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Defusing the Russia-Ukraine Crisis

The US and its allies are more than justified providing Ukraine with arms to defend itself, as well as threatening to impose severe economic sanctions should Russian President Vladimir Putin decide to launch an invasion. But the US is also right to offer a diplomatic path for Putin if he decides to walk back from the brink.

NEW YORK – In recent months, Russia has positioned a large and capable military force along its border with Ukraine. What we do not know is why (capabilities are always easier to gauge than intentions), or even if Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided on a course of action. Thus far, he has created options, not outcomes.

What comes to mind is July 1990, when another autocrat, Saddam Hussein, positioned sizable military forces along Iraq’s southern border with Kuwait. Then, as now, intentions were murky but the imbalance of forces was obvious. Arab leaders told then-US President George H.W. Bush not to overreact, convinced it was a ploy to compel Kuwait to take steps to increase the price of oil, which would help Iraq recover and rearm after its long war with Iran.

By early August, though, what to many had looked like political theater had become all too real. Invasion led to conquest, and it took a massive international coalition led by the United States to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait and restore the country’s sovereignty.

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