Russia-Ukraine: Diplomacy is the Best Hope for Heading Off a Deeper Crisis
Russia-Ukraine: Diplomacy is the Best Hope for Heading Off a Deeper Crisis
A screen grab captured from a video shows military units of the Southern Military District of Russia on their way to a training site in Rostov, Russia on 26 January, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry / Handout / Anadolu Agency via AFP
Q&A / Europe & Central Asia 20+ minutes

Russia-Ukraine: Diplomacy is the Best Hope for Heading Off a Deeper Crisis

Russia’s ongoing troop build-up near Ukraine has spurred over a month of intense diplomacy as well as new U.S. military deployments to eastern Europe. In this Q&A, Crisis Group experts discuss whether talks can avert war and what happens if they fail.

What’s happening now on the Russia-Ukraine border and where do diplomatic efforts to avert an escalation stand?

Ukrainian and Western intelligence reports say Russia has sent over 100,000 soldiers, plus aviation and other equipment, to its western, south-western and northern borders near Ukraine, as well as into Belarus, the latter ostensibly in support of exercises. Open-source assessments support these estimates, and report that Russian troop deployments are still increasing. The build-ups echo but magnify those of the spring of 2021, when Russia moved a substantial number of troops with heavy equipment to positions near its border with Ukraine, describing the activity as part of military drills. Russia withdrew most of the newly deployed personnel by the end of April but kept much of the infrastructure in place. Since November, it has been building up atop it and at other locations near the Ukrainian frontier. As a result, Russia now has in place the capacity to launch a variety of military actions, ranging in scale from small to very large. Its build-up has continued even as diplomacy has picked up pace over the past few weeks.

Western states have understandably responded with alarm. U.S. and British intelligence agencies have both issued widely reported warnings that Russia may be planning an incursion into Ukraine. On 24 January, U.S. President Joe Biden reportedly spent an hour discussing the situation with European leaders. The previous day, the U.S. State Department had advised families of U.S. embassy staff in Kyiv to come home, out of what it called “an abundance of caution”. Most recently, on 2 February, the White House announced the deployment of some 3,000 additional soldiers to eastern Europe to reassure North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies.

Farther east, the mood seems somewhat more sanguine. Kyiv has urged calm, for the most part, noting that it has been at war (with Moscow-backed separatists in the Ukrainian east) for nearly eight years. Ukraine has also, however, organised civil defence measures such as weapons training for civilians. Russia, for its part, denies the very fact of a build-up in its westerly regions, much less any plans to attack Ukraine, although it is open about the new exercises with Belarus. Russian officials and experts have accused Western officials and media of fear-mongering, but have also alluded to “military-technical” responses if the situation worsens.

Over the last month, Western states have embarked upon an intense cycle of diplomacy with the Kremlin, seeking to avert an even bloodier sequel to Russia’s 2014 invasion, when it annexed Crimea from Ukraine and helped the separatists carve out their self-declared republics. The U.S., its NATO allies and European Union (EU) member states have consistently communicated to Moscow, first, that any new aggression in Ukraine will be met with harsh economic sanctions and a substantial build-up of NATO forces near Russia’s borders and, secondly, that if Russian forces pull back, Western states are willing to negotiate new limits on activities, exercises and deployments in Europe.

Russia has responded with its own demands, framed as two draft treaties, one for the U.S. and one for all NATO members, both of which it published on 17 December. These would have the alliance pledge not to expand to any more former Soviet countries; to pull all military forces back to countries that were already members when the Soviet Union collapsed; and to eschew both intermediate- and short-range missile and U.S. nuclear weapon deployments in Europe. The U.S. and NATO both shared with Russia non-public written responses on 27 January. Apparently leaked to El País and published on 2 February, these replies focus on measures Russia and NATO member states could take to limit forces and activities in Europe. Moscow says it views the responses as inadequate, but has promised its own written answers, also sending a letter to all Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) member states on 1 February discussing principles of regional security.

It is still too early to tell what diplomacy might yield. The exchange of documents has been accompanied by meetings, some in person and some virtual or by telephone, with more planned. But these have yet to generate signs of major progress. Russia has made clear that it wants to talk primarily to the U.S., although President Vladimir Putin has maintained dialogues with several European leaders. The first meeting of the NATO-Russia Council since 2019 took place on 12 January, after which Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko reported that the talks demonstrated that the alliance and Russia had “no positive agenda”. Later, upon the receipt of the U.S. and NATO written responses to Russia’s draft treaty texts, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov ridiculed NATO’s response as ideological, noting that he felt “a bit embarrassed” for its authors.

Moscow’s frustration with this status quo may be at the core of the timing of the present crisis.

What has been the main focus of this recent diplomacy and why?

For the most part, talks have focused less on Ukraine itself and more on European security more broadly. Both Russia’s demands and the NATO and U.S. responses deal with overall deployments and activities throughout Europe, not just in and around Ukraine.

The Western offer to negotiate with Moscow on European security, rather than Ukraine in particular, and the Kremlin’s counter-offer in the same vein reflect an underlying reality about Russia’s motivations in this crisis. To a great extent, the unresolved nearly eight-year war in Ukraine has been driven by Moscow’s frustration with the European security architecture that has evolved since the Soviet Union fell and the Cold War ended three decades ago.

The war in Ukraine was spurred in large part by Russia’s fears of perceived U.S.-led Western encroachment into what it regards as its rightful sphere of influence, including Ukraine. The war began in 2014, when Russia, angry at what it saw as the Western-backed overthrow of a leader in Kyiv friendly to Moscow, annexed Crimea and helped the separatists seize and hold territory in Donestk and Luhansk, in Ukraine’s Donbas region. Although the worst of the fighting ended in 2015, low-intensity clashes have continued in Donbas ever since. Russia supports the separatists with forces, equipment and funds, but denies that it is party to the war, describing it as an internal Ukrainian conflict. Meanwhile, Ukraine has turned ever more to Western states for help and support.

Russia had hoped to prevent Ukraine’s greater Western alignment through the Minsk agreements, signed in 2014 and 2015 as part of ceasefire deals in Donbas. Those accords’ terms, according to Russia’s understanding, would grant separatist-held areas “special status”, giving them and therefore Moscow a de facto veto over aspects of Ukrainian security and foreign policy. Moscow thus aimed to curtail and reverse Ukraine’s growing closeness to Western states and aspirations for NATO and EU membership.

But implementation of the Minsk agreements quickly froze, and the end result has been the reverse of what Moscow sought. Although Kyiv’s official line is that Ukraine will implement the Minsk agreements when and if Moscow holds up its side of the deal (which is to say, the withdrawal of forces and support from the separatists), many officials view those accords as setting the terms for an unjust victor’s peace. Russia’s policies since 2014, particularly its support for the breakaway regions, have only deepened hostility to Moscow among Ukrainians. Meanwhile, Western states’ assistance to Kyiv has grown, heightening Moscow’s perception that it is under siege.

Moscow’s frustration with this status quo may be at the core of the timing of the present crisis. Over the past two years, negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv over Donbas have made no progress – negotiators talk, virtually or in person, but, as after a 26 January meeting between emissaries from Moscow, Kyiv, Paris and Berlin (the so-called Normandy Four format for Donbas-related negotiations), emerge only with promises of more discussions to come. Russian officials have spoken of the Kremlin’s frustration with Ukraine’s leadership, suggesting that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, like his predecessors, has “fallen under the influence of radical elements”. In the autumn of 2021, Kremlin-linked analysts talked to Crisis Group about the possibility of a military operation intended to force the Zelenskyy government from power, to be replaced by one friendlier to Moscow. More recently, Western intelligence agencies have claimed to have uncovered plots to do just that.

Thus, the build-up around Ukraine may be intended to force a change in Kyiv, but the negotiations between Western states and Russia seek to address wider challenges that have made the Ukraine crisis possible. As such, while resolution of the situation in Ukraine might alleviate the immediate risk of war, which would be tremendously welcome, it would still leave an unstable overall security environment, prone to new crises, unless Western states and Russia together take steps to resolve their other grievances.

Why are the Russians so worried about NATO encroaching on its perceived sphere of influence?

The Kremlin is convinced that NATO and the EU have been pursuing expansion into the countries of the former Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union, with the goal of placing Russia at a strategic disadvantage. Several former Warsaw Pact states, including Poland and Hungary (not to mention East Germany in its post-merger form), have joined both organisations, and three former Soviet republics, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, are now members as well.

In Moscow’s view, the eastward expansion of Western institutions is a zero-sum game that limits Russia politically, militarily and even economically. The NATO and EU membership of states bordering Russia ensures that Washington and its allies maintain continued military superiority, and thus coercive power, over Moscow in its neighbourhood. What NATO sees as assurance activities for new member states nervous about Moscow and deterrence against potential Russian interference, Moscow sees as a growing threat on its borders—and, as Lavrov’s 1 February missive suggests, a violation of past pledges by all OSCE states not to strengthen their security at the expense of others’. The prospect of Ukraine, which senior officials, including President Putin, see as historically and culturally all but conjoined with Russia, becoming a member of NATO, with both the alliance’s mutual security guarantees and also its imperatives to align policies, is a red line for Moscow.

But even the present level of cooperation, which falls well short of membership, raises concerns for the Kremlin, which sees peril in NATO member state training missions on the territory of a hostile Ukrainian state. Russia’s official objections focus on the risk that these missions allow the deployment of NATO weaponry just over its border in Ukraine. Moscow may also be worried, however, that Kyiv’s Western partners will increase Ukrainian military capacity and thus reduce the prospective effectiveness of Russia’s military pressure on Ukraine.

Russia also sees NATO expansion – for which it mostly blames the U.S. – and that of the EU as breaches of faith. In 1997, in recognition of Moscow’s concerns about the first post-Cold War round of NATO enlargement, which began in 1999, the alliance’s members and Russia signed an agreement, the NATO-Russia Founding Act. This deal committed alliance members to eschew permanent stationing of allies’ substantial combat forces on the territories of new member states. Although the word substantial was never defined for purposes of the agreement, parties have tended to interpret it as indicating brigade-sized units. Following the Act, NATO has indeed avoided deploying large numbers of troops to the territory of members who joined since the 1990s.

But NATO members feel that Russia has also violated the Act, which also called for peaceful resolution of conflicts and respect for sovereignty, through its belligerence in Ukraine and also Georgia, where it has used military force and supported breakaway regions, as it has also continued to do in Moldova, for example. New members, particularly, express concerns that Russian aggression in Ukraine might one day mean Russian aggression directed at them. As a result, since the beginning of the war in 2014, the alliance has rotated forces through territories of new member states and nearby, embarking on substantial assurance missions of ground, naval and air presence in the Baltic and Black Sea regions.

Moscow, meanwhile, has been building up its own forces in its Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic coast and the annexed Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea. The accelerated exercise and activity schedule on both sides has led to an increase in incidents involving Russian, Western and Ukrainian military forces. These include both accidental encounters and intentional provocations (such as aircraft buzzing ships). In the Black Sea, Russia’s claims on Crimea mean that its definition of its territorial waters around the peninsula are at odds with those of others sailing through the sea, which continue to view Crimea as under Ukrainian sovereignty. As the various parties operate around Crimea according to these different interpretations of international law as it applies to the peninsula, the opportunities for mishap are significant.

Ukraine stands to lose lucrative gas transit fees if more gas reaches Europe via routes bypassing its territory.

Could a Russian military operation succeed?

That depends on what the Kremlin might be trying to do. Russia has a military of proven prowess and skill. It outmatches Ukraine’s also capable, but substantially smaller armed forces in size, firepower and a variety of capacities. Ukraine’s limited air defences would be no match for Russian air power, if deployed in force. Even for a smaller operation – for example a land grab in the south, as some have speculated Russia might attempt in order to limit costs but still coerce Ukraine –  Russia simply brings more to the table, including the ability to escalate, as it demonstrated in 2014 and 2015 with its reinforcement of separatist forces.

But if Russia’s goal is to use military force to replace the Zelenskyy government with its own allies, the Ukrainian public’s hostility to Moscow (which would only increase in the aftermath of another invasion) will complicate its efforts. Any attempt to stage elections that have any degree of credibility following a Russian military campaign will surely usher in a more nationalist and anti-Russian government than Zelenskyy’s, which campaigned to victory on a peace platform. Against this backdrop, if Russia seeks to instal a friendly government with any staying power, it would likely have to occupy large parts of Ukraine. Such an occupation would be costly and painful, as Ukrainians, likely with Western support, would resist. Moreover, even if Moscow underestimates the size and likelihood of Ukrainian resistance, it should be well aware of the challenges of administering territory, given the experience of its proxies in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, which have suffered a precipitous economic decline.

If Russia’s goal is to improve its security vis-à-vis Western states, it is hard to imagine a way in which escalation in Ukraine would not lead to the opposite result. Western states are threatening severe economic sanctions if Russia takes new military action against Ukraine. They are also planning to significantly escalate military build-ups on the territories of NATO’s easternmost member states – what the Biden White House has lately called “our eastern flank”. Such measures will increase, not decrease, the sheer amount of NATO weaponry near Russia’s borders.

What kind of support does Ukraine want and what are Western powers giving it?

Ukraine has voiced a desire for financial and military support, which has drawn a variety of European states to, indeed, send weapons, trainers and other equipment. The U.S., UK, Canada, Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, Turkey and non-NATO member Sweden were already providing through various arrangements trainers and military gear, including anti-tank systems, ammunition, crucial communications equipment, and radar instruments and drones. In recent months, the U.S., UK, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland have promised or delivered new lethal equipment. The deliveries will not shift the military balance to enable a Ukrainian victory, but they will make it possible for Ukrainian forces to inflict more pain, and they serve a symbolic purpose in demonstrating Kyiv’s friends’ support.

Ukraine has also sought membership in the NATO alliance since before this crisis. But although the alliance publicly stated in 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia would both one day become members, neither state has been offered a Membership Action Plan, which would indeed set them on their way. Indeed, officials admit privately that there is little appetite within NATO to enlarge, and particularly to these two countries, in part because most current members do not want to be obligated to defend Ukraine in the event of an attack. Frustrated by the mismatch between NATO rhetoric and actions, Zelenskyy recently called on Brussels to “tell us openly we will never get into NATO” if that is the case. But as discussed below, the alliance is very unlikely to do that.

Zelenskyy’s frustration with Western states extends to their rhetoric on the Russian build-up, which he criticised as overblown, given that the country was already at war. Ukrainians note that Russia has and is continuing to utilise a wide range of covert options from cyberattacks to psychological and economic pressure on Kyiv to get what it wants. Meanwhile, Zelenskyy argued that Western discourse and its focus on an escalated war’s possible imminence was harming Ukraine’s economy as its currency weakens and investor fears grow. At the same time, he has called on friends in Europe and North America not to wait for Russia to take new military action, but to impose some of the threatened sanctions – such as those that would prevent the opening of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, now on hold – immediately. Ukraine stands to lose lucrative gas transit fees if more gas reaches Europe via routes bypassing its territory. Western states, for their part, have made clear that they view the threat of sanctions as crucial to deterrence, and thus to be imposed only if Russia takes further aggressive action.

What would the repercussions be for Ukraine, Russia and the West if the situation escalates?

Ukraine would certainly suffer most grievously and immediately. Alongside the bloody, destructive mayhem of invasion, vulnerable Ukrainians would surely have to flee their homes, creating large numbers of internally displaced people within the country, and likely refugee flows into Poland, Russia and perhaps other neighbouring states. The human, social and economic costs would be substantial and long-lasting.

Russia, however, also faces big risks. Although Moscow has a broad range of scaleable options for use of force in Ukraine, none is easy or cost-free. Ukraine’s army has grown steadily more capable since 2014, both on the strength of its native defence industry and personnel and with a bit of help from Western partners. As noted above, neither these advances nor the recently increased weapons flows will be enough to give Kyiv a chance at rebuffing a Russian offensive. But they do help ensure that Russia will face a fight if it launches one. Should it seek to occupy Ukrainian territory, Russia will likely meet with civilian resistance as well. Although the ferocity may vary from region to region, many Ukrainian civilians are ready and able to pick up guns, throw Molotov cocktails and worse – as they did in 2014. A lengthy occupation would not only be dangerous for Russian troops but could also do tremendous damage to Moscow’s global reputation and siphon off valuable resources in perpetuity.

Russia will also suffer costs as a result of the economic and military measures Western states have indicated they will take in response to an escalation, which go far beyond past sanctions. The actions President Biden threatens, such as dollar bans on Russian banks and drastic limits on technology exports to Russia, would hurt all industries and could cripple much of the Russian economy, affecting ordinary Russians severely. Russia could see the ruble plummet by 20 per cent, according to an estimate by the Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital, and an outrush of money from the debt and stock markets. A decision to curtail the opening of the all-but-complete Nord Stream 2 pipeline for Russian gas would deal Moscow a big blow. While Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom has a number of alternative pipeline routes to Europe bypassing Ukraine to the north and south, Nord Stream 2 is a keystone of its long-term export strategy to grow its share of the European market.

U.S. sanctions on Russian energy exports, if imposed in spite of the hefty cost Europe would have to bear, would hit hardest. But even if the crisis ends soon, the doubts it has spurred over Russia’s reliability as a supplier may accelerate European countries’ efforts to reduce their dependence on Russian supplies, draining the Kremlin’s coffers over the long term.

Other steps will be more symbolic. The West is likely to impose more sanctions against members of the Russian elite, as well as against Russian financial institutions.

A protracted Ukraine crisis could also create risks for the Kremlin on the domestic front. In the near term, it has little to worry about. In a December poll, half of Russians blamed the U.S. and NATO for escalating tensions and 16 per cent blamed Ukraine. Only 4 per cent blamed Moscow. But if conflict is protracted, Russian forces take casualties and economic costs keep mounting, people could change their minds. Many Russians are already doubtful of the benefits of Moscow’s other military adventures, although the link between this sentiment and overall government approval is not fully clear.

Meanwhile, EU and NATO member states would also take an economic hit. In an interconnected global economic system, any economic steps that will truly hurt Russia will also hurt the states that impose them. The Russian economy may not be the world’s largest, but it’s big, and Russia is one of the EU’s largest trading partners. Blows to the Russian economy will reverberate in volatile markets around the world as policymakers struggle to revive economies laid low by the pandemic, with implications for a wide range of sectors, possibly for some time to come. European states, already in the throes of their worst energy crisis since the 1970s, are most at risk, particularly if the U.S. decides to take steps to limit Russian exports or if Russia takes the unlikely, if no longer unthinkable, step of cutting off or throttling supplies. Today, Moscow is fulfilling all its contractual obligations to European buyers, but some have accused it of holding back gas to put pressure on Western governments. In the event of an escalation, market jitters would send prices to new heights, driving up costs painfully for people across the continent.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, an escalation in Ukraine now will doubtless mean an uptick in tension elsewhere in Europe, making an already shaky security environment that much less stable. The military build-ups NATO is already beginning to implement will be answered by Russia, engendering more of the same and escalating a pattern begun in 2014, since when Russia and NATO member states have engaged in build-ups and exercises, particularly around the Black and Baltic Seas. NATO countries will place more troops and military assets near the Russian border, particularly in those already volatile regions. Russia will surely match these deployments, setting the stage for more nerve-wracking encounters between rival forces. While such encounters will not themselves mean conflict, they and likely concomitant cyberattacks will increase tension and rancour, such that the next crisis will be that much more dangerous, as both sides fear the other’s perceived aggression.

The security environment will get more hazardous still if the West, as is to be expected, ratchets up its support for Ukraine, particularly in the event of a Russian occupation. If more weapons are accompanied by more trainers, and particularly if volunteers from Western countries decide to join the fight, the risk of casualties among NATO member state citizens will grow. In the worst, most frightening scenario, confrontation in Ukraine could touch off an escalation that brings fighting onto the territory of NATO member states. If that happens, the alliance as a whole could feel it needs to respond, and the situation would reach a whole new level of peril. 

What's the best way to de-escalate the crisis?

Western states and Ukraine have two options at their disposal that would be very likely to prevent escalation, but that they are very unlikely – and indeed would be unwise – to take. One is giving Russia what it wants. The other is threatening military action by NATO member states in support of Ukraine.

NATO members are not taking the first option seriously. Russia’s laundry list of requirements is unacceptable to them for several reasons. While the alliance has no plans to grow at present, it has a longstanding “open door” policy, which means that if it decides to admit new members, it will do so. Moreover, in 2008, NATO pledged that Ukraine and Georgia would be members one day. Although they are not looking to admit these countries any time soon, alliance members do not want to rescind the open-ended promise. Meanwhile, while the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act prohibits the permanent stationing of substantial NATO forces on the territories of new members, many of those new members see the smaller, rotational forces on their soil as critical for security, not least because they believe them crucial to dispel any thought Moscow might have of aggressive action. Finally, Western governments are no doubt worried about the precedent they might set by appearing to cave in to Russian gunboat diplomacy and the possibility that domestic political opponents will try to tar them as weak.

Nor is the second option on the table. Ukraine is not a NATO member, and thus no NATO member state is obligated to come to its defence in the event of an attack. This situation is no accident – the alliance has little desire to enter a war with Russia. Such a war would be bad enough if fought with conventional weapons. But as it would involve four of the world’s five recognised nuclear weapon states (the U.S., UK, France and Russia), the risks of escalation are terrifying to all concerned.

Other proposals that look to mollify Russia in other ways are also hard to see as feasible. One would entail pressuring Ukraine to implement the Minsk agreements in a way that Russia would accept. That would commit Kyiv to holding elections in the breakaway regions while Russian-backed separatist proxies retain control and then reintegrating these territories into Ukraine’s politics in a way that would give the proxies, and therefore Moscow, a veto over Ukrainian foreign policy choices. Another oft-proposed solution is to push Ukraine to commit to neutrality, such that it never seeks NATO membership. But the first option is politically untenable for any Ukrainian government, including Zelenskyy’s, which might well prefer to fall to invasion than to yield core sovereign prerogatives to Moscow. The second has the same problem, and also suffers from having failed already: Ukraine’s pre-2014 constitution committed the state to non-bloc status and averted neither Kyiv’s decision to seek NATO and EU alignment nor Russia’s intervention. That constitution has now been amended to include a government pledge to pursue NATO and EU membership.

In any case, Western states are hardly eager to press Kyiv to make such concessions, believing that doing so would send a message of their own weakness to Moscow. Nor has Moscow indicated that neutrality would satisfy it: all evidence suggests that it wants a pliant, not neutral, Ukraine.

Instead, the U.S. and NATO have tried to find a way forward that increases both the costs to Moscow of a military escalation and the benefits of avoiding such a step. On one hand, they threaten severe sanctions in response to new Russian moves against Ukraine, paired with substantial military build-ups along NATO’s eastern flank, which are now poised to begin even before Moscow takes any additional action in Ukraine – the reverse, in effect, of Moscow’s desired rollback to the military balance of 1997. On the other hand, while rejecting Moscow’s specific proposals, they have indicated willingness to discuss limitations on military exercises and activities in Europe, perhaps along with some deployments, for instance of short- and medium-range missiles. If Moscow comes to the table, it’s possible that more, including even constraints on NATO enlargement and agreements to disagree on Ukraine, could be placed upon it. But deals on these issues would take time to negotiate, and Western states are willing to have these conversations only if Russia recalls its forces from near Ukraine’s borders.

Broadly speaking, this path – opting more for diplomacy than military measures – is the right one. If successful, Europe could come out of this crisis with the promise of more security than it now enjoys, even though negotiations will take time and more crises may emerge along the way. Talks about the European security architecture would have to be paired with negotiations over the continuing war in Donbas, given that progress on one likely requires and can facilitate progress on the other.

Sadly, though, the fact that this approach is correct does not mean it will succeed. Moscow may expect sanctions, which have been piling up since 2014, and a greater build-up of NATO forces, which as noted is already under way, whatever it does. It may perceive that military action in Ukraine will, in fact, strengthen its negotiating position, proving its seriousness and perhaps delivering the fait accompli of a new government in Kyiv. Indeed, Moscow has not even said it will back away from Ukraine if its terms are met. To the contrary, it insists that it bears no responsibility for the present crisis, which it lays at the West’s doorstep, and asks whether Ukraine may be preparing its own military operation to root out the separatists in Donbas (of which there is no evidence).

Moscow’s next steps could shape European security for years, perhaps even decades, to come. Negotiations could open a window for rethinking a European security architecture long in need of an overhaul. An escalation in Ukraine, on the other hand, would almost certainly rule that out, at least for the foreseeable future, make the continent far less stable and entail enormous costs, primarily for Ukraine but also for Russia itself and the rest of Europe.

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