Stop the Ukraine war — now!

by Rich Rubenstein on March 9, 2022 · 6 comments

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Richard E. Rubenstein

The war in Ukraine can must be stopped now, before more Ukrainians or Russians are killed and maimed, by declaring a ceasefire and then negotiating a peace accord.  Ending the rocket attacks is not “rocket science.”  The Russians can halt troop movements toward Kiev and other major cities, stop air and ground bombardments, and suspend further troop mobilizations and shipments of weapons into Ukraine. The Ukrainians can stop attacking Russian troops, and the members of NATO can cease shipping weapons to Ukrainian forces.  Economic sanctions against the Russians by the U.S. and Europe can be suspended pending a successful peace negotiation.   

In fact, this almost certainly describes how the conflict will eventually end: in a ceasefire followed by negotiations.  A decisive victory or defeat for either party is highly unlikely.  An attempt by Russia to re-absorb Ukraine would destabilize that nation for decades, as well as driving the U.S. and NATO to arm Eastern Europe to the teeth – both circumstances that Putin declared to be intolerable prior to the invasion.  By the same token, absorbing Ukraine into the American-European empire would be a pyrrhic victory, further  undermining Russian security and inspiring Russian leaders to unite with China in attacking U.S. interests around the globe.

So, why not avoid the sacrifice of thousands more lives and billions of dollars by ending the war now?  The answer, I fear, lies in two forms of radical misapprehension: the West’s fixation on World War II and the need to punish aggressors, and Russia’s fixation on the Cold War and the need to undo the humiliation and damage suffered following the U.S.S.R.’s collapse.

Allies in World War II, competitors in the Cold War, both parties now seem driven by fear of the other.  The U.S. and their NATO partners claim to see Putin as a new Hitler or Stalin who will continue to conquer other nations unless stopped by superior military and economic force.  The Russians claim to see the West as aggressive imperialists who not only won the Cold War but continued to expand their realm at Russia’s expense. Each side’s leaders are mortally afraid of showing weakness – yet all understand that continued escalation of the conflict could end in an unthinkable nuclear war.

Russia and the United States, NATO, and Ukraine must therefore agree to come to the table – but who will come first?  The primary responsibility, it seems clear, is on the party whose refusal to negotiate set the stage for the Russian invasion – the United States and the NATO nations. 

There is no excuse for Vladimir Putin’s invasion of a neighboring country.  Not even the destruction wreaked on Russian-speaking Donbas separatists by the Kyiv regime justified this violence.  But “punishing” Putin in ways that prolong and escalate the conflict and that cause suffering for civilians on both sides is horribly counterproductive.  Russia’s resort to force was unjustified, but not unprovoked.  If the West had taken Putin’s concerns seriously enough in the first place to negotiate in good faith about Ukraine’s relationship to NATO and the increasing number of missiles and other arms being placed in Eastern Europe, there would have been no invasion.

What lessons are to be drawn from this? First, Mr. Putin has got to get over the fact that the Soviet Union lost the Cold War and that its Russian successor regimes were treated in a punitive and humiliating way by the West.  That’s history; time to move on.  Second, the West has got to understand that Putin is a ruthless, often cruel nationalist leader, but not the reincarnation of Hitler or Stalin.  That’s history; time to move on.  To insist on arming Ukraine and punishing Russia because of this invasion without calculating the results in terms of lost lives and the possibility of world war, is a knee-jerk, emotion-driven reaction, not a rational or humane policy. 

One further note: just as Putin must stop fantasizing about a Ukraine that “belongs” to Russia as in medieval days, Biden and the European leaders must stop pontificating about the alleged right of all “sovereign nations” to join any military alliance that they like.  As the Westerners should know, national sovereignty is far more flexible in practice than this.  Finland and Austria are sovereign nations in every respect, but they were demilitarized after World War II and prevented from joining either side in the Cold War.  The right of Ukraine to join NATO is no more absolute than was the right of Cuba to join the Warsaw Pact.  These are matters to be negotiated, and you don’t start negotiations by saying that the other side’s demands are non-negotiable!     

One definition of insanity, we are told, is a refusal or inability to learn from one’s mistakes. The Russian invasion was evidently expected to produce a fairly easy victory without serious violence against civilians or the destruction of cities, but Ukrainian resistance and the rustiness of Russia’s military establishment spoiled this scenario. The U.S. and NATO apparently thought that by arming Ukraine and imposing harsh economic sanctions on Russia, they could compel Putin to withdraw his forces.  But these pressures did not deter him from continuing the war, nor did they produce the anti-Putin rebellion that some Westerners hoped for.  On the contrary, the failure of expectations on each side has incited each side’s leaders to escalate the conflict to a tragically destructive level. 

The war in Ukraine has already gone on far too long.  It is time for each side to cut its losses and get back to the negotiating table.  Now – right now! — is the time for a ceasefire. There simply is no alternative to a negotiated peace.  

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Dr. Mary Wade March 10, 2022 at 2:10 pm

Thank you for presenting the conflict from an even-handed perspective, with critical analysis, and a scenario for solution. Question! How does one get the leaders of each side to stop first?
It appears you are suggesting that the first moves should
come from the West. By drawing back their sanctions and stop weaponizing Ukraine, Putin will agree to a cease-fire and sincere negotiations. Who will make this recommendation, the United Nations? What transformative power can break the hold that fear have on both sides of the conflict? In any event, your comments are the first clear constructive approach that I have seen toward mitigating this horrendous situation. Mary L. Wade, PhD


Rich Rubenstein March 27, 2022 at 5:49 pm

Mary, as usual your questions are so on point! In practice, the parties to conflicts like this can negotiate a ceasefire which takes place simultaneously. For example, both sides stop firing their weapons, and may also agree to stop resupplying their forces while peace talks begin. Before all this happens, concessions are made privately or publicly to induce the other side to cease fire. This is happening to some extent now, as Zelensky states that NATO membership is not one of his demands and the Russians state that they do not want to capture Kiev. But what is key to moving toward a ceasefire for Russians to agree not to escalate by using more destructive weapons and the US/Europe to agree to stop supplying the Ukrainians with anti-tank and anti-helicopter missiles. Please see the Point of View Statement being posted tomorrow.


Nicholas Ourusoff March 20, 2022 at 6:13 am

Neoconservative philosophy to use military alliance to promote democracy as the world’s only superpower – is a form of fascism; forcing x to do y against their will is coercion. Sanctions are forbidden by the UN Charter unless authorized by the Security Council.

End war – end all sanctions.


Rich Rubenstein March 27, 2022 at 5:41 pm

Nick, thanks for your note. I agree entirely with the sentiment, although I prefer to talk about imperialism rather than fascism. Imperialism can be domestically “liberal,” as Joe Biden’s policies demonstrate every day. As you say, they are highly coercive. We have just put together a statement as a result of a recent meeting convened at our School — I will post it on this website shortly. Perhaps you will consider signing it!


alan a ehrlich March 27, 2022 at 3:01 pm

R.E. Rubenstein: Just found a FIRST Edition and would like to get it autographed.
I agree that PUTIN should stop Immediately and now resolve his problem with the UKRANIANS.
I usually visit Fairfax weekly for a client and would like to meet you if possible or I can send the book according to your suggestions, Thanks! cell#301-602-4365


Rich Rubenstein March 27, 2022 at 5:37 pm

Alan, thanks for your note. My office is in Arlington; you can send the book there (Carter School, 3434 Washington Blvd., 5th Floor, Arlington, VA 22201) and I’ll be glad to sign it. If you are in the vicinity and want to come in person, drop a note to and we may be able to arrange a meeting.


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