How to End the Endless War: Ukraine, a New Way Forward

Updated: Aug 29, 2020

By Sean McLaughlin

"In effect, the human being should be considered the priority in a political war and conceived as the military target. The human being has the most critical point in his mind. Once the mind has been reached, the 'political animal' has been defeated without necessarily receiving bullets." ~ U.S. Central Intelligence Agency training manual.

Peace sign on the Ukrainian flag in protest manifestation against war in Ukraine

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On July 1st, the Russian people approved a constitutional amendment that reset Vladimir Putin's Presidential term tally to zero, thus allowing him to remain in office until 2036 potentially. This could make Putin a President for life since he could potentially be 83 years old when his time in office ends. This is bad news for Ukraine because it ends any hope that a change of leadership in the Kremlin will lead to a negotiated end to the Russian backed insurgency in the east. Ukraine needs to now accept this hard reality and take a long-range strategic approach that will change the political dynamics of the conflict in Ukraine's favor.

Putin's Stalemate

Putin has shown that he has no intention of leaving eastern Ukraine or withdrawing his support for the Russian back proto-states of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics. Over the last six years, he has conceded virtually nothing in negotiations, poured resources into Crimea to build infrastructure, and announced that over one million Ukrainian citizens in the occupied territories in the Donbass would be given Russian passports by the end of 2020[1]. These are not the actions of a man who is looking for compromise. Putin appears to be driven by a Cold War ideology that sees an economically stable and fully independent Ukraine as a threat to Russian interests[2]. He seems to have determined that if Russia cannot control Ukraine, then the second-best option would be to thwart Ukrainian attempts at European Union integration and destabilize Ukraine politically and economically[3].

Putin has had some success toward this goal. The conflict has caused vast material and economic destruction in eastern Ukraine. By losing control of the Donbass, Ukraine took an enormous hit to its economy with approximately 25% of its pre-2014 industrial base now inaccessible[4]. There have also been substantial personal costs to the Ukrainian people, with over 13,000 people dead and more than 30,000 injured. There are now an estimated 2 million internally displaced people (IDPs) living in the country[5].

At the same time, costs to Russia as a result of their incursion into Ukraine have been relatively minor. According to estimates from the International Monetary Fund, the targeted sanctions imposed by the west to punish Russia have only curtailed Russia's total economic output between 1.0 and 1.5 percent[6]. The U.S. sanctions on Nord Stream 2 and the Turkish Stream natural gas pipelines have had limited success in slowing down or blocking the building of gas pipelines that would bring Russian gas to western Europe and Turkey[7]. But, the long-standing sanctions against Russia are inevitably having diminishing returns as Russia seeks out new trade partners in Asia and Africa. An example of this being Russian trade with China, which from 2016 to 2019 rose 53 percent[8]. In short, nothing western governments have done has caused Putin to alter his position on Ukraine.

The Fight for Popular Support

Oct. 06, 2019: Thousands Ukrainians attend rally against signing of the Steinmeier Formula on the Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine