I will lay my cards on the table for the Pravda.Ru readership before outlining the opportunities that I as a simple, non-Russian speaking, outside observer believe are left to Russia.
I am against Russia's military operation in Ukraine. For all that I sympathize with the Russian government's legitimate concerns over NATO's waves of expansion, to my mind this military operation justifies that very expansion. Next, whereas NATO was previously composed of members that never fully agreed different matters or spent the amounts of money necessary for a proper defence of their countries', as result of this military operation, NATO has become a more unified, effective organisation and committed to higher military spending. This military operation has turned the Russian government's fears of a powerful and very anti-Russian NATO into a reality.
Furthermore, the military operation is against a nation that for all its NATO and EU membership ambitions, was never a serious contender for entry to those institutions, and which posed no serious threat to Russia's integrity. Therefore, the subjugation of the Ukrainian people to the various hardships of a military intervention is immoral in the extreme. This is all the more so as in the words of President Putin, Russians and Ukrainians are (now it's were) like brothers.
Finally, all the arguments about Ukraine meaning borderland, and not historically being a separate country or people are now mute. The Russian military, for whatever reason, has attacked Ukraine. That the Ukrainians are not only putting up token resistance but are voluntarily complying with their national mobilization and fighting ferociously as a people, shows that they are now very separate. This military operation has turned theories of Ukrainian-Russian unity into a hard reality of separateness and otherness, not to mention enmity. On top of that, unending and increasing Western military supplies will ensure that fight will continue and the death toll on both sides will go up and up. It is a tragedy for Ukraine and a tragedy for Russia.
As things stand, the only real winner from this conflict is not Russia, nor the EU, nor the United States, and certainly not Ukraine, but China. As over the next few years Europe, Japan, and the United States ween themselves off their dependence on Russian resources and make it near impossible for other countries to business with Russia, Russia will be left with only one real costumer, China. A market of one is no market at all. China will be able to dictate prices to Russia on a take it or leave it basis, given that no other large economy will be buying what Russia has to offer.
So what sort of peace can be salvaged. In terms of territory, the Russian government can forget any recognition of independence for Donbas or Luhansk by the broad international community or Ukraine. The Russian government can forget about re-ordering the Ukrainian constitution into some sort of neutral confederation. Thanks to the military operation the vast majority of Ukrainians are extremely patently unified, and unifieded against Russia. Who can blame them? If your home or mine is attacked, would we be inclined to just role over and take it? I would not, and I don't think Pravda readers would either.
Recognition of Crimea as Russian is possible, this is a de facto reality that would have eventually been recognized. President Putin pointed out that if Ukraine went into NATO without recognizing Crimea as Russian, a future Ukrainian government could attack Russia using the cover or NATO's mutual defense clause and potentially cause World War III. NATO governments know this and also do not want WWIII. That they are reluctant to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine shows that they do not want to be the cause of such a war. Therefore, if in 20 or 30 years Ukraine was in a state worthy of NATO membership, it would first have had to relinquish any claim on Crimea, before being accepted.
I believe that in the hearts the Ukrainian government, and I know that in the hearts of the handful of Ukrainians that I have personally spoken to, Crimea is already lost. But not the rest of Ukraine, not by any stretch of the imagination.
The unfreezing of Russian assets abroad, and the lifting of sanctions. This will return Russian money and property to Russians and prevent a scenario in which China is Russia's only major costumer. This could be achieved pretty quickly.
Given that Ukraine will emphatically not recognize the independence of Donbas and Luhansk, and the West will support them in slowly fighting and degrading the Russian armed forces there over the long term, the Kremlin could ask for something else for its supporters those territories.
The Kremlin could require that in exchange for the withdrawal of Russian forces from Donbas, Luhansk and the reintegration of those territories into Ukraine, that the West stump up the cash to build better homes and communities, that were owned by Russians/Russian supporters there before 2014 and the start of this military operation, and to build them anywhere in Russia that those people wish, also paying for the integration of those communities into the Russian road, rail and infrastructure system in general.
Think large modern dachas that act as main homes, with the best insulation money can buy, all with solar panels, home sized wind turbines, power storage units, rain-water collection and filtration, spacious and with modern conveniences and colossal gardens or farms, for truly independent and comfortable living. Think spacious town squares, market arcades, large churches and cathedrals built in a traditional style, along modern hospitals, schools and public transport. This will be good for those making the move and good for Russia in general. It will also be good for Ukraine to be left in peace, and in one piece.
The West — I mean the United States and its allies — would have to stump of the money for this mega project before the withdrawal of Russian forces. The money would have to be kept in a country that is neutral and independent of the West and Russia. Perhaps India. The agreement could involve the withdrawal of Russian forces before the money starts being spent on resettlement projects, from the West's perspective. From the Russian perspective, the money being kept in a neutral jurisdiction will also mean that the West cannot simply freeze the assets and not hold its end of the bargain. Perhaps the spending or withholding of the money could be decided by a Russian, NATO, Indian troika, or Russian, NATO, Vatican troika etc., whatever formulation works best.
Given that this deal entails countries and not Russia paying for the relocation, it necessarily follows that Russia would not be held financially or materially responsible for the lives lost and damage incurred in Ukraine. I think that morally, the Russian government is responsible but it will have to account before God and not us humans.
This will not restore any sense comfortable coexistence. However, at the very least the killing of both Russians and Ukrainians will stop. It will also allow both Russia and Ukraine to end hostilities having gotten something that they did not have before the start.
I know this idea is far fetched. But perhaps, if more far fetched ideas with peace in mind are printed, the more likely it will be that one gets adopted.
The Ukrainian military, who left the territory of the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, declared their desire to negotiate