It was no surprise when last Sunday’s emergency meeting in Paris between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ended inconclusively. The United States is not prepared to cut a 19th-century-style deal with Moscow to resolve the Crimea crisis, but neither has it articulated a 21st-century response that would change Russia’s calculus.
The Kremlin remains puzzled as to why Washington is not more responsive to its pitch for a settlement for Ukraine that would result in the decentralization, federalization and neutralization of the country. After all, similar arrangements were made as late as the mid-20th century concerning the status of Finland, Austria and Laos. The U.S. would even retain some bargaining chips to utilize on behalf of its interests in Ukraine in such a deal. The same devolution of power that might allow more Russia-leaning regions of Ukraine to forge closer ties with Moscow could be utilized to connect the pro-Western segments of the country in a closer relationship with Europe.
And if a formal commitment to neutrality meant that Ukraine could not join NATO—a prospect that President Barack Obama has already ruled out for the foreseeable future—and could only have a looser affiliation with the European Union, it also would prevent Kiev from being roped into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s planned Eurasian Union or the existing Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization. The status of Crimea, of course, is a separate problem, but even here, some have hinted at a swap that would see Ukraine accept the loss of the peninsula in return for debt forgiveness and discounted energy.