Future of Russia, Europe, needs Ukrainian ceasefire

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

As the first month of 2015 drew to a close, one of the most prominent news stories of 2014 made its way back onto the front pages. When the Ukrainian government stabilized itself last summer, with Petro Poroshenko taking the presidential office, many expected the violence in eastern Ukraine, centered around Donetsk, to slowly fade away.

However, the conflict has festered. The regional Euromaidan protests gave way to an even larger international conflict between the Ukrainian national government and Russian-backed separatist rebels. Many analysts point to a return to an American-Russian conflict much like the Cold War. Even the man who is earmarked to be the next Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, said that he was very much “inclined” to send aid to Ukraine, even if the aid could be labeled “lethal” in nature. CNN has suggested that possible American arming of the Ukrainian armed forces against the Russian-led rebels would take “the worst East-West confrontation since the Cold War into a new and unpredictable stage.”

Such a Cold War-reminiscent framework of the conflict is flawed, with the White House keen to clarify rumors on American involvement in the region. “A decision like this will be made by the Commander-in-Chief,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. The American debate over Ukrainian aid is sparked by reports of a heavy Ukrainian defeat in the East.

The Ukrainian rebels have often been labelled “Russian Proxies.” With a return to Cold War tactics, a group of hawkish Senators led by Senator John McCain have called for the shipment of offensive weapons and arms to Ukraine in order to deter the rebels. America has supplied defensive equipment, such as night vision goggles, to the Ukrainian government, but never military equipment to attack the rebel forces. Such a move could only provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian forces as they would see the need to further attack Ukraine.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a silent peace agreement drafted by the Kremlin was sent to European governments calling for peace in addition to increased autonomy and territory. It was rejected, however, and German and French leaders Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande have traveled to Kiev and Moscow in hopes of hashing out a peace deal.

From a Russian point of view, a ceasefire would be optimal. Putin faces disaster as the funds of oligarchs and politicians who have kept him in power, due to Russia’s economic rise a decade ago and the boom of Russia’s natural gas and oil industry, dry up. The Russian ruble lies in tatters, and the annexation of Crimea and the conflict with Ukrainian forces continue to pile pressure on the Russian government.

Putin also knows that a further push towards Kiev could be disastrous with international powers watching Russia’s every move. Moreover, Ukraine’s economic fate is tied to that of Russia. “He has no way to erode Ukraine’s economy without simultaneously destroying Russia’s,” according to Alexander Motyl, a Rutgers Univesity political science professor, in Foreign Affairs.

These factors must and should be played into negotiations, which suggest that Ukraine can soon reach some sort of ceasefire. Ukraine is a country that needs to be rebuilt. Its government infrastructure lacks stability and anti-corruption measures, and its government is constantly edging near default. The next few days could be key to determining the future of Russia, Ukraine, and all of Europe.