Is Putin Signaling an End to Conflict in Ukraine?

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to consolidate its gains around the Donbas region has a lot to do with Moscow strengthening its territory by securing areas closer to the Russian border.

In a recent statement, Russian General Sergie Rudskoy also highlighted the Russian army’s priority at the moment, which is the independence of Donbas.

Russia’s original objectives were many. But one clear, main objective was to defend the sovereignty of the newly recognized — by Russia — Luhansk and Donetsk Republics in the Donbas region of Ukraine. Now that Volodymyr Zelenskyy has agreed to come to the negotiating table regarding Ukraine’s proposed NATO membership, it seems that Putin is refocusing his military’s efforts on consolidating gains on its border.

Experts suggest that Putin wants the new republics to serve as buffers to a Ukraine that, particularly in the eastern regions of the country, are increasingly seeking a role in Western institutions, like NATO. Putin’s protests have revolved around alleged plans for Ukraine to join NATO, a claim that there is evidence to support. The Kremlin is averse to having NATO military bases on its border, with Putin likening it to Russian missile bases in Venezuela.

Russia is not seeking a prolonged, Afghanistan-styled conflict in Ukraine. Putin has stated his goals clearly. And, so far, all signs point to him seeking out the accomplishments of those goals through diplomacy or by military force.

Putin has protested for years about the West’s presence in Ukraine. And newly reported biological laboratories that have been found in Ukraine have lent credence to accusations that otherwise would have been dismissed as ridiculous.

The fact is that the West has clearly made the calculation that they are not able to intervene in Ukraine. It’s possible that Russia has the upper hand in hypersonic missile technology, where the U.S. has spent its time developing missile defense capabilities built around previous missile technologies — meaning that U.S. missile defenses cannot defend against hypersonic missiles that travel faster than the speed of sound and change course mid-flight.

This being a possibility, the West has chosen to embolden Ukraine instead of encouraging them to negotiate with the clearly superior Russian military.

But Ukraine cannot possibly win this war. Russia has withheld its vast military capabilities in the interest of minimizing civilian casualties — there is no question that Russia could flatten the city of Kyiv if it deployed only a fraction of its arsenal. And, as a non-NATO member, the West would have no obligation to intervene, and risk historic nuclear destruction if it did.

Sure, the West could destroy Russia. But the new calculus that is not being recognized by the world community is that Russia and China are now nuclear peers with the United States; while the U.S. can, indeed, destroy both nations, the reverse is now also true.

What is happening right now in Eastern Europe is more than just a minor conflict. It is the first of many conflicts resulting from the end of the unipolar world that has now passed. The U.S. is a superpower. And, if it doesn’t fall from self-inflicted wounds, we will be a major player in the world for the foreseeable future. But if we don’t begin to take the security interests of other great powers into account, it’s possible that we invite a major catastrophe through a miscalculation of our ability to project power.

We live in a changing world. And, as Donald Trump suggested, pushing ourselves to the brink of war with a nuclear-weapon state like Russia is not in the interest of the American people. We don’t have to be friends — something Trump also suggested.

We need to understand that finding mutually beneficial outcomes will serve us better than the consequences that could result from the kind of conflict happening right now in Ukraine. The West should work to bring Zelenskyy to the negotiating table; we need to find a peaceful solution for Ukraine and the people suffering from this conflict.