Donald Trump knows how to end the Russo-Ukrainian War in 24 hours.
Here’s his plan, as told to Fox News:
“I know Zelenskyy very well, and I know Putin very well, even better. And I had a good relationship, very good with both of them. I would tell Zelenskyy, no more. You got to make a deal. I would tell Putin, if you don’t make a deal, we’re going to give him a lot. We’re going to [give Ukraine] more than they ever got if we have to. I will have the deal done in one day. One day.”
Wow. One is breathless.
Actually, Trump must believe that he could seal the deal in far fewer than 24 hours. A quick talk with Zelenskyy: how long could that take? Thirty minutes? A follow-up with Putin: say, an hour. And there you have it: 90 minutes later all three leaders shake hands, pose for photographers, and the war is over.
It should be readily obvious even to the casual observer that wars don’t end in 90 minutes or 24 hours—unless of course one side decisively defeats the other in that time. But negotiations, whether in business, government, or diplomacy—are always rather more arduous affairs, especially if the two negotiating sides agree on pretty much nothing, as is the case with Ukraine and Russia.
Let’s look at the implied logic of Trump’s daring proposal.
First, by starting with the claim that he knows both Zelenskyy and Putin “very well,” he’s obviously suggesting that he could push through a deal by the force of his personality and good relations with both sides. That might be enough to get the two leaders into the same room, but just why their palness with Trump should incline them to agree to some putative deal is unclear. And note that Trump, significantly, has nothing to say about the substance of the deal he envisions.
But the substance of that putative deal is of course the issue, and it’s one that personality and friendship alone can’t possibly resolve.
The Ukrainian president wants his state and nation to survive and to live within their internally recognized boundaries. The Russian dictator wants to exterminate the Ukrainian nation, destroy the Ukrainian state, and retain all the territory he claims as his.
Perhaps there’s a way to square this particular circle, but relying solely on personality surely isn’t it.
Indeed, Trump’s formula actually encourages the very opposite of what he purports to want. Zelenskyy, who is no dummy, will respond to Trump’s initial overture by agreeing fully to the terms: he’ll propose complete Russian withdrawal in exchange for eternal Russo-Ukrainian amity. Since Trump has no idea of what a deal should look like, he will have to agree to Zelenskyy’s terms. Putin, naturally, won’t, to which Trump will have to respond that the United States will give the Ukrainians “more than they ever got.”
But that’s pretty much what the United States and its allies are currently doing. Is Trump secretly endorsing President Biden’s Ukraine policy or is he simply ensnared in his own logic and trumping himself?
Of course, there’s another possibility, one rather more nefarious. Trump could start with Putin, who’ll promise eternal Russo-Ukrainian friendship in exchange for Ukraine’s agreement to be defeated. Once again, Trump won’t say no, though Zelenskyy will. To which Trump would have to counter with “no more”, thereby guaranteeing Russia’s victory, Putin’s triumph, and Ukraine’s disappearance and giving his friend Putin a green light for further expansion into Europe and Central Asia.
It’s hard to imagine that a self-styled genius could come up with such a devilishly clever scheme to destroy the West. The danger isn’t in the intent. It’s in the arrogance of ignorance.
About the Author
Dr. Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires, and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, including Pidsumky imperii (2009); Puti imperii (2004); Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires (2001); Revolutions, Nations, Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities (1999); Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism (1993); and The Turn to the Right: The Ideological Origins and Development of Ukrainian Nationalism, 1919–1929 (1980); the editor of 15 volumes, including The Encyclopedia of Nationalism (2000) and The Holodomor Reader (2012); and a contributor of dozens of articles to academic and policy journals, newspaper op-ed pages, and magazines. He also has a weekly blog, “Ukraine’s Orange Blues.”