Airfield, Iraq, Aug. 10, 2019. The Soldiers conducted a fire mission to disrupt known enemy positions. As long as Daesh presents a threat, Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve remains committed to enabling its defeat. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Spc. DeAndre Pierce)

There are growing hints that Russian President Vladimir Putin is considering a negotiated outcome to the war in Ukraine. It is increasingly obvious that Russia cannot win decisively on the battlefield. The most likely outcome now is a stalemate. Even if Moscow somehow pulls off a victory, it would be pyrrhic. A Ukrainian insurgency will almost certainly arise in territory Russia tries to hold indefinitely. The war is becoming a massive drain on the Russian military and economy, and is eroding Russia’s already tenuous claim to be a great power.

The best thing Russia could do is stop and get out. That would stanch the bleeding. Putin himself though would almost certainly prefer to double-down. He has tied his legacy to this war, and his Chinese ally is watching. If Beijing thinks he cannot beat a third-rate military on his border, it might cut him loose.

This suggests Putin might take some kind of face-saving deal. The longer the war drags on, the less Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will want to compromise. War losses will harden his anger and negotiating position. A deal opportunity is most likely right now. Current terms might include:

The Indefinite Neutrality of Ukraine

Even Zelensky now seems to grasp that any kind of deal with Russia with Putin in charge must include this. Specifically, this means Ukraine will not join NATO. Perhaps, to sweeten that concession for Zelensky, a time-frame could be placed on it – twenty or thirty years (that is, after Putin’s passing). After that time, NATO and Ukraine would be permitted to discuss accession; accession would not be automatic.

But if Russia gets a no-NATO pledge, it must in turn accept Ukrainian membership in the European Union. The EU might not take Ukraine. It has rejected other countries before. But Ukraine’s battlefield effort was to keep open some channels to the West. An economic relationship is less concerning to Moscow than a military one. Ukrainian heroism has earned this right. Zelensky will almost certainly reject a deal that forecloses both NATO and EU membership.

Russia Gets Crimea or Donbas, but Not Both

The most painful Ukrainian concession will likely be the formal recognition of some Russian territorial conquest. This is also deeply unsettling for the international order. A fairly robust postwar principle of international relations, particularly in Europe, has been a refusal to accept the use of force to re-draw boundaries. This is one reason Putin faced sanction for his 2014 land-grab of Crimea, which Ukraine and the West have never recognized.

Putin supplemented that by stirring up trouble in Ukraine’s east. He very clearly wants both his Crimean anschluss and Donbas separatism recognized as part of his war goals. He should not be given both.

Indeed, he should not be given either, of course – but this is almost certainly a must-have for Putin. He will not stop the war without some territorial acquisition. This will be how he defends the war back home and justifies its sacrifice to unhappy citizens and elites.

Crimea is already long-gone. Even a successor to Putin – one less nationalistic and aggrieved – is unlikely to return it. Zelensky should consider swapping that acceptance of reality for better terms elsewhere. Russia would be required to withdraw from all of its conquests in this conflict, including in Donbas

A Russian Indemnity after Sanctions Relief

If Putin is to receive land for the use of force, then he should face some kind of compensatory burden. Putin’s military has done untold devastation to Ukraine in the war. It would be scandalous if it were simply to withdraw from broken cities at no cost.

Post-war Ukraine will almost certainly receive substantial Western aid, including from multilateral donors like the World Bank. But an unsanctioned Russia will be able to generate hard currency again with energy exports, and the war has not physically devasted its economy. Some of Russian support for Ukrainian reconstruction is required – perhaps from Russia’s substantial but now hard-to-access international reserves.

Part of this economic settlement is the lifting of sanctions on Russia. If the Russian army withdraws to its pre-war lines, all the sanctions imposed on it during the war should be dropped.

No Russian War Guilt or Deposition of Putin Himself

War reparations will be hard for Putin to bear. That should be made it easier by dropping any insistence on formal recognition of guilt or prosecution of Putin or Russia. US President Joseph Biden has hinted at that by calling Putin a ‘war criminal.’ Zelensky has hinted at it too by calling Putin’s war ‘genocide.’ And this will be hard to bear as Russia’s indiscriminate shelling of Ukraine’s cities certainly meets the definition of a war crime.

But the experience of Germany after the Versailles Treaty suggests how punishing terms can fire revanchist beliefs in the defeated. Putin is already flirting with open fascism. If Zelensky insists on investigations, or if the West insists Putin must go, Putin will not end the war.

Ukrainian Re-Armament

Putin wants a demilitarized Ukraine, but it is very clear now that he cannot be trusted to respect Ukrainian sovereignty. Post-war demilitarization of Ukraine would invite Putin to attack again. If Ukraine cannot be in NATO – per Putin’s demand – it cannot also be defenseless.

This suggested deal is a messy, mixed bag. It does not sit well with Putin’s obvious war guilt, his military’s appalling behavior, and his drift toward fascism. But it does get Russia out of Ukraine, connect Ukraine with the West (via the EU), and allow it to arm itself to prevent a repeat.

Zelensky might hope that Western military help will arrive eventually, or that he can soon counter-attack as the Russian economy collapses under the pressure of sanctions. This is possible but still unlikely. The probable course of the war is a stalemate, with thousands more civilian casualties. The off-ramp suggested here is a superior alternative, for both sides.

Robert Kelly is a professor in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University in South Korea and a 1945 Contributing Editor. Follow his work on his website or on Twitter.

Written By

Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly; website) is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University. Dr. Kelly is now a 1945 Contributing Editor as well. 



  1. Bill

    March 21, 2022 at 8:43 am

    A thoroughly unimaginative analysis. My HS buddies text thread could have provided this 2d rate piece w/o breaking a sweat.

  2. Alex

    March 21, 2022 at 8:06 pm

    For 8 years, Ukraine spat on the Minsk agreements. For 8 years, the United States did not care about this either. I wonder if there are people who are not crazy that the Russian special military operation for demilitarization and denazification will be brought to an end? Looks like they still exist 🙂

  3. Korkinovova

    March 21, 2022 at 10:45 pm

    No one in Ukraine is going to keep troops. If they’re like a base in Guamo. It is necessary to hold the answer for all the statements that were uttered from this territory to us. They will punish and leave. They woke the sleeping bear, the answer followed. Other countries will have science.

  4. A penny tossed to the wind

    March 21, 2022 at 11:18 pm

    A note of commendation for Dr Robert Kelly applying careful and considerate rational thinking, and explaining his rationale. I read above a negotiating basis that saves lives. Nothing could be more commendable.

    Without being as blunt as Bill’s comment, I agree it is unimaginative and “more of the same”. That is, once those precious lives are saved, it’s back to the previous attitudes and on we go again, with no lessons learned, no changes.

    And a possible groundwork laid for it to happen all over again, in the same or other theatre.

    Far be it from me to gamble with lives. But if Zelenskyy does, and can bear that cost, and holds on, Urkaine could come out of this immeasurably better, and significant changes brought to bear on Putin personally, and the status of inter-national economic engagement among others.

    The other factor is Putin himself. He just does not appear by any measure to want a compromised result. It’s reasonable to say his so-called peace talks are rhetoric and image-making: something that unless he does them he’ll be deemed what I’m about to say:

    I think he’s overstepped the line, and at his age, this is his moment. Into the history books for him, he reckons. Keep at it, show everyone, especially the West, how wrong as ever they are.

    A lot of this depends on what information he’s actually getting. Are the hard truths being given to him? Is the support from even one or two hardliners (who stand to capitalise on his gains, without the personal loss, by remaining in the shadows) supporting the continual onslaught? In their collective minds, the win is immense, if so.

    I think it helps to consider what Putin has written off. He has, and I don’t believe this is huff or big-balling, stated his utter comfort at being cut off, of Russia becoming self-sufficient. In that, too, is the insane “designing” of the nature of Russia’s citizenry. I think that sort of stuff is in his head, and part of his overall goal as being possible, and because to him it’s possible, it’s inspiring and a driving force.

    He may think that by pushing on, by showing his ‘gains’ and strength, China will come in behind him, which to him would nullify the concerns of occupation. He may be reading China’s leadership position entirely wrong, but then he may be reading it right. There may well be value for China in a Putin ‘gain’, something I wish Dr Kelly would have brought into his educated rationale.

    I feel it’s of value to think the worst of Putin at present: that for every pain we feel for loss of life and property, Putin feels that mindset’s equivalent of joy and pleasure.

    Reading into the US response, through an ‘offhand’ remark by its president that Putin is a war criminal (and by being offhand can be parlayed as an unofficial stance), the president has taken a step towards de-legimising Putin.

    Leaving aside if allowable the loss of life and property, and bringing into the equation far more than mere military considerations, I tend to believe that the step towards de-legimising Putin from world affairs reflects the great army of world sentiment. And I think there are significant gains in that: harnessing world sentiment to hold against the man himself.

    That’s pressure on Putin. And pressure growing within the current Russian leadership selection squad who’ll feel it.

    So, overall, a negotiating strategy and basis to save human life, but for a comment in response I think it is not going to sit within Putin’s order of thought and belief.

    He may even be in such a state that any solution from the West, especially from the US, would be rejected outright because of where it came from. I think he feels that it is his decision and entirely his terms that will in his mind end this.

    If the Western assessment is true, that it is a stalement and will remain so, then it follows that holding the West’s line will further weaken Putin’s position.

    But I do appreciate writers who provide readers their reasoning, rather than merely making statements.

  5. A penny tossed to the wind

    March 22, 2022 at 3:47 am

    Just on the point of “the great army of world sentiment” which could do with a bit of clarifying. This is one of the factors of this invasion that set it apart from usual conflicts.

    Mentioned previously, it’s bad timing. I don’t know how Putin didn’t see it. Tellng lies then mounting a savage invasion was the last thing people wanted, united already against covid, apart from the financial and emotional impact on their own lives, the world’s people were ready for someone to hate. The world got it.

    Secondly, public sentiment determines which companies will re-enter Russia, for all of them except the unprincipled and those who don’t rely on public image. So the mass army of public sentiment is sitting at Russia’s doorstep, with this extremely united and strong message to Russian leadership: We absolutely reject what Putin has done, and we won’t go back until it changes.

    What could change of course is the mass public sentiment, as Putin is or was earlier perhaps banking on: that sanctions would apply for a while only, and later that the West is so money-hungry that companies will come back in anyway.

    If not, however, and the sentiment remains strong, then it strikes a knife into the heart of the Kremlin – or rather, into the heart of the ‘selection squad’ who determine Russia’s leader.

    If there’s anyone in there who wants their own lifestyle back, and wants the lifestyles back for Russian citizens (which is likely) the army of mass public sentiment is both telling the ‘selection squad’ what it demands, and giving them a way back to what they had.

    I can’t think of another conflict that’s like this. It’s already a world war of sorts. In two days’ time it will have been going for a month. To have a toss at what’s ahead, it would be that the situation will be very different in three weeks. That may be the opportune time to negotiate, if Zelenskyy and his people can handle it, although any attempt of course should be had meanwhile.

    And long shot prediction? I think Vladimir Putin is a dead man. The difficulty may be how not to make of him a martyr, because that could hinder Russia’s redemption, needing a clear-path start. I don’t think he’ll be alive ten weeks from now.

    That’s how it looks as of today. The complexion of it all could change tomorrow (chemical weapon, mistake, Western overstep etc). China’s leadership is the wild card.

    I would like to read rationales that include China in the equations, as well as embracing more factors than military assessments and past references, which may actually have less relevance in this one than expected.

  6. Morty

    March 22, 2022 at 4:19 am

    I thinks laws in most countries consider agreements made under threats or preesure as invalid.

  7. Commentar

    March 22, 2022 at 9:00 am

    Dr Kelly, a peace ‘deal’ comes only when the banderistismo leader is ready to partition ukraine. 1991 borders are truly dead and buried due to nazism / fascism being alive.

    Eastern Ukraine must be similar to austria of 1955, and this must be guaranteed and recognised by UN.

    As for western ukraine, it can sleep fully in the devil’s bed for all it’s worth, who cares.

  8. howie

    March 22, 2022 at 11:24 am

    What war are you watching? repeating mainstream media narrative is not journalism.

  9. Alex

    March 22, 2022 at 12:29 pm

    While someone is praising Ukraine and demonizing Russia, Poland is preparing peacekeepers for the west of Ukraine. Yes, Ukraine is still waiting for partition.

  10. Warspite

    March 22, 2022 at 12:45 pm

    Didn’t you leave out a Russian demand to purge the Ukr military and government of far right and neo Nazi individuals and organizations?

  11. Bertram

    March 22, 2022 at 5:40 pm

    Vladimir Putin will never agree to a peace treaty that does not dismember Ukraine and turn over large parts of its territory to Russia, but that doesn’t matter.
    Putin isn’t going to be the leader of Russia for much longer, and his successor will agree.

    Putin has demonstrated that the Russian military is weak and ineffective. Most of the fear other countries now have is not about an effective Russian army. Its about Russia committing suicide under an unhinged leader, and taking others with it.
    the likelihood of other countries intervening directly in Ukraine is growing as Russian weakness continues to be demonstrated.

    The President of Poland has rightly referred to the Russians as Nazi’s and SS in this conflict. Putin will be following Hitlers end, the only question is whether we will find out who really pulled the trigger that took him out.

  12. monkfelonious

    March 22, 2022 at 6:27 pm

    Whoever is writing for Korkinovova’s bot site, I’d tune up your algo a bit.

  13. Singleshot

    March 22, 2022 at 7:21 pm

    This war was a terrible strategic blunder by Putin. But for all the humanitarian cost, at this point the best outcome for the United States would be a long, protracted Ukrainian insurgency that bleeds our enemy Russia and cripples it for a generation.

  14. Alex

    March 23, 2022 at 2:40 am

    Russia has clearly stated that there will be no treaties other than the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine.
    Russia causes anger in the West for a simple reason: it liberates the cities of Ukraine from the Nazis systematically and without unnecessary losses, thereby showing the West and, first of all, the United States, that cities can be liberated without completely destroying them with bombs and napalm, and even in conditions when Bandera Nazis are hiding behind ordinary citizens as a human shield. After the end of this special military operation, Russia will simply humiliate the United States, which killed millions of people around the world.

  15. SquidbillyCPO

    March 23, 2022 at 3:00 pm

    “If Beijing thinks he cannot beat a third-rate military on his border, it might cut him loose.”

    Or decide Russia with it’s vast natural resources and land looks like a tasty morsel and proceeds to bite off a chunk of Russia. Recall Russia and China have had military border conflicts in the past. Putin is not a genius, he is a stupid thug who has allied himself with a very hungry predator because his head is stuck in the past.

  16. Robinson Mitchell

    March 23, 2022 at 3:33 pm

    Vladimir Putin has a long record of violating agreements he has signed.

    Here are but two examples:

    He signed the OPCW chemical weapons convention, and even appeared before TV cameras to state that Russia had disposed of all its chemical weapons, yet he continued development of the Novichok family of cholinesterase inhibitor agents which are banned by the convention, and went on to use the agents on his own citizens in Russia including Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza (twice), and even used the internationally banned weapon in the UK, poisoning two Russian emigres (Sergei and Yulia Skripal) and his weapon use resulted in at least three British citizens (a British police officer, and civilians Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, who died from her poisoning).

    He has violated civil rights of his citizens thousands of times, subjecting them to show trials and imprisonment, in violation of the Council of Europe Human Rights convention which he signed. Russia has since pulled out of the Council of Europe one day before they were to be kicked out.

    This war in Ukraine is illegal in itself. It is a War Crime without having to enumerate individual atrocities, though there are abundant, well-documented instances of those as well. Anyone who would consider making any sort of agreement with Putin is naïve at best, and either self-deceiving or simply lying when they suggest that Putin should be taken at his word. He is simply not an honorable person.

    He is evil, and he is a consistent liar, negotiating only for Machiavellian advantage.

    Putin’s forces must be driven out of Ukraine by force. Preferably this should be done by Ukraine, since this constitutes a sufficient humiliation of the little man in the Kremlin to hopefully show his vulnerability and weakness.

    I get it – it was Henry Kissinger who embraces as axiomatic the principle of “always give your enemy a face-saving way out”. In the case of Putin, it is useless to do so. Putin must be defeated decisively and ultimately he must be held to account for breaking every agreement he ever signed. He must be put on trial and imprisoned or executed for his crimes.

    No Negotiation is possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.