Some time ago I expressed concern that revulsion over Russian interference in US domestic politics and over the Trump/Putin bromance works against a realistic approach to our relations with Russia. Yes, we should oppose Russian wrongdoing, but we still need to arrive at some sort of stable modus vivendi with Russia, which remains the world’s second largest nuclear power. Any resolution of the Russia problem will require our recognition that even thugs like Putin can have legitimate grievances that deserve reasonable accommodation. The biggest of those grievances has been the relentless expansion of an adversarial Cold War alliance—NATO—long after the Cold War ended.
The indignation over Trump’s extortion of Ukraine naturally provokes an unfortunate reaction—it tends to strengthen the dubious idea that the United States and Ukraine must be allies. Dubious because unlike the United States, which is six thousand miles away, Russia has a critical national security interest in Ukraine, which is right next door. Ukraine has been the pathway to invasion of Russia through the centuries. That doesn’t give Russia the right to invade Eastern Ukraine, of course, and it is right for the US to help Ukraine defend itself. But eventually, any US-Russia modus vivendi will have to provide for Ukraine’s neutrality. That means that the often stated US goal of bringing Ukraine into NATO needs to be canned. In return, the Russians will have to get their troops out of Eastern Ukraine and guarantee their neighbor’s territorial integrity. The other Ukraine issue in dispute between the West and Russia—Russia’s annexation of Crimea–should be resolved by means of an internationally supervised referendum that will let the people of Crimea decide their own fate. (They’re mostly Russian, and they will choose to stay with Russia.) If this sounds to you like an excessively conciliatory approach to Russia, check out this article in the current Foreign Affairs by one of G. W. Bush’s leading Russia experts.
It is seldom noted in the impeachment coverage that Zelensky was elected president of Ukraine on a platform that included negotiating an end to the conflict with Russia. I would guess that Zelensky has in mind something along the lines I indicated in the last paragraph. He needs American support in that endeavor, and Trump might well be inclined to give it—whatever its motivations, Trump’s Russophilia is not entirely lacking in positive aspects. Unfortunately, impeachment furor tends to militate against any accommodation with Russia that involves concessions over Ukraine. Trump undoubtedly would like to achieve a modus vivendi with Russia, but his narcissistically amoral incompetence gets in the way.