How to End the War in Ukraine

What an American-Led Peace Plan Should Look Like

Armed forces of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic at the airfield in Luhansk, October 2019 Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters

For more than five years, Russian forces and their proxies have waged a bloody war against Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The conflict has claimed more than 13,000 lives, driven almost two million people from their homes, and caused immense material damage. France and Germany have together sought to broker peace but failed to produce a durable cease-fire—let alone a political settlement.

On December 9, French President Emmanuel Macron will host a summit with his Ukrainian, Russian, and German counterparts aimed at bringing the conflict to an end. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appears committed to making peace, while Moscow appears committed to sustaining the war. Whether the summit will yield any progress toward closing that gap remains in doubt.

If European efforts continue to falter, the United States should take a more active role in the peacemaking process, working with European countries to make Russia’s military engagement in Ukraine more costly and a settlement more attractive. Moreover, Washington should set forth its own peace plan—one that builds on previous diplomatic efforts but includes a UN-authorized peacekeeping mission and an interim international administration in Donbas.


Moscow’s primary objective in Ukraine is to bring the former Soviet republic back into its orbit. In February 2014, pro-European protesters ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who had enjoyed the Kremlin’s backing. Russian special forces responded by seizing the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. Regional authorities there organized a hasty and illegitimate referendum to join Russia, and in March 2014, Russia formally annexed Crimea—a move that most of the world denounced.

The following month, fighting broke out in Donbas, a separate region in eastern Ukraine that borders Russia. So-called “separatists”—with the help of Russian leadership, funding, weapons, ammunition, and, in some cases, regular Russian military units—declared “people’s republics” in the provinces, known as oblasts, of Donetsk and Luhansk. Unlike in Crimea, where Ukrainian military units remained garrisoned, in Donbas the Ukrainian military fought back. By August 2014, Ukrainian forces had

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