In any peace negotiation, such as those in Minsk in 2014 and 2015, Russia insists it belongs on the side of the peacemakers and that by no means is Russia a combatant. In fact, according to this logic, Russian troops should be used to maintain the peace. In fact, Ukrainian analysts fear that Russia will cite “humanitarian concerns” to justify the permanent occupation of eastern Ukraine.
And Blinken enters the negotiation bereft of the biggest weapon of all — the threatened use of U.S. or NATO troops. That option is already off the table. Blinken can either wait to be caught off-kilter by the next blow from Putin or to set up truly crushing sanctions to be applied in the case Russia violates a red line (which we appear not to have established). Among these sanctions would clearly be the end of Russia's Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project, personal sanctions on Putin’s inner circle, removal of Russia from the Society of Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), or the sanctioning of Russia’s central bank — the ultimate weapon.