How Do You Negotiate with a War Criminal?
There is only one endgame.
On tonight’s livestream I’ll be joined by neo-lib icon Noah Smith as well as my buddies Will Saletan and Ted Johnson. We’re going to talk about the economics of Ukraine, Russia, and sanctions.
Tonight’s show is only for Bulwark+ members.
I hope you’ll come hang out with me at 8:00 p.m. ET tonight. There’s still time to join and if you can’t make the live show, we’ll post the recording.
We sometimes talk about the invasion in Ukraine with a high degree of abstraction so I want to remind you that this is not an academic exercise. It’s not a war game.
It’s an authoritarian country invading a neighbor without provocation and then committing war crimes. Please read this dispatch from Mariupol and do not forget it:
The bodies of the children all lie here, dumped into this narrow trench hastily dug into the frozen earth of Mariupol to the constant drumbeat of shelling.
There’s 18-month-old Kirill, whose shrapnel wound to the head proved too much for his little toddler’s body. There’s 16-year-old Iliya, whose legs were blown up in an explosion during a soccer game at a school field. There’s the girl no older than 6 who wore the pajamas with cartoon unicorns, among the first of Mariupol’s children to die from a Russian shell.
They are stacked together with dozens of others in this mass grave on the outskirts of the city.
Keep it in mind when we discuss the various possibilities for a negotiated settlement to the war, as we did yesterday.
And then ask yourself: How is a settlement with this Russian regime possible?
2. A History of Lies
In 1995 Russia signed an international agreement promising to defend Ukraine against any military aggression.
In February of 2022 Vladimir Putin said Russia was conducting “purely defensive” “planned” “drills” on the border with Ukraine and that these were “not a threat to any other country.”
After meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, Putin said he would pull back some Russian troops from the Ukrainian border.
A few days later Putin invaded and stated that his goal was to “denazify and demilitarize Ukraine.”
After several days of fighting, Russia announced a temporary ceasefire in Mariupol and Volnovakha so that civilians could evacuate. Russian forces then fired on the fleeing civilians.
Now Russia says it’s willing to make peace. Maybe. Terms and conditions pending. On the same day as this happened:
How does that work?
Ukraine may have one answer to this question; the West may have another.
If you’re Ukraine, you might be willing to tolerate just about anything to stop the killing. Maybe you could publicly forego attempting to join the NATO alliance again while hoping to enter some other sort of alliance—an off-brand NATO. And maybe you could do this with no illusions about your long-term security.
You could hope to rebuild and re-arm and be better prepared should the Russians come calling again.
We could argue over whether this would be the best strategic decision, but we’re not the ones watching our children being buried in mass graves.
But if you’re the West, then no matter what sort of negotiated agreement Ukraine were to strike with Russia, we would have to make our own judgment about sanctions and relations with Putin’s regime.
And here I would submit to you that there is no circumstance short of regime change which should change our disposition.
The Russian regime is a danger. Putin has committed war crimes. He has proven that he cannot be trusted to abide by any of his stated policies or agreements. Whatever agreement Ukraine might make, this Russian government should not be admitted back into the international order. Period. Full stop.
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3. Extraordinary Leadership
I try to never waste your time and I will warn you up front that this is a 9-minute video. But it is an extraordinary display of leadership. This is Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking directly to the Russian people with a message that was designed in a lab to persuade.
This isn’t virtue signaling or sentiment. It’s meeting the Russian people where they are and talking honestly about his own history, the pain his father caused and then suffered from, the beauty and strength of the Russian people, and the truth that is being hidden from them.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has led a weird, wonderful, amazing life. And this is his finest moment.
Here's the kind of peace that NATO should be pushing for:
1. Withdrawal of all Russian troops, including Donbas "rebels", from Ukraine, Crimea and Donbas.
2. EU peacekeepers replacing Ukrainian and Russian troops in Crimea and Donbas
3. UN supervised plebiscites in Crimea and Donbas (Donbas divided into four plebiscite zones) to determine sovereignty. Both Donbas exiles now in Russia and Crimean exiles now in Ukraine and elsewhere can return to vote, without arms, under UN and EU protection. All election results to be final and enforced by the international community.
4. Russia agrees to transfer a substantial portion of currently frozen assets to Ukraine for rebuilding. With the first transfer, lifting of sanctions begins, to be completed when Ukrainian rebuilding is complete.
5. No limits on Ukrainian rearmament, or ability to join the EU. Ten year moratorium on NATO membership, lapsing immediately in the event of any Russian attack on Ukraine or movement of Russian or Belarusian troops within 50 miles of any Ukrainian border.
Jonathon, I own two military style rifles, a Ruger .223 cal. semi-automatic (Mini-14) and a Ruger Mini-30 (7.62x39mm), the latter equipped with a scope. I would like to donate these weapons to the Ukraine forces. Both are in excellent condition (I bought the Mini-30 new; stainless steel barrel and breach); fewer than 40 rounds have been fired through it). I have not fired either of these rifles in over 5 years; I have no use for them. I would also include several hundred rounds of both calibers. Is there any absolutely trustworthy agency I can donate these to and be 100% assured they will reach the folks in Ukraine who need them?