Ukraine Accepting Russia's Demands for Ending War Could Be Its Downfall

Russia's demands for ending the war in Ukraine would render the country defenseless, leaving it vulnerable to future aggression in Russian President Vladimir Putin's quest to return Russia to its Soviet Union glory.

The Kremlin's four requirements for stopping the onslaught of attacks on Ukraine give officials a place to start negotiations and Ukraine could compromise on several issues. However, Russia's demand that Ukraine halts its pursuit of NATO membership can't extend to military assistance from NATO countries, and demands that Ukraine demilitarize would be a fatal blow to the country.

"When you're suffering an invasion of your neighbor and they're asking you to demilitarize, it's not an option," Keith Darden, an associate professor at American University's school of international service, told Newsweek. "The only thing saving Ukraine is its military."

Russia vehemently objects to the potential for Ukraine to join NATO, accusing the post-World War II alliance of expanding in the hopes of threatening Russia. Gaining membership has been a top foreign policy priority for Ukraine, as it would strengthen the country's defenses, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky may be open to negotiating on that point.

He told ABC News that Ukraine isn't going to "beg on its knees" to be accepted, acknowledging NATO's reluctance to make Ukraine a member, and criticized the international body for giving into its fear of confrontation with Russia.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sees room for negotiating with Russia on terms of ending the war, but giving up military assistance could be a fatal blow for the country. Zelensky attends a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (not pictured) at the 2022 Munich Security Conference on February 19 in Munich, Germany. Matt Dunham-Pool/Getty Images

"It's clear if you read between the lines that Ukraine will never be a part of NATO," Michael Kimmage, a professor of history at Catholic University and fellow at the German Marshall fund, told Newsweek. Given that Ukraine may never be accepted into NATO, Kimmage called agreeing to the term a "concession on paper" but not in reality. However, it's not a concession Ukraine can make if it means giving up the military aid NATO members provide.

"Ukraine only has one real enemy and that's Russia and what we've learned is that Russia is capable of rapid-fire aggression," Kimmage, who previously served in the State Department, said. "That's not going to change in the future, and Ukraine can't ignore that. It would make [military concessions] very difficult to give."

Once hesitant to provide Ukraine with military equipment because of the potential for Russian provocation, America now has a significant relationship with Ukraine and is providing millions of dollars worth of weaponry. Along with its NATO allies, America helped transport more than 17,000 anti-tank weapons in the last week, according to The New York Times, and is trying to work out a deal with Poland to supply planes to Ukraine. Kimmage was skeptical that Putin would allow the aid to continue.

Former President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker estimated in 2016 it would take 15 to 20 years for Ukraine to be accepted as a NATO member. But, Bruce Jentleson, a professor at Duke University and a fellow at the Wilson Center, told Newsweek the war may have "fundamentally changed" opinions on Ukraine's membership.

Putin's attacks on women and children, schools and medical facilities reinforced the belief that there's a serious "security threat" to Ukraine and by extension, other countries if it falls. But, with Russia threatening retaliation against any countries that interfere with its plans, the cost of admitting Ukraine may not outweigh NATO's own interests.

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Giving up military assistance from western countries could leave Ukraine in an extremely vulnerable position if Russia decides to attack again. A serviceman of Ukrainian Military Forces looks out from his tank prior to the battle with Russian troops and Russia-backed separatists in Lugansk region on March 8. Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images

Much of the world, including Russia, underestimated Ukraine's ability to mount a defense against Putin's military might. In the weeks since forces started moving through Ukraine, the Ukrainian people have launched a fierce resistance. Civilians have taken up arms, stood defenseless in front of military vehicles and vowed to fight to the end. Military members have refused to surrender, even at the cost of their own lives.

Pentagon officials told the Times that military aid from the U.S. has helped give Ukraine the ability to target a miles-long Russian military convoy. Maintaining that status quo—where Ukraine isn't a NATO member but receives military assistance—would be a "perfectly, survivable arrangement" for Ukraine because it's shown it's "quite capable," according to Darden. Losing that support, though, could be devastating in the future.

"I think it would be great to have a deal that would stop the invasion of Ukraine, but it shouldn't be a deal that's going to make it less costly for the Russians to attack in the future," Darden said. "Ukraine's shown that they can make a Russian invasion extremely costly with Western assistance."

Giving in to Russia's demands about Crimea and the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk may be a more realistic place to begin negotiations. Nikolay Koposov, a distinguished professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told Newsweek that he thinks Ukraine could do "very well" without the Donbas regions. The problem Ukraine faces, according to Koposov, is that Ukraine needs its own people and the world to see it win the war.

"Ukraine—as most other countries—could very well live without some parts of its territory—and Russia does not need Donbas either. This is a matter of principle. Putin wants to be seen as a winner—and Ukraine and the West cannot afford to allow him to win," Koposov said.

Kimmage noted that the separatist regions have been embroiled in conflict since 2014 and the most recent invasion will likely leave them "ruined and wrecked." So whoever takes control of the areas will have to take on the financial burden of paying for their reconstruction.

Zelensky told ABC News that there may be room to compromise on Russia's demands for the separatist regions. It won't happen without discussions as to what life would look like for people in the area who want to be part of Ukraine, according to Zelensky, and their fate has to factor into his decision since he was elected to represent the people.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has a few demands to end the war in Ukraine, but Ukrainian officials are unlikely to agree to the terms as they stand now. Protesters demonstrate against Russia's invasion of Ukraine February 26 in Berlin. Cigdem Hizkan/dia images/Getty Images

Jentleson denied that Putin's terms would be agreed to as they currently stood, but saw room for a diplomatic deal in the separatist regions. He said there would have to be a "genuine process" for the people in those regions to decide if they wanted to be Russian or Ukrainian and he suspected Putin might not have as strong of support in the area that he once did.

When Putin declared the Donetsk and Luhansk as independent, he sent the message to the world that his ambitions lie far beyond Ukraine. Invoking former Soviet Union leaders, Putin raised concerns about his plans to restore former Soviet Union states and allies to Russia's territory.

The biggest issue with Ukraine giving up the separatist regions to Russia is that it opens the door for Putin to go after more. Even if Ukraine was to give Russia everything it wanted, Yuri Zhukov, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, was skeptical that Russia would scale back its ambitions in "any serious way."

Russians, he said, don't trust Ukrainians to follow through on agreements they sign with a "gun pointed at their heads," because Ukraine is a democracy. "Politically unpopular commitments" signed under one administration can be undone by their successor. So, the only guarantee Russia has to get what it "wants" is to oust Zelensky and install a "significant occupying force and police state capable of crushing all types of dissent."

Zelensky's popularity in Ukraine has risen significantly since the start of the conflict. The once-dismissed former comedian turned politician has proven himself to be a wartime leader who can stir up a level of nationalism that inspires people to fight for their country. With his popularity high and continued assistance from the west, Darden called fighting "still an option" for Ukraine.

But Ukraine's ability to stall Russia's advances doesn't negate the "terrible damage" Russia's "brute power" could inflict in the future, according to Jentleson, and Ukraine faces a difficult future ahead, even if it comes out victorious.

"There might not be a Ukraine if the war goes on for six more months. Russia could pour in all kinds of aerial bombardment and then level the country and partition the parts they want," Kimmage said. "Either Russia wins in some capacity or Russia loses and wrecks the country in the process. That's the road ahead and that's what Zelensky has to deal with."