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Proposed Ukrainian/Russian Truce Framework

As this is being published, Russia is continuing its grueling invasion campaign on Ukraine. While Ukraine is certainly performing better than anyone had expected (and Russia performing decidedly worse than anyone had expected), pain and suffering on both sides continue on an hourly basis. Ukrainians are determined to defend their country and their way of life, and while many Russian soldiers are reportedly disillusioned with the campaign, it's still Russia's army and the majority are going to follow orders.

The result is ridiculous levels of human suffering that simply doesn't need to continue.

The following is a proposed truce framework designed specifically to meet the practical and strategic needs of both sides of this conflict. A few notes about what drove the design of this truce framework:

A well-designed truce:

  • Ensures that each side win just a bit more than what they give up

  • Frames the wins such that they are greater than the concessions

  • Introduced novel ideas that intellectually engages both sides as a "breakthrough"

  • Creates a sustainable peace

With that, a Capital D Strategies' Ukrainian/Russian Truce Framework proposal:

  • Ukraine accepts Crimea as officially Russian territory.

When Russia "took Crimea" in 2014, Crimeans were (reportedly) fine with it. There was no resistance at all at the time, and a vast majority of residents supported (and continue to support) accession to Russia. The international community essentially accepted it without a lot of puffery if we're being honest.

This Ukraine concession gives Putin a "win" to tout at home for all of his invasion efforts. Putin's "exit ramp" if you will. This concession for Ukraine is purely political, as Crimeans are broadly already aligned with Russia.

  • The future of the Donbas region: Organize a vote and let them decide, democratically, which country they want to be associated with.

This strategy lets Western-style self-governing rule the day which will annoy the hell out of Putin, but it does give Zelenskyy a tool to say "you might end up with even more of former Ukraine if they think you've earned their loyalty. Let's find out!"* This "jump ball" is neither an overt concession nor a win for either side. The novelty factor is letting the region decide on their own.

* Obviously not a trivial matter running a fair election in the Donbas region, but these logistics would need to be handled by a fair, independent third party that both sides agree to, or held in 6 months by UN representatives, which ever comes first. Until this is settled, the region will remain independent as Russia proclaimed in February. This gives Russia another "win" - but it's a hedged win because while they may delay the election strategically, they cannot delay it forever.

  • Ukraine agrees to never join NATO unless provoked by Russia. If provoked, Ukraine would instantly join NATO.

As the most strategic and novel item in this truce framework, this puts Ukraine's NATO alliance firmly in Russia's court. If Russia leaves Ukraine alone going forward, Ukraine never joins NATO. Which is precisely what Russia claims it desires. But if Russia messes with Ukraine, Ukraine has the opportunity to instantly join NATO (should NATO choose to accept them).

The result? Russia decides if Ukraine joins NATO or not. While this might seem like a win for Russia, it's actually the biggest win for Ukraine - it ensures its security in any future foreign policy situation. While it would rock the world if Ukraine actually ended up beating Russia in the ground war, even if they did so, it would come at the expense of tens of thousands of more deaths. The entire thesis of this truce is to reduce and avoid future casualties.

  • Economic sanctions against the Russian people (not the Oligarchs, or Putin, yet) will be lifted slowly in accordance with how much Russia funds the rebuilding of what they broke/destroyed during the invasion.

This gives the world (and companies) an "on-ramp" to try to get 144 million people back into the global economy. Making Russia a complete pariah state might feel good right now, but it's bad for commerce; bad for everyone else's economy; and bad for the Russian culture. Better if we find a way that provides the world economy to elegantly bring Russia back from pariah status. Russian commitment to rebuild what they destroyed feels remedial enough to justify linking it to sanctions roll-backs.

As a truce framework, this is designed to be a strategic outline of key components and ideas that lead to true truce innovation. The actual details would clearly need to be ironed out to ensure that the major points were as salient and as agreeable as possible. Broadly, we should keep in mind that truces break the status quo, and breaking the status quo requires innovation and ingenuity. Looking at situations through a design lens can help bring useful and practical innovations to virtually any dynamic, including war and peace.

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