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We Need An Immediate Ceasefire In Ukraine, Not Israel

It’s time to acknowledge that the U.S. isn’t going to risk World War III to maintain Ukraine’s 1991 borders.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is in Washington this week, once again pressuring U.S. lawmakers to dole out tens of billions of taxpayer dollars for his war effort. At issue is a $110 billion national security supplemental the Biden administration has requested that includes about $61 billion for Ukraine, as well as more funding for Israel, humanitarian aid for Gaza, and money to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.

Senate Republicans last week sensibly blocked a vote to advance the bill because it doesn’t include changes to border policy, which is the only thing that would actually secure the border. But the border isn’t the only good reason to block the funding package. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the war in Ukraine is an unwinnable quagmire, and that for all the calls we hear for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict, what’s really needed is a ceasefire in Ukraine, where the solution today is more or less what it was before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022: a negotiated settlement.

Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio hinted at this in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper over the weekend, saying there’s no reason to think $61 billion will accomplish what $100 billion hasn’t. “The idea that Ukraine was going to throw Russia back to the 1991 borders was preposterous. Nobody actually believed it. So what we’re saying to the president and really to the entire world is, you need to articulate what the ambition is.”

So far, neither the Biden White House nor any neocon Ukraine hawk in Washington has been able to articulate what the endgame strategy in Ukraine should be. Instead, we get platitudes about the need to shovel more money into a bloody war of attrition from the likes of Mike Pompeo, who of course doesn’t bother to elaborate on what he means by “end the war.”

At this point, nearly two years into the war, no one really believes what Pompeo and Biden administration officials have been peddling since the conflict began, that somehow Western aid to Ukraine would enable a Russian “defeat” that would send Putin running back to Moscow, where perhaps he would even be deposed. That was always a neocon fantasy.

What was obvious from the beginning, as Mario Loyola pointed out in these pages just three weeks before the Russian invasion, is that Ukraine could have territorial integrity or political independence, but not both. Because of the unique historical circumstances of Ukraine’s borders, together with what Moscow has long viewed as its core strategic interests, Ukraine should have been prepared to trade land for independence. Indeed, U.S. leaders should have insisted on it.

Instead, President Biden embarked on a desultory policy of half-measures, giving Ukraine just enough aid to keep Russia from overrunning the country but not enough to expel Russian forces and risk a potentially catastrophic escalation with a nuclear power. Biden did this, moreover, without ever even attempting to explain to the American people why funding a proxy war against Russia constituted a core national interest. Then and now, anyone who questioned our involvement was labeled a Putin apologist. Insults were traded for arguments, and this is more or less where we are today.

That’s too bad because what the goal should be now is fairly obvious: an immediate ceasefire in which Ukraine de facto accepts Russian control over some of its territory without formally ceding it to Moscow. In exchange for this, Ukraine could fairly ask for and receive the kind of formal Western support that would ensure the territory it does have, which is most of the country, would be secure.

The lazy counterargument that such an arrangement would invite Putin to invade all of Eastern Europe is, as Vance argued, preposterous. Moscow is weaker than anyone thought, and if its military could not overrun Kiev, there’s no reason to think it could so much as set a track on any NATO member territory. Any suggestion to the contrary is fearmongering designed to shut down legitimate debate about what U.S. policy should be in this conflict.

Contrast all this with the war in Israel, which vast swaths of the American left seem to think needs to end immediately even as they support endless support for the Ukraine conflict. It’s a perfect illustration of how Americans tend to view foreign policy as a proxy for domestic politics. For the left, supporting Israel is to side with the oppressor. Never mind that Israel was viciously attacked by Hamas terrorists who control the territory from which they launched the Oct. 7 attacks on Israeli civilians. Hamas has vowed it will launch more such attacks as soon as it can. Under these circumstances, a ceasefire makes zero sense.

But for Ukraine, a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement is probably as good as it was ever going to get. The Minsk ceasefire agreements of 2014 and 2015, laid out in U.N. Security Council Res. 2202, provided that the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk would be allowed to conduct local elections with guarantees of local autonomy and a general amnesty. In exchange, the separatists would disband their “people’s republics,” disarm, and the Ukrainian military would reassert control of all Ukrainian territory to the Russian border.

That agreement was designed to avoid war, but it was never implemented. At this point, Ukraine will almost certainly never officially cede territory to Russia, but something like the Minsk agreement could work to bring an end to the fighting. The United States isn’t going to risk World War III to guarantee Ukraine’s 1991 borders, and the sooner Senate Republicans and the Biden administration make that clear to Zelensky, the sooner we can start working out what a post-war settlement could look like for Ukraine and Russia.

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