Ukraine Conflict - The CUTTR Plan Digest

Jump to Plan, bypass this introduction

 I wrote the CUTTR Plan a year and a half ago, as part of Chapter 1 of the Frog In The Well book. At that time I named the chapter the "Crimea Conflict". Of course there was the Donbass conflict in mainland Ukraine, but overall the fighting had died down, and it was more of a stalemate. I was one of the earlier social networker, but has stopped doing it for a dozen years now - it took too much time and energy to see if I got one more like to my posts from say, fifteen minutes ago. You have more fingers in your hand than the people who still follow me in my mothballed accounts. Since I did not have a ready audience to trumpet the plan, I said to myself to wait a couple of months to finish the draft of the full book and try to get the whole thing published. The startup company then absorbed most of my time, and then the more I wrote, the more issues came up and I had to research to affirm or refute my "idea" solutions. The draft dragged on. But after several years of static frontlines in Crimea and the Donbass region, I was not too much concerned delaying its finish for a few more months.

Even when Russia amassed vast forces in the North, East and South of Ukraine, I was not overly concerned. The US had been sending alarmist notes almost every day all over the world. Mr. Putin would withdraw shortly and make Mr. Biden look like a fool crying wolf. On February 24, 2022, Mr. Putin attacked Ukraine instead.

The original CUTTR Plan was written for a low-intensity conflict, not when bullets were flying. I had to go back to the drawing board and made adjustments.  With conditions in Ukraine changing, some adjustments became dead ends. Even the promising adjustments required additional verification research.

Below is the digest article of the updated CUTTR Plan. I am releasing it now while taking the appropriate time to update Chapter 1. The full chapter has some additional points, but the digest article contains the gist of the plan. The plan can be the basis for discussion between Ukraine and Russia to end this catastrophic war. Please share to everybody you know. This is a plan that can stop the war. Let's use it to pressure the politicians to actually do it.

The CUTTR Plan Digest Article:

The CUTTR Plan assumes that there is a stalemate in Mr. Putin's war in Ukraine: Ukraine continues to resist with the help of the Western world but does not have the strength to kick the Russian army out; Russia is bogged down with increased cost in life and material, but will not withdraw because such humiliation could mean the downfall of Mr. Putin. Ukraine does not lose but cannot win, and Russia does not win but cannot afford to lose. The war goes on, with more destruction falling upon the land, and more death and hardship upon the people. The CUTTR Plan offers an exit strategy.

All it takes is two signatures.

The first signature is for Ukraine to agree to formally sell the Crimean Peninsula to Russia. The second signature is for Russia to agree to legally purchase the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. The price? One gold coin, payable on the spot, followed by further mutual concessions to be negotiated in the subsequent peace plan conference.

Once the truce has been signed, a cease-fire will take hold in all Ukraine, including the Donbass area. For Ukrainians, humanitarian aids will pour in from all over the world, and basic infrastructure such as water, electricity and food delivery, can be safely restarted to provide a modicum of normal life. Its defenders, whose tenacity surprises the world, also need a rest. For Russians acting the role of uninvited invaders, the cease-fire will stop the loss of their disillusioned young soldiers, and of the expensive war material that will be costly to replace later. It will also stop the mortification of the Russian army's mystique of a military giant. Some sanctions imposed on Russia will be relieved for its economy to function again, although all sanctions will not be removed until the final peace plan.

The soldiers from both sides have done their duty. The people from both sides have endured hardships and for Ukrainians, suffered living catastrophe in embattled cities. Now will be the time for the politicians from both sides to work on the concessions to secure a permanent and enduring peace between the two nations.

Before talking about concessions, let's discuss the treason of the Ukrainian government in selling a patrimony to the enemy. First of all, this is not treason, nor is it an act of capitulation. This is a resounding legal victory. By the act of selling, Ukraine affirms its ownership of Crimea, since one cannot sell something one does not own. By agreeing to buy Crimea from Ukraine, Russia tacitly acknowledges that Crimea still belongs to Ukraine, and implicitly refutes its own single-handed occupation and later annexation. Since 2014, Russia has gained the de facto administration of Crimea but not de jure. With a legal and internationally recognized purchase, there will be no controversy about the future sovereignty of Crimea - it will be Russian.

As for Crimea being a Ukrainian patrimony, one has to go back to its history. In 1783, the Russian Empire under Catherine the Great conquered the territory of Crimea, nominally under the influence of the Ottoman Empire; and then ruled it for 134 years until the Russian Revolution of 1917 that eventually established the Soviet Union. The inheriting Russian Soviet Republic took over the ruling in 1921, and administered Crimea for another 33 years. In 1954, the Soviet Union leader at that time, under a murky reason, gave the Ukrainian Soviet Republic an unexpected gift: the Crimean Peninsula. Since both Soviet republics were part of the Soviet Union, this internal transfer was done at a stroke of a pen by the Soviet Supreme Council. Over a million ethnic Russians living in the peninsula suddenly became Ukrainian on paper. They resented it ever since. In 1991, the Soviet Union broke up. The Russian Soviet Republic became Russia, and the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, Ukraine, two separate countries. Russia would like to get Crimea back. No way, said Ukraine. In 2014, Russia took matters into its own hands. The "little green men", Russian special forces in camouflage without insignia, suddenly appeared throughout Crimea. The Ukrainian government at that time had two choices: to fight back or give up. They gave up. Instead of sending tanks down the Isthmus of Perekop to join the embattled Ukrainian navy in Sevastopol, they ordered the remaining half of its army garrisons that had not defected to the Russian side to abandon Crimea. With only 60 years of neglected ownership, Crimea is a possession of pride for Ukraine, but not really a centenarian patrimony worth shedding blood for.

To make sure that Ukraine stay that way, one month after taking Crimea in the South, Mr. Putin started the Donbass insurgency on the Eastern side of Ukraine to occupy the Ukrainian armed forces. For Ukrainians, Donbass is patrimony. It has been part of Ukraine since the 18th century when it was under the control of the Ukrainian Cossacks. For 7 years now, the Ukrainian army and armed civilian volunteers have combated the pro-Russian insurgents, loosing thousands of lives. Donbass is worth shedding blood for. As for Crimea, not only Ukraine did not have the will to fight then, it does not have the military capability to take it back now. No matter how loud and persistent Ukraine protests the takeover in international forums, Russia will not relinquish it. For Russians, Crimea is matrimony. Not only has Russia reinforced Crimea with air and naval superiority, but the young Russian conscripts of whom many seem more likely to drop their weapons than to shoot back in Mr. Putin's war in mainland Ukraine will suddenly transform into fierce fighters against any Ukrainian incursions into Crimea. No soldiers are coward; they only need a good reason to die for. Keeping Crimea in the bosom of Mother Russia is.

Hopefully the above arguments will allow Ukrainians to accept, perhaps grudgingly, the selling of Crimea. But why for only one gold coin? In 2021, Ukraine issued a report that estimated the loss of Crimea to be $135 billion. Russia dismissed that exaggerated number and argued that before its occupation, Crimea was a money pit for Ukraine: in 2013 Crimean taxpayers paid 8.5 billion hryvna to the Ukrainian treasury, but received 16.6 billion hryvna back. In any case, Russia does not have $135 billion to give away. If the price were to be haggled, war would continue on. A symbolic gold coin will immediately stop the killing and destruction. The ultimate price for Crimea will be decided through the follow-up concession negotiations.

There will be no ultimate price for Crimea. Some concessions will be quantifiable but many will only be qualified. The peace negotiation will also not discuss Russian war reparations to Ukraine - such a discussion would mean Russia had lost the war, and this would be unacceptable to Russia. The ultimate price of  priceless Crimea and the unmentionable war reparations will be synthesized into the concessions that will benefit Ukraine for generations to come.   

What are these concessions?

There are many concessions, but for the scope of this article, only the concessions that relate to Mr. Putin's three conditions for ending the war will be presented: Ukraine neutrality, recognition of Crimea as part of Russia, and recognition of Donbass as independent.

By its immovable geography, Ukraine will always be the straddle country between the European Union (EU) on the West and Russia on the East. Instead of rueing its proximity to Russia, Ukraine should levy its unique position to be the world's gateway to Russia. Once the final peace plan is signed, all international sanctions against Russia will be dropped, and as time goes by, investments into Russia will resume. Western companies can go directly to Russia, or they could go to Ukraine and serve the Russian market from Ukraine. As part of the CUTTR Plan concession, product imports and cross-border services from Ukraine to Russia would incur from low to no tariff with minimal regulations, similar to a one-way free trade arrangement. Likewise, instead of exporting directly from its own soil, Russian companies could set up subsidiaries in Ukraine to take advantage of various privileges, breaks and favors that the EU will undoubtedly grant to Ukraine to help it recover from the war. These foreign companies and the Ukrainian export businesses would benefit from both the EU and Russian concessions. Ukraine will be neutral, not by the force of Mr. Putin's will, but by the choice it will take to become prosperous. The example of neutral Switzerland enriching itself during the WWII years by being the financial go-between and safe haven for the Allied and Axis countries, applies here.

Switzerland is also neutral militarily. The sizable Swiss Armed Forces do not fight any modern wars, only participate in international peacekeeping missions. Switzerland is not part of NATO but has joined the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. Armed neutrality would be the path for Ukraine, but Ukraine would go one step further. While Switzerland is surrounded by NATO-friendly countries, Ukraine is bordered by four NATO countries, one neutral country, one country under Russian influence, and by Russia itself. It would adopt a collegial neutrality posture: instead of not playing with anybody, it would actively engage with all of its neighbors. Ukraine would not seek NATO membership but would be active in the PfP program (which it has joined in 1994) and other NATO cooperative initiatives. As time goes by, Ukraine would sign new or strengthen existing amity pacts with Russia, Belarus and Moldova. These pacts will include joint military exercises in common areas of interest such as cross-training, disaster response, and peace-time environmental issues and civilian relationships. Mr. Putin has not only demanded Ukraine to renounce NATO membership application but also to demilitarize. Having a strong and neutral Ukrainian armed forces would be better for Russia. During WWII, to enforce its neutrality, Switzerland shot down US airplanes that strayed into its airspace after returning from bombing Nazi Germany. To protect its new found neutrality, Ukraine would be expected to defend its Western border if NATO were to breach it to cross over and attack Russia; any Ukrainian stand would give Russia additional time for its own defense. Nevertheless, as part of the CUTTR Plan concessions, Ukraine would agree to demilitarize the Donbass region by the Russian border.

In return, Russia would have the pro-Russian insurgents demobilized. The CUTTR Plan concessions regarding the Donbass region would revolve around three major issues: the land, the administration and the people. The land is Ukrainian, and will be re-integrated into the Ukrainian nation. This will be the reciprocity for Ukrainians to let the Russians have Crimea - you, Crimea, I, Donbass. While the land re-integration is non-negotiable, the administration of this land would be open for discussion between the Ukrainian government and the insurgents, which constitute about 40% of the pre-conflict Donbass population. The administration would be some form of self-governance or autonomy, as outlined in the 2014 Minsk Protocol agreement. For the people, there would be a new concept - native residency. Current residents of Donbass, and previous residents who return, would have to make a choice: adopt the Ukrainian citizenship or the Russian citizenship. Ukraine-adopting citizens in the Donbass would be treated like any Ukrainian citizens in the rest of the country. Russia-adopting citizens would be treated as native residents. Donbass native residents would be considered Russian expatriates having Ukrainian permanent residency. Unlike ordinary expatriate permanent residents, even those coming to Donbass after the CUTTR peace agreement, the Donbass native residents would have all the rights and benefits bestowed to Ukrainian citizens, but in a local scope. They could vote locally but not nationally; they could run for local office but not national ones; they could own and inherit properties in Donbass, but outside of it, their rights would be like of ordinary expatriate permanent residents. The Donbass native residents would also receive the benefit of a constitutional national support for a Russian culture and education. Due to the land being Ukrainian, independence for Donbass would not be appropriate. However self-governance and native residency would be close enough to one of Mr. Putin's conditions to end the war. As for Ukrainians, this enclave of Russian culture would be an asset. A decade from peace, this flourishing region would be a major tourist attraction (think Qu├ębec in Canada), and the source of a Russian-speaking workforce for the Russian companies operating in Ukraine as mentioned earlier.

For Mr. Putin, besides the goal of getting Crimea recognized as Russian, his other goal is to draw Ukraine into the Russian sphere of influence. He would achieve this second goal culturally with the Russian-speaking Donbass region, militarily with an amity pact with neutral Ukraine, and economically with concessions for Ukrainian exports to Russia and expatriate Russian companies operating in Ukraine. The CUTTR Plan dictates another economic lever for Russia to pull Ukraine even closer: oil and gas. Russia is a major producer of both, the EU has been its major consumer; between Russia and the EU sits Ukraine. In its heyday, 80% of the gas exports to EU traveled through the Ukrainian pipelines, and the fees Ukraine collected amounted to $3 billion annually, making this collection its most lucrative export service. The pipelines also carried Russian-discounted gas for Ukrainian consumption. Since the Ukrainian tilt towards the EU and NATO, plus the Crimean takeover, then the Donbass conflict, and now the Ukrainian war that Mr. Putin launched in February 2022, the gas flow has gone to trickles if at all. The CUTTR Plan stipulates that the pipelines would be revived to transport oil and gas again, but now for only one customer - Ukraine. The Russians would be selling these commodities to Ukraine at cost, with no markups whatsoever, for several decades. Ukraine would make use of this bottom-priced supply in three major ways. The first use would be for affordable residential heating and cooking, replacing the expensive gas that Ukraine is currently buying from its neighbors. The Ukrainian people would need this saving to rebuild their standard of living after the war. The second use would be for Ukrainian various industries. Since energy is a major cost in any production, this would set Ukraine as one of the lowest cost manufacturer in Europe. Not only Ukrainian companies could produce cheaply for domestic consumption, they could export and compete overseas too. As for the expatriate companies operating in Ukraine, besides the concessionary tariffs Russia and the EU would grant to Ukraine, they would benefit from the bargain energy too - which would entice more foreign companies to expand to Ukraine. The third use would be for Ukraine to resell the extra gas to the EU. This gas would flow through the same pipelines that used to carry the Russian gas of yore westward, but now labeled as Ukrainian gas. The arbitraged profit would go into the Ukrainian national budget to rebuild the country's war-torn infrastructure. 

With gas and oil, Russia would bear hug Ukraine tightly for decades to come. Furthermore, with a gas and oil deal - which it has plenty, instead of a monetary deal, Russia could come to terms of a peace agreement quickly, allowing all sanctions to be immediately dropped. The Nord Stream 2 undersea pipeline, which goes directly from Russia to Germany bypassing Ukraine, would be resumed and completed with controversies no more. Achieving his goal of keeping Ukraine under influence and restoring the Russian economy, Mr. Putin could declare victory in the parade welcoming his army home. Some Western analysts would interpret the Russian concessions on tariffs, oil and gas, as war reparations and thus as indirect indictment of Mr. Putin in starting an unprovoked war. Note that this war is a Putinic war, not a Russian-Ukrainian war since there is no beef between the two peoples. One can rule but cannot live forever, and once Mr. Putin is out of office, neighborly friendship between the two countries will blossom again. Who can imagine the Russian bear to be cuddly? The CUTTR Plan concessions that Russia is making today will become the future engine that propels Ukraine into enduring prosperity. For ending the war on equal terms with a mightier country, and for its bright future, Ukraine would also declare victory.

The CUTTR Plan starts with Crimea, so let's end with Crimea. What Russia will buy from Ukraine is not the land, since it already has it via an occupation that is not internationally recognized. What it will buy is the legality of that takeover. What Ukraine will sell is the Crimean Peninsula that it still legally owns, but with a major exception. Ukraine has access to two seas, the Black Sea on the South and the smaller Sea of Azov on the East. The two seas are connected by the Kerch Strait, a body of water only 22-mile long that runs between the Kerch Peninsula and the Taman Peninsula. The Taman Peninsula always belongs to Russia, and before 2014, the Ukrainians controlled the Kerch Peninsula since it is an eastern offshoot attached to the bigger Crimean Peninsula. After 2014, with its control of both sides of the Kerch Strait, Russia severely restricts Ukrainian transit in and out of the Sea of Azov which is a major fishing and maritime hub and naval base of Ukraine. If Russia were to own in full the Kerch Peninsula, along with the Taman Peninsula already in its possession, the Kerch Strait would become an inner body of water of Russia. As the sole owner of the strait, it could invoke the international Law of the Sea Treaty to restrict the "transnational water passing" of Ukrainian military vessels between Ukraine's naval bases on the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. As part of the CUTTR Plan, Ukraine will sell the Crimean Peninsula to Russia, but it will retain a presence on the Kerch Peninsula or on the Kerch Strait itself, such as on the Tuzla island, where Ukraine used to maintain an observation post. With such arrangement, the strait will return to being a shared resource between the two countries, and its use will be formalized by a pact of amity.

In summary, what is the CUTTR Plan?

The CUTTR Plan enables an immediate cease-fire and truce. War, and its killings and destructions, stop. Russia can start to withdraw some of its troops and get proportional relief on the international sanctions. Ukraine can safely restore many of its urban infrastructure to welcome back some of the 2 million refugees. The CUTTR Plan then moves into the permanent peace plan negotiation phase. Once the peace plan is signed, Russia will have no more of its soldiers on Ukrainian soil, and all sanctions against it will be retracted; and Ukraine can then fully rebuild for posterity and prosperity.

The CUTTR Plan has elements to fully or close to fully meet the three demands of Mr. Putin for an end of war and permanent peace: Ukraine neutrality, recognition of Crimea as part of Russia, and recognition of Donbass as independent. For the last condition, Russia will renege on its February 2022's recognition of the insurgents' two self-proclaimed republics in the Donbass as independent states, since the land will be re-integrated into Ukraine. While independence will not apply to the land, it will apply to the people living on that land via the rights of self-governance and native residency. With Crimea legally owned by Russia, and the Russian ethnic minority in the Ukrainian Donbass region constitutionally protected, and all sanctions (from both the 2014 Crimean takeover and the 2022 Putinic war) not weighing on the Russian economy any more, Mr. Putin has fulfilled both his destiny and his duty towards greater Russia. With his legacy secured by the historical events he unleashed, Mr. Putin could retire, and leave it to the next generation of leaders to establish a new relationship between Russia and Ukraine.

By its tenacity and courage standing up to a vastly superior armed force, Ukraine has forged a national identify and unites all levels of its population. By fighting against a foreign power that they view as representative of totalitarianism, Ukrainians will treasure more the values of their own democracy. One value that will become very important for its tolerant future, is the checking on the so-called tyranny of the majority; Ukrainians will embrace their Russian ethnic minority with constitutional amendments that further promote the unique Ukrainian-Russian culture, and protect their pro-Russia brethren in the Donbass from retribution. With a unified citizenry, Ukraine will embark in one of the greatest economy rebuild in its history or any history, with Western help on one side, and Russian concessions on the other.

All the good things described previously come from two single things: the willingness of Ukraine to sell Crimea to Russia, and Russian willingness to buy this legality. The result will be Crimea to be "cut" out of Ukraine. In fact, the word "CUTTR" stands for "Crimea, Ukraine Transfers To Russia".