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The safest way to end the Ukraine war

A nuclear missile on parade in Moscow. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty

There’s a growing “Ukraine-victory lobby” that stretches from the US to Finland and Downing Street, says Edward Luttwak in UnHerd. It wants to supply Kyiv with enough military muscle to expel Moscow’s troops from every square inch of Ukraine. But the idea that Russia would accept a “conventional” military defeat is nonsense – and dangerous. Unless nuclear weapons are suddenly “un-invented”, Vladimir Putin will always have that threat to dangle if he thinks he’s losing. There have already been dangerous moments. When Ukraine sunk the Russian warship Moskva, an American reconnaissance aircraft was flying nearby – a perfect excuse, if Putin wanted one, to accuse the US of “complicity” and escalate his military response.

There’s a safer alternative to prolonging the war. Kyiv and Moscow have already agreed “on the broadest issues”: that Ukraine can’t join Nato but can seek EU membership. The big remaining sticking point is trying to work out the fate of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions – and that could be done with an agreement to hold a referendum on whether residents want to remain Ukrainian or join Russia. This model proved “surprisingly effective” after the First World War, preventing border wars in disputed territories ranging from Belgium to Poland. The accompanying ceasefire would enable Ukrainians to begin rebuilding their country. And if Putin doesn’t respect the agreement, the West could just reintroduce sanctions. “All of this is anathema for the victory lobby.” But surely nuclear escalation is “infinitely worse”.