News | Jan. 9, 2023

Let's Make a Deal? Ukraine and the Poor Prospects for Negotiations with Putin

By Frank G. Hoffman FPRI

Editor’s note: The Russian invasion of Ukraine has arguably been the most significant geopolitical event of 2022. Beginning with Dov Zakheim’s comments in the Spring 2022 issue, Orbis authors have discussed the ramifications of the invasion. As we approach the one-year anniversary, Revisiting Orbis will be offering updated commentary from its contributors, starting with this first essay from Frank Hoffman.

What would Monty Hall say about the odds of a peace deal in Ukraine? I am probably dating myself in this reference to a popular TV show from the 1960s. Hall was the show’s host which was based on colorfully dressed contestants being asked to select between different options. The selected audience members had to make choices between something presented at hand before them like a large amount of cash or something hidden behind a curtain. The prizes included consumer items like cars, jewelry or vacation trips, or gag items like a goat. Those that guessed wrong went home empty-handed or with their goat.

The combatants in Ukraine face a similar choice. Should they take what they have or hold out for a nicer prize? This article will explore the ongoing debate about the potential dangers associated with negotiating an end to the Russo-Ukraine war. There are several advocates calling for a deal but few ideas on what the negotiations should include. In fact, many Western analysts seem to think it is entirely an affair between the combatants. This ignores the strategic interests NATO and other contributors have in the endgame, and the costs and huge risks they are incurring. After outlining the debate and some potential implications, a framework for a deal is offered. It is a notional agreement as a starting point, and it crosses announced red lines from both antagonists. 

Ukraine has defied expectations and admirably defended its sovereignty. It still has quite a way to go to eject Vladimir Putin’s armed forces and hirelings. A bitter frozen conflict could last for some time despite the tenacious and creative defense of Ukraine’s determined military. But it is time to start thinking about the end game. Sketching out the compromises and hard choices for Russia’s termination of its “Special Military Operation” is not an exercise in optimism or wishful thinking. Understanding what the West desires out of this conflict and what is the objective in terms of relations with a defeated Russia is a clear strategic question for US policymakers at this point in time.  

Read the rest at FPRI here - 

Dr. Frank Hoffman is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, Center for Strategic Research at National Defense University. The views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect those of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.