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Addressing the Russia-Ukraine War

Updated: Mar 15

Big Picture

Russia launched its full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022, failing to take Kyiv. Ukraine’s counter-attack has taken back 54 percent of the land Russia occupied, leaving just 18 percent of Ukraine occupied by Russia. 

While Ukraine understandably seeks this 18 percent back, a stalemate has been pursued and Russia has yet to use its full WMD arsenal. With concerns over more deaths, an all-out Russian attack and dwindling funding, many experts feel that Ukraine should seek a peaceful solution to end the war. 

Operative Definitions

  1. USSR: 15 federated republics that became independent countries in 1990-1992, with some autonomous republics becoming non-recognized independent countries. 

  2. Ethnic Russian: A Ukrainian national who is ethnically Russian.

  3. Rus’ People: East Slavic speakers, including Belarusians, Ukrainians, Russians, Ruthenians and some smaller groups.

Facts and Statistics

  1. Crimea 1954: The USSR gave Crimea and Sevastopol to Ukraine from Russia.

  2. Ukraine 1991 Independence Referendum: Each oblast/region voted to join Ukraine, with the lowest percentage at 83.9% and lowest voter participation at 75.01% for all except Crimea and Sevastopol, which held much lower percentages (50s and 60s respectively).

  3. Budapest Memorandum 1994: Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan agreed to give up nuclear weapons, with Ukraine earning a guarantee of sovereignty from Russia, the UK and the USA. Ukraine had the third-largest nuclear stockpile.

  4. Istanbul Summit 1999: Signed by Russia via the OSCE, reaffirming that nations may choose their security alliances and change them

  5. 2004-2005 Orange Revolution: President Yushchenko ran against President Yanukovych, with President Yanukovych winning. However, wide-scale fraud was found. The Ukrainian Supreme Court forced an election redo following immense protests collectively called the Orange Revolution. The protests were mainly supported by Western and Central Ukrainians. Pro-Western President Yushchenko was elected in the redo.

  6. 2010 and 2012 Elections: President Yanukovych and his Party of Regions earned the most votes, with its party base in Eastern and Southern Ukraine and Crimea.

  7. 2013-2014 events: EuroMaidan and Revolution of Dignity began when President Yanukovych led Ukraine into a Russian alliance instead of the EU and West. Western and Central Ukrainians became very upset attempting to take over government buildings. Fascist anti-Russian Ukrainians joined the protests. President Yanukovych responded with force. This created the casus belli to overthrow President Yanukovych, which had around 50% support, mainly in Western and Central Ukraine. President Yanukovich agreed to earlier elections and then fled. Eastern Ukrainians and Crimeans were upset and worried about discrimination. They occupied government buildings too, successfully setting up non-recognized independent people’s republics in Donetsk and Luhansk. Crimea and Sevastopol voted for independence and then joined Russia via their assemblies and referendums in 2014, largely unrecognized by Ukraine, the international community and the Crimean Tatars. Most Eastern and Southern Ukrainians sought federalism or local autonomy, but some sought independence or integration with Russia. Russia is alleged to have sent in forces to secure these territories, but denied that the forces were state actors.

  8. Minority erosion: Ukraine began a process of removing the Russian language, tearing down Soviet and Russian statues and symbols and retracting their decentralization promises. In Eastern Ukraine, these policies were unpopular before the 2022 invasion and were seen by some as fascist.

  9. Eastern Orthodox Schism 2018: The Eastern Orthodox Church has autocephalous churches all equal with autonomous parts beneath them. The Patriarchate of Constantinople is considered the first among equals. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church was under Constantinople until 1686. It then came under Moscow and, subsequently, achieved autonomy. Many Ukrainians saw the Moscow Patriarchate as corrupt and too Russian. A minority started to separate against Constantinople’s wishes to seek autocephaly. Following Russia’s 2014 actions, autocephalous status gained support in Constantinople and Ukraine. The separate churches merged and became the Constantinople-approved autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine in 2017. Russia didn't accept this outcome and Moscow is now in a schism with Constantinople.

  10. 2022 Russia full-scale invasion: Russia invaded Ukraine employing two main justifications. One is to protect the pro-Russian Ukrainians — whom President Putin considers Novorussians or just Russians — denying Ukrainian statehood and ethnic distinction. The second justification is to denazify Ukraine, as Putin claims Ukraine has numerous fascists in its government and military. Russia took over much of Eastern, Southern and Northern Ukraine in its march toward Kiev, the Christian origin of the Rus’ people. Ukraine pushed back Russia’s advances and took back its northern territory. 

  11. 2022 Russian Annexation: Russia holds parts of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, Mykolaiv and Zaporizhia oblasts. Putin held a (largely unrecognized) referendum in these oblasts. Allegedly, all voted to become independent and, together with Donetsk and Luhansk, decided to join Russia by becoming federal oblasts.

  12. Moscow Church and Opposition banned 2021-present: The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate is banned in numerous regions in Ukraine. Numerous “pro-Russian” opposition figures, parties and media are banned from running in elections. 

  13. Realities on the ground: Most polls have shown Crimea and Sevastopol have largely supported becoming part of Russia since 1991. Until 2022, most in the occupied regions of Eastern Ukraine had supported the quests for autonomy and federalism and were pro-Russian and Russian speakers. As of late, no majority has shown support for independence, nor has there ever been a majority outside of the Crimean Peninsula in favor of joining Russia. After the 2022 invasion, most Eastern and Southern Ukrainians began opposing Russian alliances. Many have abandoned the Russian language and church, supporting many elements of de-Russification.

Seven-Point Plan

(1) Hold majority referendum votes in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia, Crimea and Sevastopol under international observation on three options: joining Ukraine, joining Russia or gaining independence. Be prepared for any area choosing Russia and allow for that to happen. This would give a rules-based, International order credibility because it would prove that the rules also work when they’re against Western preferences. Unoccupied parts of these oblasts will keep the status quo of being part of the corresponding oblast in Ukraine. It may be better to use the occupied regions instead of oblasts for the referendums.

(2) Occupied areas that vote to join Ukraine will need to agree to never harbor Western forces. This would grant Russia reassurance and a buffer zone. However, unoccupied Ukraine should have the freedom to choose to have Western forces, meaning that Western military could border Russian forces if any region chooses to join Russia. Any areas that vote for independence should be demilitarized or have both forces.

(3) Make Ukraine a federal or devolved nation with autonomous parts, similar to the USA. The Eastern and certain Western Ukrainians have desired such a change for some time. Lower administrative levels, like raions and municipalities (hromada), should also be given levels of autonomy or shared sovereignty.

(4) Create a deal whereby Ukrainians and others can be permitted dual Russian and Ukrainian citizenship. Further, provides a guarantee to allow the Crimean Tatars special rights in Crimea if it is Russian-controlled. This is similar to the Good Friday Agreements. Tri-citizenship should also be open in any area that votes for independence.

(5) Bring back linguistic diversity in Ukraine for Russian, Ruthenian, Crimean Tatar, Hungarian and other speakers. Hromadas, raions and oblasts should all be able to have co-official languages, in addition to Ukrainian. Russia should also guarantee minority linguistic rights to their Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars and others.

(6) Allow for religious diversity in Ukraine again by unbanning the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate and other institutions. Russia should have to guarantee protections for Ukrainian religious institutions too, like the Ukrainian and Ruthenian Greek Catholic churches and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

(7) Bring back political and media diversity and a proper republic and democracy with full rights such as free speech, the unbanning of parties, and other issues that have crippled Ukraine’s freedom.

Why Is This Initiative Important?

American foreign policy is a funding tug-of-war. The more money spent on Ukraine, the less money spent on regions equally (perhaps more?) important, such as the Indo-Pacific. Americans are also hoping for less bloodshed and fewer threats of nuclear war with Russia. Opposition to funding for Ukraine, and calls to end the war, are the natural result.

But an end to this war can only come with security guarantees for all parties. We must be willing to give Russia concessions — or the ability to have them via the referendums — while also allowing Ukraine to maintain most of its sovereignty.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author. 

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