Let me start by declaring that I believe this horrific war to be largely unstoppable for any foreseeable future. This very unstoppability is largely misunderstood by naïve, dogmatic or overinvested observers, but it is core to the logic and tragedy of the conflict. Moreover, this unstoppability is now entirely independent of the will of the principal belligerents – that is, neither the Russian nor Ukrainian nor American presidents could immediately and definitively end this war even if they wanted to, so great and complex are its inertial qualities.
The die, in other words, has been cast. Now, what’s to be done to avoid the abyss for humanity?
Most existing serious proposals to end the conflict will manifestly fail to arrest the hot fighting on the ground or, worse still, result in the wholesale internal collapse of one or both of the Ukrainian and Russian states – large-scale collapses that may appear without consequence on social media, but which would quickly redound to the collapse of Europe and multiple post-Soviet states in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, sending destructive shockwaves to the economies and societies of the Middle East, Africa and North America. In other words, global cataclysm.
And yet if this unstoppable war persists on its present course, not only will hundreds of thousands more civilians and soldiers die (including in the forthcoming brutal winter), but a nuclear exchange or accident is far from improbable. Indeed, the very state collapse we ought to seek to avoid in a peace algorithm is eminently possible in the coming year if the status quo fighting continues. Remember – Russia is the world’s largest country by far, with fourteen land borders and several more maritime borders. Whatever its pathologies, its collapse would bleed a century-long destabilization into every corner of the planet.
The three moves to end the fighting are as follows: first, India-led peacekeepers on the ground; second, Israeli mediation of a deal; and, third, a peace agreement that restabilizes and reconnects the three “houses” radicalized by the war – Ukraine, Russia and Europe.
Move 1 – Indian Peacekeepers
Strictly neutral peacekeepers are needed on the ground – immediately, at scale – to separate the warring sides. Full stop. Securing nuclear, energy and other critical infrastructure could also form part of their mandate, as could control of specific domestic and international borders.
These peacekeepers should be led by none other than India. Why? Because the peacekeepers cannot come from NATO or CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) countries. India, then, is the only major country that remains formally neutral, is respected by both Kyiv and Moscow, and has significant peacekeeping experience and resources.
Asian peacekeepers interposed suddenly and starkly betwixt Slavic warriors should signal the full-on end of international hostilities and allow for a rapid pivot to political negotiations.
Move 2 – Israeli Mediation
Neutral peacekeepers on the ground must be matched by neutral, knowledgeable and skillful (even cunning) political-diplomatic mediation. The return to power in Israel of Benjamin Netanyahu paradoxically supplies the talent for the job, for Netanyahu, regardless of his domestic contradictions, is highly respected by both Presidents Putin and Zelensky for his seniority, intelligence and pragmatic relations with both Moscow and Kyiv. In addition, Israel, in my humble assessment, has, outside of the former Soviet countries, by far the best expertise on both Russia and Ukraine, in all the requisite languages and mentalities.