Growing Chorus Is Urging Ukraine To Sue for Peace in a Compromise With Putin

Beyond justice, there is no guarantee that a compromise involving Ukraine conceding territory that the Russian army currently holds would satisfy Putin.

Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP
President Zelensky at a news conference with the United Nations secretary-general at Kyiv on April 28, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP

Updated at 10:50 a.m. EDT

A growing chorus in Washington and Europe is urging President Zelensky to lay down and play dead. If only Russia were permitted to eat up the Donbas region of Ukraine, they say, there would be peace in our time — just as there was supposed to be after Hitler was allowed to seize the Sudetenland. 

This call is intensifying as the financial cost of America’s involvement in the European war is passing $56 billion and rising. As Republican fiscal hawks and Democrat doves are beginning to push back, Ukraine could become politically hazardous for President Biden as America hurtles toward the midterms.

The latest voice in this chorus is the New York Times editorial board, which often voices un-uttered White House sentiments and policy prescriptions. Now it is advocating a war-ending path. In an editorial Friday, the paper declared, “It is still not in America’s best interest to plunge into an all-out war with Russia, even if a negotiated peace may require Ukraine to make some hard decisions.” 

The recipe seems simple: End the Ukraine war in a way that would allow the invader, Vladimir Putin, to save face. If Ukraine ceded such territories as the breakaway “republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk and allowed Russia to maintain its annexation of Crimea, this thinking goes, Moscow would lick its wounds, declare victory, and end the war. 

The real winner in such a scenario, goes the argument, would be the Ukrainians, because they managed to wrestle the Bear and stay alive. By this light, all’s well that ends well. War over, everybody wins.

Yet Kyiv isn’t buying it.   

Mr. Zelensky recently disclosed, in an interview with Italy’s RAI television, that this very compromise was offered to him by President Macron. His answer, Mr. Zelensky said, was a resounding no.

“We want the Russian army to leave our land,” he told RAI. “We won’t help Putin save face by paying with our territory. That would be unjust.”

Beyond justice, there is no guarantee Mr. Putin would be satisfied by a compromise involving a concession by Ukraine of territory currently held by the Russian army. Such border lines rarely remain intact, as invaders remain hungry for additional conquest.

In 1949 an armistice line was drawn where the battling armies ended up at the conclusion of Israel’s war of independence. Nineteen years later, in 1967, unsatisfied Arab armies once more tried, unsuccessfully, to cross that “green line.”

In northeast Asia, the 1953 line at the 38th parallel fared better even as the Hermit Kingdom’s dream of annexing its thriving Korean neighbor never died. But for the presence of American GIs, North Korea would have crossed the armistice line a long time ago. 

Currently neither America nor Europe is volunteering troops to assure the integrity of the proposed ceasefire lines between Russia and Ukraine.

Prime Minister Draghi of Italy is the latest European leader to ask Kyiv to agree to a “ceasefire as soon as possible.” A top adviser to Mr. Zelensky, Mykhilo Podolyak, fears a return to the Minsk Agreement, which in 2015 failed to end Russia’s aggression in Ukraine’s Donbas region.  

“Ukraine is not interested in a new Minsk and the war renewal in a few years,” Mr. Podolyak told the Financial Times, adding, “Until Russia is ready to fully liberate occupied territories, our negotiation team is weapons, sanctions, and money.”

All the more newsworthy, though, is that European capitals and Washington are increasingly talking of war-ending scenarios. It would not be surprising were America to start pushing Mr. Zelensky toward ceding territory, so Mr. Biden could fulfill a campaign promise to “end endless wars.”

At the moment, though, Mr. Biden seems to have concluded that America has a vital interest in repelling Russia’s invasion.

Beyond Ukraine, backing out now would send a wrong signal around the globe. Russia’s global allies — Communist China, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the hermit kingdom of North Korea — would look at the West’s retreat and launch their own wars of conquest. 

The unwritten deal we currently have with the Ukrainians has so far been successful: We fight a war for liberty together. The Ukrainians shed blood; we fund, arm, and clandestinely train them. 

If outsiders force a compromise and demand that Mr. Zelensky accept something less than a full victory as he defines it, America would sooner or later be forced to spend a lot more in treasure and, possibly, in American blood too. 


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