Experts Weigh In on Diplomatic Solutions in Ukraine

May 18, 2022
RM Staff

Can the war in Ukraine be ended through diplomacy? If so, how and when? RM staff have combed through recent commentary by experts on both sides of the geopolitical divide in search of answers. Even before Russian and Ukrainian officials said this week that peace talks were “on pause,” none believed a lasting peace deal could be negotiated anytime soon. That should come as no surprise, given that neither of the warring sides has yet lost hope it can succeed on the battlefield. As Harvard’s Stephen Walt has put it, “the war … won’t end until the protagonists realize that they cannot achieve all their original goals and will have to accept a less-than-ideal outcome.” For some Russian and Ukrainian experts, this is perhaps the only proposition on which they agree with one another.

If the warring sides do manage to negotiate in earnest, a durable peace deal would need to accommodate their minimum security requirements—such as Ukraine’s demand for security guarantees and Russia’s demand for Ukraine’s neutrality. Here are some of the ideas circulating among analysts:

  • A “Ukrainian treaty of neutrality”: Suggested by George Beebe and Anatol Lieven, such a pact would include the security guarantees Kyiv wants, to be provided by U.N. Security Council members plus Turkey, Israel, Canada, Germany and Poland. Russia would drop its objections to Ukraine’s membership in the EU, while resolution of such thorny issues as the status of Crimea and the separatist Donbas republics would have to be deferred.
  • Ukraine remains armed: Rose Gottemoeller, Thomas Graham and Rajan Menon agree that Ukrainian neutrality could be part of the solution and so does Audrey Kurth Cronin; all of them note that neutrality does not mean Ukraine will disarm. Cronin believes Ukraine can take a cue from Switzerland, Sweden and Finland, while Gottemoeller sees Austria as a possible model.
  • A Korea scenario? Harvard’s Graham Allison has compared the situation in Ukraine with the Korean peninsula: He sees Ukraine divided into two parts without a formal treaty, arguing that such a division could allow the Western-allied part of Ukraine to prosper, akin to South Korea.
  • Economy, plus spheres of influence: A peace deal would also have to be accompanied by sanctions relief, according to Samuel Charap, Stephen Wertheim and Lieven. And it would need to provide “for the reconstruction of war-ravaged Ukraine” and for U.S. non-expansion “into the former Soviet space for an extended period,” according to Graham and Menon.
  • Third-party mediator: Chances for a successful deal would be better if talks are brokered by a third party: Allison, Fred Hu and Joe Nye, for instance, believe China could play that role, emulating the U.S. success in brokering peace between Russia and Japan in 1905.

Below, read excerpts from these proposals and others by over two dozen experts pondering how to achieve a peaceful resolution in Ukraine.


Gordon Adams, Distinguished Fellow, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft  

“[W]e will be left with option three when the shooting stops—a stalemate. Russia holding Crimea and Mariupol, as well as much of the eastern Donbas region. … Not a recipe for long-term regional stability. … [T]he U.S. needs to recognize the need for new rules, new solutions if the region is to have a stable security regime… Only a Europe-wide arrangement will ensure that all of the countries feel genuinely secure.” Per Adams, this will require: “a new framework for conventional military forces in Europe,” possibly based on the “now-discarded” CFE treaty; “a new agreement on intermediate-range nuclear weapons, restricting Russian deployments within range of its neighbors and possibly including a U.S. pledge to withdraw its tactical nuclear weapons from Europe”; “new confidence-building measures—inspections, observers, notifications of military deployments and exercises”; possibly “a dispute-resolution process for contested areas”; and, “[m]ost important, the Europe-wide security arrangement would need a new institution. ... It could be a major renegotiation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.” (Responsible Statecraft, 05.14.22)


Graham Allison, Professor, Harvard University

“On the final Saturday of the [Cuban Missile] crisis, Kennedy’s advisors told him he had only two options: attack or accept a Soviet missile base in Cuba as a fait accompli. Kennedy rejected both. Instead, he crafted an imaginative alternative that consisted of three components: a public deal in which the United States pledged not to invade Cuba if the Soviet Union withdrew its missiles, a private ultimatum threatening to attack Cuba within the next 24 to 48 hours unless Khrushchev accepted that offer, and a secret sweetener that promised the withdrawal of U.S. missiles from Turkey within six months after the crisis was resolved. In the complicated multilevel negotiations and diplomacy that will be required to create a similar off-ramp for Putin in Ukraine, the United States and its allies will need even more imagination than Kennedy and his advisors did in 1962. But as Biden and his team rise to this challenge, they can find inspiration in JFK’s finest hour.” (FA, 04.05.22)

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius has cited Allison as saying that Ukraine may be partitioned into western and eastern halves as a result of the current war and that such a division could actually allow the Western-allied part of Ukraine to prosper. “Before the Russian invasion, he [Allison] contends, Ukraine was a failing state—one of the rare post-Soviet republics whose real gross domestic product per capita actually declined after 1991. A future Western Ukraine might become a version of South Korea, according to Allison.” (WaPo, 04.01.22)


Graham Allison with Fred Hu, Founder and Chair, Primavera Capital Group

“At the dawn of the 20th century, … after more than 100,000 Russian and Japanese soldiers died in the bloody battle of Mukden, Russia’s czar and Japan’s emperor were ready to respond to Theodore Roosevelt’s proposal… Could Chinese President Xi Jinping take a page from Roosevelt’s playbook to end the war in Ukraine? … China has strong incentives to end the war. … As Roosevelt put it at the signing of the peace treaty between Russia and Japan: ‘It’s a mighty good thing for Russia and a mighty good thing for Japan.’ If Xi can take the lead to make peace in Ukraine, it would certainly be a mighty good thing for the world.” (WaPo, 04.08.22)


George Beebe, Director of Grand Strategy, Quincy Institute

“To encourage the Russians to end the fighting, we must face the painful reality that they need a viable path toward a future in which sanctions are eased and NATO is not in Ukraine, while at the same time safeguarding Ukraine’s security.” (NI, 03.11.22)


George Beebe with Anatol Lieven, Senior Research Fellow, Quincy Institute

“Ukraine itself is proposing terms that, if backed by a combination of U.S. and European sticks and carrots, stand some prospect of success: a Ukrainian treaty of neutrality, with guarantees from the members of the United Nations Security Council plus Turkey, Israel, Canada, Germany and Poland that they would defend Ukraine from future attack; Ukraine remains free to join the European Union; Russian troops withdraw completely from all the territories that they have occupied since invading Ukraine; Ukraine and Russia hold bilateral negotiations on the status of Crimea and Sevastopol within the next 15 years, promising to take no military action to resolve the issue; the status of certain districts of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces (i.e., the ones forming part of the separatist Donbas republics before the war) to be discussed separately with Russia.” (Responsible Statecraft, 04.07.22)


Arvid Bell, Director, Negotiation Task Force, Harvard’s Davis Center, and Dana Wolfe, Professor, Lauder School of Government, Reichman University, Israel

“The current mix of escalatory and de-escalatory actions by the parties is meant to improve their negotiating positions by influencing the other parties’ perceptions of ‘no-deal options’—i.e., the options that would be left open to them if no deal can be reached. Most dramatically, with Moscow opting to target civilians and lay siege to Ukrainian cities, its goal seems to be to convince Kyiv that it is better off with an unfavorable agreement on Russia’s terms than with a terrible alternative—the complete destruction of Ukraine. For more fruitful negotiations to begin, Russia’s interest in a cease-fire must be heightened, even if it remains lower than Ukraine’s.” (Russia Matters, 03.12.22)


Samuel Charap, Senior Political Scientist, RAND Corporation

“Washington has an interest in long-term stability and a durable peace in a postwar Ukraine and along Russia’s periphery to reduce the likelihood of a conflict like this in the future … The United States and its European partners could use the leverage that they have generated through sanctions to compel Russia to drop its maximalist demands, relieving some sanctions in support of a peace agreement that does not cross Kyiv’s red lines.” (FA, 03.30.22)


Audrey Kurth Cronin, Professor, American University

“Switzerland, Sweden and Finland are non-NATO members with strong militaries, including robust air defense systems. They purchase arms from whomever they wish. … [T]he predominant form of neutrality today is well-armed nonalignment—and a defensive, armed neutrality would appear the feasible option for Ukraine. … EU accession wouldn’t necessarily put Ukraine at odds with being a European neutral.” (WaPo’s Monkey Cage, 03.09.22)


Lawrence Freedman, Emeritus Professor, King's College London

“We can warn him [Putin] of the consequences of escalation but we cannot entice him out of his corner with minor concessions. Perhaps it will take a shock on the battlefield to administer a shock to Russia’s political system. Whatever the prompts, in the end, the major concessions necessary to end this war must come out of Moscow, and they will only come with a realistic appreciation of the tragedy which Putin has inflicted on Russia as well as on Ukraine.” (Comment is Freed/Substack, 03.24.22)


Liana Fix, Resident Fellow, German Marshall Fund, and Michael Kimmage, Professor of History, Catholic University of America

“A provisional peace that preserves [President Volodymyr] Zelensky’s government, brings about a lasting cease-fire, and does not permanently infringe on Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and autonomy (as Kyiv defines the terms) may be attainable. As unjust as it would be, it is preferable to all the actual alternatives.” (FA, 03.23.22)


Thomas Graham, Distinguished Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

“When to negotiate is a delicate question on which the United States and its allies are sure to have different opinions. … The United States should consider … forgo[ing] expansion into the former Soviet space for an extended period. No one believes that any former Soviet state will be ready for membership for years to come. Without necessarily abandoning the Open Door policy, the alliance should make clear that it will not expand eastward while it focuses on its own consolidation.” (CFR, 03.08.22)


Thomas Graham with Rajan Menon, Director, Grand Strategy Program, Defense Priorities

“It is the Ukrainians’ right, of course, to decide the terms acceptable for ending their armed resistance to Russian aggression. But negotiations will not be limited to Ukraine and Russia… [One] challenge is to find an arrangement under which a militarily nonaligned—or neutral—Ukraine can be confident in its security. … A settlement must also ensure that Russia abandons the territories it has occupied since its Feb. 24 invasion and establish a procedure for determining the future status of Crimea and the Donbas statelets… Finally, the settlement must include provisions for the reconstruction of war-ravaged Ukraine.” (FA, 03.21.22)


Hein Goemans, Sarah Croco, Michael Joseph, Alex Weisiger, Thomas M. Dolan and Page Fortna

“At least three hurdles stand in the way of a stable and lasting peace settlement. First, both sides would have to agree on the likely outcome of the war. Second, belligerents face the difficult task of constructing agreements they can trust in the long run. If peace grants one side an opportunity to recuperate and come back stronger, their opponent is unlikely to agree to such terms. And third, even when countries commit to peace, some leaders might still prefer war to ensure their personal political survival.” (WaPo’s Monkey Cage, 03.24.22)


Rose Gottemoeller, Former Deputy Secretary-General, NATO

“To my mind, neutrality would look something like what Austria has today… This notion of demilitarization, even in the Russian mind, as I’ve read it, does not seem to imply a total dissolution of the Ukrainian armed forces. But the Russians seem to be talking about ensuring that there are no large offensive missiles and certain kinds of advanced weapons systems deployed in Ukraine.” (FT, 03.17.22)


Richard Haas, President, Council on Foreign Relations

“In the near term, Western success will be highly unlikely to involve a peace treaty, a true end to the conflict or regime change in Russia. Instead, success for now could consist of a winding down of hostilities, with Russia possessing no more territory than it held before the recent invasion and continuing to refrain from using weapons of mass destruction. Over time, the West could employ a mix of sanctions and diplomacy in an effort to achieve a full Russian military withdrawal from Ukraine. Such success would be far from perfect, just preferable to the alternatives.” (FA, 04.22.22)


David Ignatius, Columnist, The Washington Post

“The most hopeful development I saw in last week's peace feelers was a statement by Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky that, although Moscow rejects Ukrainian membership of NATO, it ‘has no objection to Ukraine's aspirations to join the European Union.’ Maybe that is a building block for a real settlement. For a European Ukraine would represent a profound defeat for Putin's dream of hegemony over Kyiv. That's an essential requirement for a peace deal, along with stopping the killing.” (WaPo, 04.01.22)


Sergei Karaganov, Honorary Chairman, Russia's Council on Foreign and Defense Policy

“For Russia, the only guarantee of our security will be the complete demilitarization of the territorial entity that remains [in Ukraine], along with banning this country from possessing heavy weapons, and creating friendly governments on the territory of Ukraine—on the largest possible part of that territory, but by no means on the entire territory of Ukraine.” (Rossiiskaya Gazeta, 04.12.22)


Anatol Lieven, Senior Research Fellow, Quincy Institute

“The West should back a peace agreement and Russian withdrawal by offering Russia the lifting of all new sanctions imposed on it. The offer to Ukraine should be a massive reconstruction package that will also help Ukraine to move toward the West economically and politically rather than militarily… President Volodymyr Zelensky has publicly hinted that a treaty of neutrality may be on offer; and he is right to do so… As to ‘demilitarization’ and ‘denazification,’ the meaning and terms of these will have to be negotiated… There remains the demand for recognition of the Russian annexation of Crimea. … Our principle in all such disputes must be that the fate of the territories concerned must be decided by local democratic referenda under international supervision. This should also apply to the Donbas separatist republics.” (The Guardian, 03.04.22)

“A treaty of neutrality for Ukraine would have to include certain essential conditions guaranteeing Ukrainian sovereignty and independence. … The first is that Ukraine should have the complete ability to develop its own armed forces to defend itself. … Secondly, Ukraine must retain the right to develop close links with and eventually join the European Union. … Finally, a treaty of neutrality must include a commitment by all the signatories and members of the United Nations Security Council to Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity (with a proviso, suggested by Ukraine, that the status of the disputed territories of Crimea and the Donbas be subject to future negotiation while the use or threat of force by either side to resolve these disputes be banned).” (FP, 04.04.22)


Fyodor Lukyanov, Chairman, Russia's Council on Foreign and Defense Policy

“If things have come to a military clash, diplomatic efforts have clear boundaries. These efforts can become productive only when parties to a conflict come to the conclusion that more cannot be achieved by means of armed force, and that the costs are exceeding a permissible norm. That's when negotiations acquire real substance and an urge to fix [in place] the status quo.” (Rossiiskaya Gazeta, 03.29.22)


A. Wess Mitchell, Principal, The Marathon Initiative

“For fortified neutrality to work, Ukraine would need three things… The first is some guarantee of its continued existence once it accepts neutrality… A second requirement is physical space. Space is to Ukraine what mountains are to Switzerland and lakes are to Finland: the geographic feature that gives it a chance to defend against larger powers. … Finally, fortified neutrality for Ukraine will require sustained economic assistance from the West.” (FA, 03.17.22)


Joe Nye, Professor, Harvard University

“Is there any way to end this nightmare quickly? One possibility is for Chinese President Xi Jinping to see that he has a ‘Teddy Roosevelt Moment.’ After the brutal war between Russia and Japan in 1905, Roosevelt stepped in to mediate. He pressed hard for the parties to compromise and ultimately prevailed, thereby boosting America’s global influence and winning himself a Nobel Peace Prize. The question is whether Xi has the imagination and the courage to use it. The answer, thus far, is no.” (Project Syndicate, 04.01.22)


Alina Polyakova, President/CEO, Center for European Policy Analysis, and Sasha Stone, Senior Program Officer, CEPA

“Together, the [West’s] military support [for Ukraine] and economic pressure [on Russia] are the only way to keep up negotiations. In those negotiations, the aggressor—Russia—will have to make the bulk of the compromises. But Ukraine has signaled that it's open to concessions that it was not willing to make before the war, especially agreeing to not pursue NATO membership, a goal enshrined in Ukraine's constitution.” (WaPo, 04.01.22)


Mikhail Samus, Director, Ukraine’s New Geopolitics Research Network

Mikhail Samus comes to the conclusion that the signing of a peace agreement will become possible only after Vladimir Putin is no longer in power. Before then, "there will be no Minsk [agreement], no Budapest [memorandum] because the Russian president does not see Ukraine among existing states." (RFI, 04.12.22)


Katrina vanden Heuvel, Publisher, The Nation

“[A] long, grinding proxy war with Russia would have severe consequences not only for the Ukrainian people but also for the security interests of the United States and its allies. … Inevitably, the continuing conflict strengthens hawks in both the United States and Russia—and makes any settlement more difficult. … Nuclear arsenals loom in the backdrop. … [For U.S.] officials to now comment about permanently weakening Russia is reckless in the extreme. … [I]t is vital to step back from the emotions stirred by war and assess our real security priorities. …  If Russia conquers the whole of Donbas, as now seems Vladimir Putin’s intent, Moscow may well be readier to talk about a settlement. … Any settlement would no doubt demand withdrawal of Russian forces, probably in exchange for Ukrainian neutrality and territorial integrity, recognition of Russia’s control of Crimea and some kind of federated status for the separatist provinces in Eastern Ukraine. And sanctions would no doubt need to be lifted. The United States and its allies should … acknowledg[e] the geopolitics of a future security architecture—that we welcome a settlement that preserves the sovereignty of Ukraine but that also ends the war sooner rather than later.” (WaPo, 05.11.22)

“The Minsk Accords, terms hammered out in 2015 but never implemented, could offer the outlines of a settlement. They essentially guarantee Ukraine independence in exchange for neutrality… What’s needed above all is a courageous and transnational citizens’ movement demanding not simply the end of the war on Ukraine but also an end to perpetual wars.” (WaPo, 03.11.22)


Stephen M. Walt, Professor, Harvard University

 “The war is likely to turn into a grinding and costly stalemate that won’t end until the protagonists realize that they cannot achieve all their original goals and will have to accept a less-than-ideal outcome. … Russia won’t get a compliant Ukrainian satellite or a Moscow-centered ‘Eurasian empire’ that includes it. … Ukraine won’t get Crimea back or full membership in NATO. … The United States will have to give up trying to bring other states into NATO someday. …  But the real trick will be to devise a settlement that the parties will be willing to live with in perpetuity and not seek to overturn at the first opportunity.” (FP, 03.29.22)


Stephen Wertheim, Deputy Director, Quincy Institute

“The administration should push for a peace settlement with as much vigor as it has displayed in imposing costs on Russia. A negotiated agreement will almost certainly require lifting at least some of the harshest sanctions on Russia, including the freeze of the Russian central bank’s assets. The administration should proactively communicate an offer of sanctions relief to Moscow, which might not otherwise believe that such relief is possible. In conjunction with a pledge by Ukraine to give up on trying to join NATO, Biden should also be prepared to state publicly that the United States opposes further consideration of Ukraine’s membership prospects, which were never high to begin with. After the war, the United States should continue to send weapons to Ukraine to help it defend itself. It would not be necessary or wise to pledge to go to war on Ukraine’s behalf, a commitment that would diminish American security and expand the U.S. military role in Europe.” (FA, 04.12.22)


Olesya Yakhno, Ukrainian Political Scientist

“It will not be a negotiation process, with some real signing of documents, that dominates [the agenda] in the coming weeks but military action, whose results will shape Russia’s real negotiating position; and then it will be possible to talk about real negotiations that may end not so much with a treaty or agreement as with a cementing of the status quo.” (RFI, 04.12.22)

“Today, no one has any illusions about the Russian authorities striving to supposedly talk about peace. … What’s important here? To understand that the time will come … when it won’t be Russia setting conditions for what kind of peace it wants to see. The time will come, instead, when the world will be setting conditions as to what kind of Russia can be negotiated with.” (, 04.23.22)


Konstantin Zatulin, Head of Russia’s Institute of CIS Countries and Russian Lawmaker

“After Feb. 24 … we have no other choice than to win. Without victory, attempts at negotiation will not lead to agreements. And uncertainty will entail much worse consequences for us as a people and a state… For a long period of time, what we are talking about is the existence of two Ukraines—one of which must be de-Nazified and have guaranteed protections against attempts of western Ukrainian revanche. … It is necessary to achieve the maximum possible, the boundaries of which will be determined on the map of Ukraine by the balance of forces and the ability to continue the struggle.” (Russia in Global Affairs, 2022)

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the authors and/or individuals cited. Pixabay photo free for use.