The Kremlin’s announcement that it will reduce military activity near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, as well as the start of talks in Istanbul, signal that Russian President Vladimir Putin is clamoring for peace, if not peace Freezing the ongoing war until a more opportune time for Russia to complete its “special military operation.”
But the Biden administration and Western leaders should have no illusions about the dangers ahead.
The decision rests with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the country’s leadership how to respond to Russia’s attack. Despite the current setbacks, the Russian regime is in it for the long haul, trying to destroy Ukraine as an independent country.
comply with sanctions
It is significant that even if the Russians retreat north, they will not loosen their stranglehold on Mariupol, signaling their determination to preserve the conquered coast between Crimea and Donbass. It is equally revealing that from the moment it became clear that the Kremlin’s plan to conquer and subjugate Ukraine in two days had not worked, Russia’s war turned into a war terrorizing civilians and Ukraine’s infrastructure and their industrial base were destroyed.
Undoubtedly, Zelensky and his colleagues will only accept a possible ceasefire or peace deal if they believe it gives them a chance to preserve Ukraine’s nationality and sovereignty. The West must bow to and stand by Ukraine’s decisions, no matter what shape the hypothetical agreement between Russia and Ukraine takes.
At the same time, the United States and its European allies must make our own decisions about the future based on the reality of Putin’s aggression. In particular, Biden’s “slip” in Warsaw revealed a fundamental truth. As long as Putin remains in power, he is a threat to Ukraine and to the security of Europe – and therefore the world. The question is what policies, if any, are we prepared to implement to eventually, yes, bring about regime change in Moscow.
First, there is the question of sanctions. The threat of sanctions clearly failed to deter Putin from attacking Russia’s neighbors to the west. When a peace deal appears within reach, there will be much pressure from both well-meaning observers and selfish interest groups to ease some of the sanctions imposed on Russia in order to give the Kremlin an “exit”.
Easing sanctions would be a mistake. At the moment, the purpose of the sanctions is not to dissuade Russia from doing anything; Rather, it is about both crippling Russia’s ability to replenish its hard- and soft-power capabilities, and protecting the West itself from Russian influence and blackmail, facilitated by energy dependency or the presence of Russian money in our politics.
Second, it is about strengthening Russia’s immediate vicinity. Ukraine – or the parts of Ukraine that don’t fall into the hands of the Kremlin – must be rebuilt and turned into an economic miracle on a par with South Korea, Taiwan or Estonia. That requires some Western help and the prospect of deeper economic integration with, say, the European Union.
However, the West may end up playing a much smaller role than is commonly believed. The presence of an existential threat has the wonderful ability to focus people’s minds on what really matters. With the right economic institutions, security, and deeper political and economic ties to the West, there is no reason why Ukraine should not see dramatic catch-up growth in the years and decades to come.
It’s a no-brainer that Russia’s aggression demands it NATO to strengthen their stance throughout Eastern Europe and provide credible security guarantees to Ukraine itself. Forget the NATO-Russia Founding Act and their idea of not having permanent military bases in “new” member countries. Russia’s western neighborhood must shout deterrence through denial far and wide, and make it clear that any invasion would elicit an overwhelming response.
For those in Washington who are looking beyond Europe to Asia, it may come as a disappointment that Eastern Europe is going back to square one, which is a new Cold War of sorts. Still, as the world’s unparalleled superpower, the United States has a unique responsibility to deal with the world as it exists, even if that means addressing multiple challenges on multiple fronts simultaneously. The next few years will show whether we still have the serious will to do so.
Dalibor Rohac is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. Twitter: @DaliborRohac.
https://nypost.com/2022/03/29/putin-may-be-signaling-a-retreat-but-western-leaders-must-keep-the-pressure-on/ Putin may signal a retreat – but Western leaders must keep up the pressure