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A Diplomatic Way Out in Ukraine

The United States needs to lead a determined NATO effort to give diplomacy a chance to de-escalate the Russia-Ukraine crisis, while readying severe sanctions if negotiation fails. That approach offers the best way to avert a conflict that will produce no winner.

WASHINGTON, DC – During his annual press conference on December 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin railed against NATO enlargement. “How would the US react if we delivered rockets near their borders with Canada or Mexico?” he pointedly asked.

Putin’s increasingly combative rhetoric, coupled with Russia’s huge troop buildup on its border with Ukraine, suggests that the Kremlin is readying an invasion to pull the country back into Russia’s sphere of influence and prevent its accession to NATO. Europe could well be heading toward its deadliest interstate conflict since World War II.

But war is hardly foreordained, given the costs that Russia could face if it invaded its neighbor. Although Ukraine’s military forces are still no match for Russia’s, they would be far better at defending the country than they were in 2014, when Russia grabbed Crimea and intervened in the eastern Donbas region to support pro-Russian separatists. Russian aggression has alienated most Ukrainians, making widespread popular resistance likely if Russia tries to seize a major chunk of the country. Putin can expect not only heavy Russian casualties, but also the severe economic sanctions that the United States and its European allies are currently weighing.