As President Kennedy once said (quoted in this article about avoiding war with Russia over Ukraine), "Above all, while defending our vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war."
We don't need to humiliate Russia to defend our national interests.
To me, it seems that the solution rests on Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, Crimea as a Russian base, the fate of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian membership in NATO, and removal of sanctions on Russia.
I think diplomacy can resolve these issues if we make this a crisis over Russia's Sevastopol base rather than a pre-New Cold War crisis, as I hoped for early on.
Russia simply must (again, I know) recognize Ukraine as a sovereign nation and recognize their post-agreement borders.
Crimea would be returned to Ukraine while Russia gets a Crimean Base Zone (as we had with the Panama Canal Zone before we returned it to Panama) that is de facto under Russian administration, which Russia pays substantial rent to use on a long-term basis.
Russia had this base before the crisis, so it isn't a defeat for us if they keep it.
Ukraine would provide guaranteed land access to the the Crimean Base Zone (as we had for West Berlin through East Germany during the Cold War) via that bridge the Russians plan to build at the Kerch Strait.
Again, this loses us no ground.
NATO would reaffirm that NATO membership rules prohibit the membership of a country with a non-NATO base on its soil (as the Crimea Base Zone would be), thus implicitly denying Ukraine NATO membership without overtly infringing on Ukraine's sovereignty and right to associate with any state they want.
Ukraine could still work with NATO or NATO states to improve their defenses, but there would be no joining NATO as long as Russia didn't formally take over all of Crimea, thus defining Ukraine as a state without a non-NATO base eligible to join the alliance.
This would seem to be a setback since it deprives Ukraine of the option of joining NATO. But if I understand the rules, Ukraine couldn't anyway unless we changed the rules.
It is certainly not a defeat for us. We don't really need NATO that far east since we have no intention of attacking Russia; and extending NATO's military power from the west all that way east to Ukraine's border with Russia is beyond our capacity when just getting member states to spend 2% of their GDP on defense is a struggle.
All we really need is a Ukraine not available to Russia as a launching pad to project military power west or south. A Ukraine that looks to the West for support to resist Russia and maintain their sovereignty and territorial integrity is good enough.
The fate of Donbas and other areas is more tricky. It depends on whether Russia really wants to annex the territory or whether Russia would rather have Donbas remain within Ukraine as a Trojan Horse so that its voters would presumably remain a pro-Russian influence inside Ukraine.
So let those Ukrainians in the east choose. Let Ukraine make their offer to Ukrainians in Donbas for some level of autonomy within Ukraine and let Russia make their offer to Donbas for annexation to Russia.
Then have internationally supervised elections that let voters decide between just these two options.
Russia and Ukraine would be constrained in harshness of terms by the prospect that the other side's offer would look better.
Allow the individual losers in the election the option of moving to Ukraine if Donbas goes to Russia or moving to Russia if Donbas stays with Ukraine. A world fund (I suppose that would mean us, worst case) would pay for the relocations.
Perhaps Russia pays Ukraine for the lost economic assets if Donbas joins Russia by selling energy at reduced rates for 20 years, or some such compensation.
And as long as Ukraine and Russia have signed a peace treaty, there is no reason to maintain Western sanctions on Russia.
Ukraine gets financial resources, either loses hostile people or demonstrates that those people are not pining for rescue by Putin, Ukraine remains out of Russia's orbit with limited military ties to NATO, and Ukraine regains formal title to Crimea.
I think there is potential for this kind of outline to get us all back in our corners.
UPDATE: If we can't make this a Sevastopol Crisis, this will grow to be a Ukraine Crisis and possibly a NATO Crisis as NATO states take proper defensive measures that the dangerously paranoid and dishonest Russian rulers will call offensive in nature.
Russia is deploying forces to Donbas inside Ukrainian territory:
The US has accused Russia of deploying more air defence systems in eastern Ukraine in breach of a ceasefire deal.
The state department also said Russia was involved in training separatist forces in the area and building up its forces along the border.
Putin's hand puppet rebels are leaning forward telegraphing intentions to ultimately seize Mariupol:
Pro-Russian rebels have shelled Ukrainian army positions east of the key city of Mariupol in breach of a ceasefire deal, the BBC has witnessed. ...
Its size suggests it was fired from a heavy weapon, the type that should have been withdrawn from the frontline under the Minsk agreement, our correspondent adds.
Meanwhile, American tank-killing A-10s are training in Romania:
The exercise, which is part of a broad, cross-continental mission known as Operation Atlantic Resolve, is designed to be a show of force against a Russia that annexed Crimea in March 2014 and continues to assist pro-Russian rebels in East Ukraine. Recent deployments have seen the U.S. military train with local forces in the Baltic and Balkan states, as well as Germany, Poland and Ukraine itself.
As part of those operations, the A-10 has been deployed to Germany, the United Kingdom, Poland and now Romania.
And NATO is offering help to Ukraine and Moldova:
"We ... support the neutrality, independence and sovereignty of your country in the interests of the whole region," said Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, deputy supreme allied commander in Europe, during a visit Thursday to the Moldovan capital, Chisinau.
So continued Russian aggression that keeps this a crisis above the narrow issue of preserving Russia's pre-crisis basing rights in Crimea could escalate this crisis to a level neither we nor the Russians should want.
And to add to the level of fun, Russia could see our hand in their self-made troubles away from the still-contained crisis we have now:
Chechnya's leader on Wednesday told his security forces to open fire on Russian federal troops if they operate in the region without his approval.
Russia lost (and killed) a lot of people to keep Chechnya within Russia. Is the crisis pushing (or allowing) Chechens to pull away again?
And is Chechnya just the canary in the coal mine warning of greater fragmentation of Russia?
UPDATE: And failure to settle this will undermine Ukrainian unity.
Kharkov has remained loyal to Ukraine despite ethnic Russians and proximity to Russia. So policies have to be made that don't alienate them:
It's been nicknamed the "Great Wall of Ukraine." Its planned combination of barbed-wire fences, watchtowers, berms, and tank traps along Ukraine's 1,300-mile border with Russia look like something you'd find on one of Israel's borders with its hostile neighbors.
If it's ever completed, the wall will seal a frontier that, until last year, had always been wide open. Inaugurating construction here last fall, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk indicated that much more than just a physical barrier was intended. "This will be the eastern border of Europe," he said.
But in nearby Kharkiv, an overwhelmingly Russian-speaking city of one-and-a-half million, mention of the wall is mostly greeted with snorts of irritation. The idea of splitting permanently and irrevocably from Russia wins virtually no acceptance. Many people here have family and friends in Russia, the local economy is heavily dependent on trade with Russia, and some say they just can't wrap their heads around the idea of a frontier being there in the first place.
One, nice slap at always target-worthy Israel as if they are the only ones to build walls to keep out attackers. Saudi Arabia has one facing Iraq. Kenya wants one facing Somalia.
But back to the Ukraine wall. At one level I want to slap those locals with the clue bat. Are they unaware that Russia has invaded Ukraine? Surely it has made the local news. That would explain explosions around you.
On the other hand, popular views are popular views whether they should be popular or not. So Kiev has do consider that in how they implement the policy even if the border defenses need to be built.
I don't rule out that only Russia's hand puppets are complaining. But border hassles are an annoyance as I've documented here with my own travels to Canada.
One more reason to try to localize the crisis to one of Sevastopol, no?
UPDATE: Another reason we don't want this crisis to get out of hand: For China to actually take control of the global economy, not only does China need to have the largest economy (and forget PPP for this, I think), but we would need to suffer a dramatic disruption of our power as Britain suffered during two world wars.