MADRID – The recent nuclear deal concluded by six major world powers and Iran represented a triumph of multilateralism. If those same powers – the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany – showed the same will to work together to resolve other disputes, the world might enter a new era of cooperation and stability.
Unfortunately, such a scenario seems farfetched. From China’s activities in the South China Sea to the Islamic State’s continued advance in the Middle East, competition and conflict are threatening long-standing regional orders. But perhaps the most critical conflict – the one whose resolution has implications for all the rest – is in Ukraine, a country that has become central to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s expansionist ambitions.
Russia’s unilateral annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine have ruptured its relations with the West, and Putin has intentionally recreated a Cold War atmosphere by touting Russia’s “conservative values” as an ideological counterweight to the American-led liberal world order. Nonetheless, key issues – the carnage in Syria, the fight against the Islamic State, nuclear non-proliferation, and conflicting interests and competing claims in the Arctic – cannot be resolved without Russia’s involvement.
That is why, as hard as it may be for Western powers, some efforts to appease Russia are unavoidable. The United States should be less dismissive of Russia’s sensibilities as an important power and a major civilization, and Russia’s legitimate security interests concerning its borders with NATO countries must be addressed, not least to keep Ukraine out of a rival military alliance. The Ukrainian parliament’s endorsement, despite strong international opposition, of autonomy for the pro-Russia separatist regions – a solution initially proposed by Putin – is exactly the kind of concession that is needed to restore peace.