Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.


NATO troops take part in an Estonian-led exercise about 60 miles from the Russian border on May 27, 2021. (Photo: Raigo Pajula/AFP via Getty Images)

The Stakes Are Very High in Ukraine

The only rational path is diplomacy.

John Burroughs

 by Inter Press Service

If the Ukraine crisis erupts into war—even intensified limited war in Eastern Ukraine with overt Russian intervention—the consequences will be severe and far-reaching.

Among possible courses of action: neutrality for Ukraine; an alternative European security arrangement; a long-term moratorium on NATO expansion; or some combination of the foregoing and other measures.

A non-comprehensive list includes: vastly greater loss of life due to armed conflict in Ukraine; destabilization of global peace and security, not least the always urgent pursuit of nuclear arms control and disarmament; and impairment of the will and capability for cooperation on climate protection, public health, and other vital matters.

The proximate cause of the crisis is Russia's menacing behavior, including deployment of troops and equipment near the border with eastern Ukraine and in Crimea and Belarus, and conducting a nuclear forces exercise in Belarus.

Especially in context and combined with Putin's at times bellicose rhetoric, these actions are unlawful threats under the fundamental UN Charter prohibition of the "threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state."

In the case of the exercise, it is also an unlawful threat because it is contrary to general international law to threaten the commission of an illegal act—here the use of nuclear weapons.

Longer-term causes of the crisis are the utterly reckless declaration, made in 2008, the last year of the second George W Bush term, that NATO membership is in principle open to Ukraine and Georgia; and more broadly the long history since the mid-1990s of US and NATO disregard of Russian security interests and proposals.

To take just one example, when the first GW Bush administration determined that the US would withdraw from the ABM Treaty, Russia proposed renegotiation of the treaty. The US answer was simple: No.

The United States then proceeded to establish missile defense facilities in Romania and Poland that Russia, with some reason, regarded as destabilizing.

The only rational path is diplomacy. At two Security Council meetings on Ukraine, on January 31 and February 17, this was the refrain of all Council members, including Russia.

Diplomacy is indeed mandated by the UN Charter, which requires member states to "settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered."

As the Russian response to a US proposal conveyed, there is some common ground for negotiation on such matters as limits on military deployments and regional arms control, conventional and nuclear. Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Michael McFaul surveys possible topics in this recent Foreign Affairs article.

However, as Russia has been insisting, what is lacking above all is US interest in addressing Russia's categorical opposition to even the possibility of NATO membership for Ukraine. Instead, the United States has been mechanically saying that foreclosing that possibility is a "non-starter".

This displays a lack of the creativity and imagination that diplomats on occasion are quite capable of putting to good use. Among possible courses of action: neutrality for Ukraine; an alternative European security arrangement; a long-term moratorium on NATO expansion; or some combination of the foregoing and other measures.

Also, a resolution of the status of eastern Ukraine will have to be reached, with the people of that region having a voice in the outcome. Similarly, the status of Crimea will have to be addressed or the issue deferred.

The stakes are very high. Energetic, creative, and determined problem solving is imperative.

© 2021 Inter Press Service

John Burroughs

John Burroughs is Senior Analyst for the New York City–based Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Donald Trump Has Finally Run Out of Places to Hide' as House Dems Get Tax Returns

"It's no longer a question of if he's hiding something big," one watchdog group asserted, "it's a question of what he's hiding."

Brett Wilkins ·

Democrats, Progressive Groups Push DOJ to Publish Database of 'Corporate Lawbreaking'

"The Corporate Crime Database Act will bring transparency to the corporate crime crisis so that the DOJ and other law enforcement agencies can better reckon with this greed-driven menace," said one advocate.

Kenny Stancil ·

As Corporations Enjoy Record-High Profits, Experts Urge Congress to 'Rein Them In'

"Today's record corporate profits mirror what we have been hearing on earnings call after earnings call: Corporations are gleefully reporting that their strategy to burden families with unnecessary price hikes is working."

Brett Wilkins ·

'Egregious': PFAS Firefighting Foam Spills at Notorious Red Hill Naval Facility in Hawaii

While officials said there is no evidence that drinking water was contaminated, the incident generated further local frustration with the closing fuel storage complex.

Jessica Corbett ·

House Passes Paid Sick Leave for Railway Workers Despite Opposition of 207 Republicans

"Now let's get it through the Senate," said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who led the fight to add seven days of paid sick leave to a White House-brokered contract that failed to provide any to railroad workers.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo