It has now been over one hundred days since Russia invaded Ukraine with no end to the war in sight. The war has the potential to drag on for months, if not years, and lead to the deaths of tens of thousands of more Ukrainians, as well as the destruction of more cities that will fuel a worsening humanitarian crisis. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has confirmed that over 4,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed during Russia’s invasion while the Ukrainian government claims a death toll of over 27,500. The war has resulted in the greatest refugee crisis since the end of World War II. It is estimated that nearly five million Ukrainians have left the country while an additional eight million have been displaced within Ukraine. These are staggering numbers that equate to over one-third of Ukraine’s citizens being forced to leave their homes. Furthermore, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky recently declared that Russian forces now control 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory.
While Western media outlets continue to mistakenly report that Ukraine is winning the war, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has indicated that Russia is making incremental progress towards achieving its military objectives. According to a recent Western intelligence report, even though the United States is providing Ukraine with four to five times more military aid than Kyiv spends on its armed forces each year, Ukraine is losing the Battle of the Donbass and suffering “extreme losses” while being “outgunned 20 to 1 in artillery.” Ukrainian troops are running out of ammunition, increasingly demoralized, and beginning to desert. The report also revealed that most Ukrainian artillery is limited to a range of twenty-five kilometers while Russian artillery and rocket launchers can strike from twelve times that distance. It also stated that Ukraine’s bargaining position has been weakened since Russia has more than ten times the number of prisoners of war than Ukraine. The intelligence report concluded by stating: “It is plain that a conventional war cannot be won if your side has several times fewer weapons, your weapons hit the enemy at a shorter distance, and you have significantly less ammunition than the enemy.”
While conceding the risks of Russian nuclear escalation, President Biden recently clarified that the United States does not seek a direct war with Russia, nor will it support the overthrow of Russian president Vladimir Putin. After declaring last month that its objective was to weaken Russia and destroy its ability to wage offensive war, the Biden administration now says that the purpose of U.S. military assistance is to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to negotiate a more favorable peace agreement. When asked if Ukraine might have to cede some of its territory in a negotiated peace agreement with Russia, Biden did not rule out that possibility.
What follows is a proposed fifteen-point peace plan to end the Russo-Ukrainian War. These are the best and most realistic terms Ukraine can hope for, as well as the terms most likely to be agreeable to both sides. Such a negotiated compromise peace agreement could be mediated by France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, and Israel and would be followed by a cessation of all military operations and the withdrawal of all Russian military forces from Ukraine outside of the Donbass region. To my knowledge, this is the first comprehensive peace proposal that has been published in a Western journal which attempts to permanently resolve, rather than postpone the resolution of, all existing areas of contention between Russia and Ukraine to ensure that Russia won’t have any reason to resume hostilities against Ukraine in the future. This proposal also addresses some of Russia’s most pressing security concerns while serving to enhance the security of NATO members by reducing the prospects of a future conflict with Russia.
Fifteen Point Peace Plan to End the War in Ukraine
1. Ukraine will amend its constitution to become permanently neutral. Its independence, neutrality, national sovereignty, and territorial integrity will be guaranteed by the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and conditioned upon Ukraine’s compliance with the terms of the peace agreement. In return, Russia will recognize the legitimacy of the current government of Ukraine and renounce any intention to replace current Ukrainian government leaders with ones more amenable to Moscow.
2. Ukraine recognizes Russia's 2014 reunification with Crimea and renounces all intentions to recover it by force or otherwise.
3. Russia will withdraw all of its military forces to their pre-invasion positions, including from the Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, and Kherson oblasts but except for the Donbass region where the new line of control between Russia and Ukraine will be revised to the line of control as it exists at the execution of this agreement.
4. A popular referendum will be held by September 2022 for the entire Donbass region, including both the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, on whether their citizens wish to become independent or return to Ukrainian control. This referendum will be conducted by the respective governments of the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts on each side of the line of control and will be supervised by United Nations or other neutral international observers. All citizens of the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, including refugees, shall be permitted and encouraged to vote in the referendum. The votes of the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts shall be counted together so that the results shall be the same for both regions. In the event that a majority of their citizens vote to remain part of Ukraine, the Donbass region shall be permanently demilitarized with the withdrawal of all Russian and Ukrainian troops. As previously agreed to by Ukraine under the Minsk II agreement, Ukraine's constitution shall also be amended to guarantee the rights of Russian-speaking minorities. However, if the Donbass region votes for independence, all Ukrainian troops shall be withdrawn. Russian troops may remain only if invited to do so by the Luhansk and Donetsk Republic governments. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, Ukraine agrees to make Russian one of its official languages again.
5. Russia will support Ukraine’s application to join the European Union.
6. Ukraine will permanently suspend all NATO ties, including military trainers, exchanges, and joint military exercises, along with all NATO arms shipments except for small arms. Additionally, Ukraine will prohibit the stationing of NATO troops or bases on its territory. Ukraine also agrees to end its membership in the NATO Partnership for Peace program and terminate its November 2021 strategic partnership agreement with the United States.
7. Ukraine will reduce its ground forces to no more than 150,000 active-duty troops and a maximum of 100,000 troops in reserve.
8. Ukraine agrees to destroy all of its “strike systems” under Russian supervision. (This provision would likely be interpreted by Russian negotiators to include fighters, fighter-bombers, bombers, attack aircraft; helicopter gunships and UAVs equipped with bombs, rockets, or missiles; artillery and mortars larger than 155mm in caliber, multiple rocket launchers, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and medium to long-range surface to air missiles). Ukraine shall be prohibited from developing or acquiring any of these expressly banned weapon systems. (For a specific list of Ukrainian weapons that Russia would likely consider “strike systems” please see my previous article “How Biden Can End the War in Ukraine.”) Furthermore, Ukraine shall be prohibited from developing weapons of mass destruction including nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, and shall shut down all twenty-six of its U.S.-funded biological research labs within six months of the signing of this agreement and allow Russian inspectors to access the labs to ensure that they are closed.
9. All prisoners of war, refugees, and any civilians in captivity will be returned to their respective countries with their treatment and care governed by the provisions of the Geneva Convention.
10. There will be no reparations issued by either side and no international war crimes tribunals. Any war crimes tribunals shall be conducted by the nations to whom the offending troops belong.
11. The United States and European Union will agree to provide large-scale economic aid to assist in the process of Ukraine’s reconstruction.
12. Full diplomatic relations between Russia and Ukraine, as well as between Russia and all NATO countries, will be restored following the signing of this agreement.
13. Upon the execution of this peace agreement by both parties, all post-invasion economic sanctions placed against Russia shall be immediately rescinded and any public and private Russian financial and economic assets that were seized will be returned to their owners. Conditional on Russian adherence to its terms, both sides agree to normalize trade relations within twelve months of the signing of this agreement.
14. The United States and NATO shall issue written guarantees that NATO will never expand eastward into additional former Soviet republics or along Russia's borders (i.e. Finland). In exchange for these guarantees, Russia will acquiesce to Sweden’s ascension into NATO as well as that of any other European country that does not border Russia and wishes to join the alliance.
15. Russia and NATO agree to commence discussions to include Russia in the security architecture of Europe, renew the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and negotiate a follow-on agreement to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. A follow-on agreement to the CFE treaty will reduce the number of American, Western European NATO, and Russian troops and bases in Eastern Europe. This will include all of the nations that joined NATO after 1999, as well as Belarus and Ukraine, and lower troops levels to less than 9,000 on each side. This agreement shall provide that, in the event that Russia further reduces or even eliminates its military presence in Belarus and continues to honor the terms of its peace agreement with Ukraine, then the United States and Western European NATO members will also reduce or eliminate their combined troop presence and close all bases in the Baltic states, Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia to match Russian troop withdrawals in Belarus. This will potentially return Eastern Europe to the status quo that existed before the July 2016 Warsaw Summit. As part of this agreement, the United States will also agree to withdraw all Aegis Ashore anti-ballistic missiles and dismantle its Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Sites in Redzikowo, Poland, and Deveselu, Romania in exchange for a withdrawal of all Russian nuclear-capable delivery systems from Belarus.