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The short answer is: It’s possible.
Suspicion abounds over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions, with considerable fears that a Russian diplomatic opening is a ruse to buy time to gather reinforcements for a second-phase assault. Putin is certainly not talking like a man of peace. This week, he called Russians who opposed the invasion “traitors” and “scum,” while seeking to portray the war as nothing short of a struggle for Russia’s survival. But with the tenacious Ukrainian resistance exceeding expectations in the face of a far superior Russian force — and with Western sanctions slamming the Russian economy — there’s a chance the new battleground calculus has the Kremlin fishing for a consolation prize. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke this week of “hope for reaching a compromise.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address that the Russians are being “more realistic” at the negotiating table.
With the two sides far apart, what could a deal look like?
1. Neutrality: For Russia, an insistence on Ukraine’s neutrality is probably the most important demand. The war is rooted in Ukraine’s desire to join the West, aspiring to prosperity and self-determination through memberships in NATO and the European Union. A thriving democracy on Russia’s border linked to the West — especially one filled with as many Russian speakers as Ukraine has — could serve as a tempting model for the Russian people, endangering Putin’s autocratic grip. Publicly, though, Putin claims that Kyiv’s lurch toward the West amounts to a security threat for Moscow, even though Washington and its allies have put Ukrainian membership in those clubs on the slow track.