Give Putin What He Wants


Photograph Source: Ivan Mezhui – CC BY 2.0

On October 8, 1962, Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticós told the UN General Assembly that there would be no need for Cuba to possess nuclear weapons were the US to guarantee that it would not invade Cuba as the US had attempted to do the year before.  In other words, Cuba would trade missiles for a US security guarantee.

Now, Russia’s Vladimir Putin is requesting a guarantee that Ukraine will not join NATO.  The US should agree.

*   *   *

Putin is detestable.  As I was writing this, news broke of another massacre in the Central African Republic by the Kremlin-backed mercenaries of the Wagner Group which left 70 people dead.  In Syria, Putin kills innocent men, women, and children in league with Bashar al-Assad and Iran.  He has crushed Russia’s fledgling democracy.  I hate the guy.  But I have to admit that there is nothing unreasonable about the security assurances Putin seeks.  Putin asks for an end to NATO expansion and a guarantee that Ukraine will not join NATO.  This is no more than what the US already promised under the first President Bush.  In 1990, Bush’s secretary of state, James A. Baker III, told Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that if Russia agreed to allow German reunification NATO would not expand “one inch” eastward.

The US soon broke its promise.  Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and the three Baltic States poured into NATO.  Several former Soviet Republics, while not NATO members, cooperate with NATO.  Now Putin sees NATO about to swallow Ukraine.  Of course, he’s worried.

Unsurprisingly, the US has rejected the Russian leader’s requests (always styled as “demands” in US media).  Putin’s reasonable concerns for his country’s security from invasion (recall 1812 and 1941) are dismissed as outlandish demands which Putin is making only so that they will be rejected and he will have an excuse to invade Ukraine with the 130,000 troops he has massed on the Russia-Ukraine border.

A Finlandized Ukraine

Following its defeat in World War Two, in which Finland had fought alongside Nazi Germany, Finland preserved its independence by establishing a modus vivendi with Russia.  Finland would be democratically self-governing while shunning alliances with the West.  Thus, the term “Finlandization” was born.

Finland’s “enforced neutrality,” as Helena Cobban wrote on the blog of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, “allowed Finland to escape the decades of outright Soviet domination that plagued its Baltic neighbors in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia for as long as the Cold War lasted” while allowing Finland to maintain a high standard of living.  Not a bad bargain.

The crisis over Soviet missiles in Cuba was resolved along the lines Dorticós had suggested.  On October 27, President Kennedy’s brother Attorney General Robert Kennedy met secretly with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin.  The US pledged not to invade Cuba and the Soviets pledged to remove their missiles.  (The US also promised to remove its Jupiter missiles from Turkey.)  Nuclear war was averted.

The Ukraine crisis too can be resolved by extending security guarantees to Russia if the US acts fast.  In the three weeks between Dorticós’ address to the UN General Assembly and Robert Kennedy’s meeting with Dobrynin the world came closer to nuclear war than at any time before or since.  Nuclear war between the US and Russia over Ukraine does not seem likely, but we cannot dismiss the possibility of accident or miscalculation.

US Must Look in the Mirror

Does Russia interfere in other countries?  So does the US.  On January 23, the UK claimed that Russia was developing plans to install a pro-Russian government in Kyiv.  That may or may not be true.  If it is true, the US ought to sue Putin for plagiarism; in 2014, the Obama Administration and US media threw their weight behind antigovernment forces in Ukraine which eventually brought down Ukraine’s pro-Russian but democratically elected leader Viktor Yanukovych.

The US should hesitate before it goes charging off halfway around the globe to save Ukraine.  Ukraine hasn’t asked to be saved.  And Ukraine’s democracy is in better shape than democracy in the US.  Only this week, CNN and the New York Times revealed further details of former President Donald Trump’s scheme to enlist the Attorney General, Pentagon, and Department of Homeland Security in seizing voting machines following Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election.  The object of the scheme was to keep Trump in power permanently:  a “self-coup.”  American democracy is flaking away like paint chips from the walls of a condemned building.  It will take more than a touch up job to restore democracy to what it was before Trump.

Finally, it is spectacular hypocrisy for the Biden Administration to wring its hands over lives in Ukraine while it continues to abet Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in snuffing out innocent lives in Yemen.  I’m no dramatist, but let me express what I mean in a three-line playlet:

USA: We must save Ukraine from bloodthirsty Putin.

ME: If the US is so worried about saving human lives wouldnt it be easier to end US arms sales and other support for the Saudis who are killing tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children in Yemen?

USA (muttering): Stupid S.O.B.


Security guarantees to Russia will cost the US nothing.  A neutral Ukraine can retain its sovereignty while sidestepping war.

Give Putin what he wants.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *