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Katrina vanden Heuvel: The Exit From the Ukraine Crisis That’s Hiding in Plain Sight

The crisis over Ukraine grows simultaneously more dangerous and more absurd. There is, however, a glimmer of hope.
[7th Army Training Command / CC BY 2.0]

By Katrina vanden Heuvel / The Nation

The crisis over Ukraine grows simultaneously more dangerous and more absurd. Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, demanding that NATO not admit Ukraine and stop its expansion east. Russian officials want those demands answered immediately, but President Vladimir Putin also says he won’t make war.

The Biden administration warns of “imminent war,” yet Ukraine’s president tells the administration to calm down, that the false alarms are damaging the country’s economy. Even though President Biden, his two predecessors, Germany and France have made clear that Ukraine is not a national interest worth fighting for, the Biden administration refuses to tell the Russians that it won’t do what it has no intention of doing, even at the risk of armed conflict.

War is unimaginable.

The Russians would win any conventional clash but at a horrendous cost. The Ukrainians would suffer massive casualties and economic ruin. If the United States and Europe were to impose the sanctions that they are planning, the Russian people would suffer, but so would the French and especially the Germans, as Russia provides much of their energy supply.

In Russia, Putin is already under fire for not having taken Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region in 2014, when the Russian military could have walked in. In Washington, Biden is under fire for not being tough enough. Hawks on both sides peddle false historical analogies and lessons, assuming the other side will back down. Their strategy is based on bluster and a prayer.

Is there any way out of this exceedingly dangerous crisis? Perhaps the only hope is the Minsk II agreement, forged in February 2015 between Russia and Ukraine, brokered by Germany and France, and endorsed by the European Union and the United Nations.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Stop the stumble toward war with Russia

The agreement essentially called for a recognition of reality in law. It guaranteed an independent Ukraine in control of its own borders, with Russian “volunteers” removed, the separatists disarmed and Ukrainian military standing down in the Donbas. It promised full autonomy for the Russian-speaking region of the Donbas within a decentralized Ukrainian federation, written into a revised constitution.

Samantha Power, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the Security Council in June 2015, “The consensus here, and in the international community, remains that Minsk’s implementation is the only way out of this deadly conflict.”

Obviously, the settlement envisioned by the Minsk II accords has not come to pass. The Ukrainian government refused to move forward on autonomy for the Donbas without prior disarmament of the separatists. The Russians refused to withdraw its volunteers; the separatists demanded first the referendums and constitutional changes before disarming. The United States has refused to pressure Ukraine to move forward on the agreement.

Minsk II is a compromise. As such, it requires hard choices on all sides. Ideally, the agreement would be accompanied by a treaty between Russia and the United States and Europe guaranteeing neutrality for Ukraine, similar to the enforced neutrality of Austria since the Cold War’s early years.

The Ukrainians would have to give up aspirations to join NATO, and accept an autonomous Donbas region. Russia would have to agree to Ukrainian independence and give up any effort to make the country part of any Russian-dominated alliance. As Quincy Institute senior fellow Anatol Lieven notes, this would be a major concession: Putin has seen Ukrainian membership in the Eurasian Economic Union as essential to countering the European Union.

What is the alternative? For all the screeching of the hawks, there is none in sight. The Russians have served notice that the status quo can’t go on. Economic sanctions will not be sufficient to force Russia to allow Ukraine to be part of the West. Ukraine can’t take back its Donbas region on its own. Neither the United States nor other NATO countries have any interest in fighting over Ukraine. But Russia cannot forcibly annex the Donbas, let alone any more of Ukraine, without devastating costs for both sides and Europe as a whole.

For all its hysteria about imminent war, it’s clear that the Biden administration believes Putin is bluffing, that he won’t risk the economic damage that the threatened “severe sanctions” would impose. (Then again, neither will Germany or France.) If that’s right, and Putin doesn’t act, the result is continued low-level war in Donbas, with no end in sight. Russia keeps Ukraine out of NATO, with Ukraine having no chance of developing either a sound economy or a stable democracy. And of course, the danger is that Putin will face escalating pressure from more hawkish factions within Russia. It’s hard to envision why that should be considered a victory.

In Paris last week, seven years after the Minsk II agreement, Ukraine and Russia held marathon eight-hour talks mediated by Germany and France. A new round of “Minsk talks” will be held in Berlin in the second week of February. As we confront the worst U.S.-Russian confrontation in decades, isn’t it time for the United States to join with its allies to revive a path to a settlement that might lead to a stable peace?

<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/katrina-vanden-heuvel/">Katrina vanden Heuvel</a>
Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of the Nation magazine, writes a weekly column for The Post. She has also edited or co-edited several books, including “The Change I Believe In: Fighting for Progress in the Age of Obama” (2011) and “Meltdown: How Greed and Corruption Shattered Our Financial System and How We Can Recover” (2009).  Twitter

37 comments

  1. That the author calls the Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine “volunteers” is the pro-Russian “tell” in this article.

    1. Absurd to call any mainstream journalist pro Russia. The tell? USA is writing the playbook for Terrorism 101 on steroids. Russia can amass anything on that border, you know that … I hope. Give your do or die USA chauvinism a rest.

    2. @
      David Zimmerman
      This folks is a perfect example of Russiagate/Trump brain. There is nothing pro-Russian about this column. If anything, it’s too pro-American, using false equivalence. The U.S. has no business in that part of the world, and has promoted NATO expansion eastward up to the Russian border in violation of its agreement not to do so. The U.S. is the problem here as usual, not Russia.

      1. Jeff, the US may have “business” here. Dare I say pipeline? Stopping sales of Russian gas to Europe (attempted before) opens up a huge market for our Frackers and their gas. Ever wonder how little Venezuela became one of our biggest enemies? Took their national resources back from the multinationals.

      2. Not to mention the U.S. does everthing possible to prevent Russia(and others) from participating in the world economy. So much for free markets. The answer is in sight all right, but it’s not the gibberish Van den Huevel goes in about. Russia should be able to operate their pipeline and sell to whomever. They built the pipeline to avoid some issues with Ukaraine and they are still thwarted. They have put up with so much obstruction, so many sanctions, such stupid demonising that I can’t blame them for their frustration and resentment. This stupid game the U.S. ‘deciders’ plays is so incredibly dangerous and wrong, I am ashamed of them.

      3. Get real. USA? Arbiter of what? Terrorism vis-a-vis war, arms, viruses, sanctions? Sick society. Embargo Cuba for 60 years, but trade with Japan and Germany and Italy, those fascists?

        Right.

        How many USA prisoners of war did Cuba torture?

        USA and EU and Nato = bullies. Last time I dealt with bullies, I kicked their stinking asses.

        Read real writers. This Nation freak, this Democrat, this Chosen One, she is so wrong and that multi-millionaire elite smile, sure, some of us communistas would love to wipe it off her face in a real debate. However, they do not debate.

        Read:

        America’s Real Adversaries Are Its European and Other Allies — The U.S. aim is to keep them from trading with China and Russia
        Michael Hudson • Monday, February 7, 2022 • 4,500 Words

        The Iron Curtain of the 1940s and ‘50s was ostensibly designed to isolate Russia from Western Europe – to keep out Communist ideology and military penetration. Today’s sanctions regime is aimed inward, to prevent America’s NATO and other Western allies from opening up more trade and investment with Russia and China. The aim is not so much to isolate Russia and China as to hold these allies firmly within America’s own economic orbit. Allies are to forego the benefits of importing Russian gas and Chinese products, buying much higher-priced U.S. LNG and other exports, capped by more U.S. arms.

        The sanctions that U.S. diplomats are insisting that their allies impose against trade with Russia and China are aimed ostensibly at deterring a military buildup. But such a buildup cannot really be the main Russian and Chinese concern. They have much more to gain by offering mutual economic benefits to the West. So the underlying question is whether Europe will find its advantage in replacing U.S. exports with Russian and Chinese supplies and the associated mutual economic linkages.

        What worries American diplomats is that Germany, other NATO nations and countries along the Belt and Road route understand the gains that can be made by opening up peaceful trade and investment. If there is no Russian or Chinese plan to invade or bomb them, what is the need for NATO? What is the need for such heavy purchases of U.S. military hardware by America’s affluent allies? And if there is no inherently adversarial relationship, why do foreign countries need to sacrifice their own trade and financial interests by relying exclusively on U.S. exporters and investors?

        These are the concerns that have prompted French President Macron to call forth the ghost of Charles de Gaulle and urge Europe to turn away from what he calls NATO’s “brain-dead” Cold War and break with the pro-U.S. trade arrangements that are imposing rising costs on Europe while denying it potential gains from trade with Eurasia. Even Germany is balking at demands that it freeze by this coming March by going without Russian gas.

        Instead of a real military threat from Russia and China, the problem for American strategists is the absence of such a threat. All countries have come to realize that the world has reached a point at which no industrial economy has the manpower and political ability to mobilize a standing army of the size that would be needed to invade or even wage a major battle with a significant adversary. That political cost makes it uneconomic for Russia to retaliate against NATO adventurism prodding at its western border trying to incite a military response. It’s just not worth taking over Ukraine.

      4. Oh, I am sure Katrina the Millionaire has many wrong headed things to say and write on many a topic. Why give these elites air time and digital ink? Oh, the elites. That group of echo chamber drones.

        Here, reality:

        US vs. China in Laos: Two Nations, Two Approaches, One Obvious Difference

        The United States has elected to lock itself in a zero-sum conflict with China, attempting to stop China’s inevitable rise as the world’s largest, most powerful economy and thus nation. The narrative the US employs to justify political, economic, and even military measures it is targeting China with, revolves around US claims that China’s rise represents an unprecedented threat to the entire world.

        A 2020 US State Department document titled, “The Elements of the China Challenge,” would actually claim:

        Awareness has been growing in the United States — and in nations around the world — that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has triggered a new era of great-power competition. Yet few discern the pattern in China’s inroads within every region of the world, much less the specific form of dominance to which the party aspires.

        The CCP aims not merely at preeminence within the established world order — an order that is grounded in free and sovereign nation-states, flows from the universal principles on which America was founded, and advances US national interests —but to fundamentally revise world order, placing the People’s Republic of China (PRC) at the center and serving Beijing’s authoritarian goals and hegemonic ambitions.

        The paper also accuses China of wielding its economic power “to co-opt and coerce countries around the world; make the societies and politics of foreign nations more accommodating to CCP specifications; and reshape international organizations in line with China’s brand of socialism.”

        And yet there is absolutely no evidence that China is actually doing this. However there is an abundance of evidence that the United State government is and has for decades been doing this. The approach by both nations is visibly evident upon the global stage in nations like Southeast Asia’s Laos.

        https://journal-neo.org/2022/02/04/us-vs-china-in-laos-two-nations-two-approaches-one-obvious-difference/

  2. Really miss Stephen Cohen and his insights.
    vanden Heuvel writes a very intelligent, rational argument for implementing the Minsk II agreements, but the US (not even a party to the treaty) will not let that happen. Rational and intelligent are not allowed in US foreign policy.
    It is in the US State Department (and CIA) interest to keep all these fires smoldering if not burning, and create chaos to subjugate the peasants everywhere. At the “correct moment” War can begin. Sanctions (war) against a nuclear power seems a dangerous game to play, but we all know what War does to a President’s approval rating.

  3. Katrina, thank you for being a voice of reason above the voices clamouring for war on both sides! Perhaps another reason why we need many more intelligent women in government leadership than foolish men who think nothing of devastating human life, land, and security for all, while they hide in the safety of bunkers behind soldiers they will order to their deaths. Hopefully, European leadership (France and Germany who have suffered the scars of war on their lands twice in the last century can dismiss Mr. Biden and Mr Johnson’s warmongering to resolve this crisis without US interference. The world will be better off when these nations grow the courage to tell the US to go to hell with its forever wars and maybe they will finally get it they are persona non grata in the global community until they grow up!

    1. Like Hillary Clinton, or Madeline Albright?’
      Condi Rice, or Margret Thatcher?
      Maybe Nancy Pelosi.
      These women never met a pentagon budget that was big enough to suit them.
      I’ve got more examples, if this list isn’t inclusive enough.
      Name me one woman pol running on an anti war platform.

      1. Ahh, capitalism and power and money and war war war. Of course, five females are running those murder incorporated outfits in the military offense gear — but to conflate that with women are doing the damage to the world men are is cartoonish.

        WOmen in capitalism become men, and it’s all show. Like the Black Misleadership Class. Duh. But, billions of women put under the thumb of perverse, sick, money grubbing, rapist thinking, anti child, anti land male, well, tell them about the misanthropes in military or industry or politics. Male-female in USA power circles is now one big blog of criminality.

        But men? Right, they are the caregivers, teachers, social workers, the hard working ones taking care of families, directly and extended communities. Men?

        Right.

        Aberrations is all what USA and capitalism, C as in Cancer, is all about. YOu know that. This crap is just PR sping.

        Nearly a dozen female executives and defense leaders who spoke to POLITICO said having more women at the top affects companies and defense agencies in ways large and small — from questioning stale assumptions about the smartest way to develop weapons and provide services for the military; to negotiating better deals for the taxpayers when buying airplanes, tanks, rockets and ships; to recruiting and retaining the best and the brightest engineers and policy wonks.

        And they all contend the nation needs these different perspectives to confront a host of highly complex global challenges on the horizon.

        “To me, it’s a national security issue: We need every mind, every person engaged — male, female, every race, every level of experience,” said Lynn Dugle, a former vice president at Raytheon who is now CEO of Engility, an engineering and IT services firm that did more than $750 million of business with defense and intelligence agencies last year. “In the long term, we need to make sure talent wins.”

      2. Sadly you are quite correct in the women you mention. However, these are more calculating, ruthless, blindly ambitious than intelligent. I am referring to Katrina here who has a genuine sense of history which none of the women you mention possess. Just look at Pelosi taking a knee during BLM more faux liberal bullshit does she actually advocate for Black rights? Not a chance! Authentic leadership in the USA is nonexistent in either party.

      3. I do believe identity politics gets us nowhere, but I also believe pols coming from a broad spectrum of our society is beneficial. Though their policies and ideas are more important than any personal aspect.

        That said, Jill Stein ran on the Peace Train. Others have also, but it’s probably why we know so few of their names. And we need to remember it was grandmotherly Madeleine Albright who said, “the price is worth it” referring to “collateral damage” deaths. We need people of conscience, regardless of race, gender, creed, etc.

      4. Kaiso, I appreciate your reply.
        I had completely forgotten about Jill Stein.
        After reading your comment, I continued to wrack my brain to find another example, but I failed to do so.
        Gold Meir keeps invading my skull, and that’s no fun.
        Paul, I didn’t read my cartoonish, conflation that you saw.
        Could you please cite it, word for word?
        Projecting, maybe?
        I say maybe, because I am not in the habit of attribution to others, of things that I don’t know for certain.
        The reason that I don’t have a list of names, of anti war female pols, probably has something to do with the timeless, “ good old boys club”, locking women out of the discourse about war, in a political setting.
        My vision may be impaired, but I’m not blind.
        I see what a fine job the boys are doing at keeping the weapons clean, and unused.
        But, Dr. King is/was a guy.
        And, Cindy Sheehan isn’t.
        Chromosomes don’t seem to be what determines peaceful orientation.
        And, new thinking about gender identity really makes for a fascinating discussion.
        Ya follow?
        What do we make of an anti war activist with both male and female genitalia, as nature has chosen to confound our reptilian brains?
        I wish that the war between the sexes would declare a ceasefire, yesterday.
        See you at the library.

      5. @Southpaw
        Tulsi Gabbard was the most anti-war Democrat running for the nomination in 2020. Not exactly anti-war and definitely not as good as Jill Stein on that issue, but much better than the usual pro-war garbage candidates we usually get from the Democrats and Republicans.

      6. Jill Stein ran consistently on an anti-war platform – and was crucified, she is still being hounded, 6 years after the fact ….

        Wonder why Scheer doesn’t interview her …

      7. @SH
        Because Stein is not a member of one of the two gangs that run U.S. politics. I don’t know why Americans have such a blind spot regarding our lack of proportional representation, because every other democracy in the world beside the U.K. has it. In this lame country, if you’re not part of one of the two gangs, you will be attacked viciously, and you have no realistic chance of winning election to anything larger that mayor, because the system is highly rigged against you.

  4. Katrina seems to think that Washington has an interest in peace. They don’t. They want war and have been provoking war and it is only through restraint and smart political maneuvering that Russia has avoided falling into any of their traps.

    But I get the feeling that both Russia and China feel that they are dealing with an irrational and arrogant foe and that war ultimately is inevitable. Both are preparing for that day and now are united to the point that if you fight one you will probably end up fighting both.

    The day you start a war in the Ukraine is likely the day Taiwan gets invaded by China.

    So many existential threats and nobody but madmen and psychopaths at the controls. What could go wrong…..

    1. @JustAMaverick
      We can all go live in Dr. Strangelove’s underground bunkers where animals can be bred … UND SHLAUGHTERED!!!

  5. The problem is the arrogance of the US. It believes it has the right to rule the world. To sit at a table and negotiate as an equal is equivalent to giving up that delusion. It must move from win-lose, zero sum, to win-win, but is not capable of the required humility and introspection. The US will likely face the same fate as other empires: rotting from the inside until it collapses.

  6. Great piece! but I have a few questions …

    “Russia would have to agree to Ukrainian independence and give up any effort to make the country part of any Russian-dominated alliance.”

    Why would Ukraine being part of a “Russian-dominated alliance” be a no starter? NATO is a US-dominated alliance. As long as Ukraine independence is guaranteed what is the problem?

    As for the chicken-egg problem – why not a UN peacekeeping force at the border of the Donbas region as the Const. is written to include that region’s autonomy, at which point mutual disarmament could occur?

    Its the US that is the aggressor here – seems to me it all started when the US State Dept. (under Clinton) helped engineer the coup against the elected regime of Ukraine in ’14 (?) – another one of those “regime change” operations that always goes awry – if, indeed, Putin would have preferred Trump in ’16, I can certainly understand why ….

  7. Vapidity. As always. The Nation? I could list a dozen thinkers and writers who could write circles around this Multimillionaire Elite Chosen Few liberal. Her history as a pro Democrat is delegitimizing all her words. Pepe Escobar anyone? Nah, not ar Scheer Post. Sad.

  8. Katrina vanden Heuvel writes sanity here. But there isn’t much sanity in Washington these days. America’s 1% are dead set on maintaining and extending their global dominance, and are desperately trying to take down Russia, China, and smaller countries around the world, an impossible task. The US will continue pushing instability everywhere it can, risking the welfare of the world in their mad quest. They have truly lost their minds. Thanks to vanden Heuvel for her voice of sanity.

  9. ‘Both Conservatives and Labour Party figures in UK, their US ‘Atlantic Bridge’ counterparts in the Republican GOP and Democrat DNC and their fascist puppets globally – most notably within the Anglosphere ‘Five Eyes’ media-intelligence apparatus – are all cornered. And the only way ‘The Party’ can dig their way out of their own hole and get away with what they’ve already done and what they intended to do – is by starting a major war.’

    ‘A Global Britain ‘Black Swan’ Event by ‘Unthinkable’ Theatre (Checkmate)’ (2021) https://wp.me/p94Aj4-2UF

    Johnny McNeill
    #GaslightingGilligan (© 2017) 
    Twitter: @GasGilligan (free download)

  10. I think it would help the readers to know that the Donbass region has a substantial coal reserve to the tune of 57 billions tons. It also has oil and gas resources so one can see that threatening a fight over this area is not without economic motivation.

    I am not sure what corporations are whispering in the ears of the governments involved but they are there.

  11. Question: Who/What first instigated the ongoing further global destabilizing chaos taking place in the Ukraine – Eastern Europe, since 2014?
    Answer: The U.S. of course, by its interference over its dissatisfaction with the outcome of a sovereign countries democratic election result; causing the duly elected President to flee to Russia for protection; and Russia’s legitimate reactive steps to counter such interference on its immediate border.

  12. It may be that militaries are massing on state borders. But in my stable worldview, this isn’t relevant, because it is only one of an infinite variety of things humanity is sure that it does not want. What is relevant to me is what humanity is sure that it wants, and I think we have to keep our eye on the ball. Surely, humanity wants total positivity, wants to reach our full potential. So everything has to be replaced. Start with a clean slate. This is perfectly rational, because we want a secure foundation to build on. Takes courage. The ultimate amount. But we all have what it takes. A few individuals have proven we can develop this worldview and strategy so we can all do it. Are we ready now?

  13. “If that’s right, and Putin doesn’t act, the result is continued low-level war in Donbas, with no end in sight. Russia keeps Ukraine out of NATO, with Ukraine having no chance of developing either a sound economy or a stable democracy. ”

    Ukraine would have no chance of developing a sound economy independent of NATO because the U.S. would never allow it.

    In the lead up to the 2014 coup orchestrated by Barack Obama’s U.S. State Department, Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych was given an ultimatum – to accept an economic aid package from the West, or face the consequences for not doing so.

    With severe economic austerity and corporate kleptocracy as a certainty for accepting any aid from the weaponized IMF, along with demands that Ukraine break all ties with Russia, Yanukovych refused this option. As a consequence for his refusal, the West sent in its jackals to destroy his government, per standard U.S. playbook policy.

    The unrest in the Donbas region since 2014 is being instigated by Kiev, and thus West backed agitators, as an effort toward continued destabilization of the region and as an inducement for hot war with Russia. Putin understands this, and to his credit, refuses to act on this blatant provocation.

    Further, Russia has had the same number of troops on its border for years now, despite the breathless exclamations by the western propagandists suggesting that this is evidence of an imminent attack of Ukraine. In addition, Russia would likely need triple the number of border troops it currently has if it were truly planning for an invasion.

    As has been mentioned, NATO missile bases on Russia’s border is the red line that Russia rightly refuses to concede on. I would argue that NATO has long ago lost its utility as a strategic alliance and should be broken up. The sole purpose of its continued existence is toward the destabilization of countries and in service to U.S. wars of aggression.

  14. I could go on and write a full article outlining explaining the inaccuracies in Heuvel’s article, but I understand that in the current Western media environment she cannot write anything better than this. The anti-Russian and anti-Putin propaganda were on such a scale that speaking reality makes you automatically at a “Putin’s useful idiot” or a “Russian propagandist” (she knows that well because her husband had to fight such smears in the last years of his life)…

    1. @Konstantin Kostov
      Exactly! Putin isn’t a good guy, but he’s no worse than any other world leader, and not even close to being as bad as any U.S. president, Israeli premier, or Saudi king, to name a few worse ones off the top of my head. Same with Russia. All large countries are bad, but the U.S. has no right to complain about any other country because it’s the worst.

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