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A Way Out for Ukraine and Russia

LONDON – The leaders of Russia and Ukraine will meet in Astana, Kazakstan, on January 15 to discuss, once again, an end to the fighting that has roiled eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region since last spring. Hopes for a viable agreement are not high.

One reason why the crisis in Ukraine has proved so difficult to overcome is that its roots stretch far outside the country’s borders. Finding a genuine solution will require the resolution of a dispute between Russia and the West that dates back to the 1990s, before Russian President Vladimir Putin came to power.

At its heart, the conflict in Ukraine is about a disagreement over NATO’s expansion into what Russia regards as its “near abroad.” Fortunately, a solution is possible – but it will require a reworking of Europe’s security architecture.

Both sides are deeply committed to their positions. In November, Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told the BBC that Russia required a “100% guarantee that Ukraine will not join NATO.” That is a promise that Western countries will be unable to provide. For them, what is at stake is the principle that sovereign countries have the right to chart their own course, rather than be entangled in a larger power’s sphere of influence.