In early November, some Western media and officials began to talk again about peace talks between Ukraine and Russia.
Why did it become topical now?
This talk was prompted by a series of statements by Russian officials implying Moscow’s readiness to negotiate. Normally, when either side calls for negotiations, the other side is supposed to respond – normally for the democratic world, and the Russians make a barefaced use of this norm from time to time.
The G20 summit in Indonesia appears to be a perfect platform for actualizing this topic, with the leaders of all major powers being present, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, “the peacemaker,” and the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin is not there.
In particular, the world leaders are discussing an extension of the grain export deal. Ukraine was specifically invited to take part in the discussions, and not only of this issue. The hosts of the G20 summit had planned to arrange for peace talks between Ukraine and Russia within its frameworks, and the Indonesian president had even visited Moscow and Kyiv.
There is another reason behind the discussions on a negotiated end to the war in Ukraine: Russia’s recent setbacks and failures, the most recent of them being the retreat from Kherson. Moscow tries to pass it off as another goodwill gesture and genuine readiness for peaceful compromises. In fact, the Kremlin is seriously concerned about the protraction of a war that creates more and more problems for it and threatens the regime with internal destabilization. The Russian leadership seems to be gradually growing aware that they cannot win this war. Yet, they hate to lose, so they send signals of readiness to negotiate. Russia’s evident enfeeblement is felt in the West as well.
Who promotes the idea of peace talks with Russia and what are the motives?
The first to bring up this idea was the Kremlin. The Russian president has been hinting at it very clearly since October. Other Russian officials have implied it, and the foreign ministry spokesperson has confirmed Moscow’s readiness to negotiate unconditionally. Previously, Moscow had only put forward ultimatums. Their signals are primarily directed at the West because Moscow does not seem to know how to talk to Kyiv and is desperate to get out of the military-political trap where it drove itself on February 24.
Another driver of the theme is the Turkish president. Erdogan seems to enjoy his role as a peacemaker, but his interest is purely pragmatic: He wants to restore the tourist flow from Russia and Ukraine and to overcome other actual and potential economic problems caused by the war. In addition, with elections just around the corner, Erdogan tries to balance domestic problems with foreign policy successes. He was inspired by the success of the grain export deal, and the role of an effective mediator in relations between Putin and President Volodymyr Zelensky, between the West and Russia, which significantly raises his personal political status and his country’s geopolitical weight.
Some of the Western elites also show serious interest in negotiations with Russia. Alarmed by Russia’s threats to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, military leaders of the United States and other Western countries directly contacted their Russian counterparts.
There are also strategic reasons. Some of the U.S. and European policymakers are afraid that Putin, losing in Ukraine and facing the loss of Crimea, could act as a cornered rat and resort to desperate steps like the use of nuclear weapons. The West is also concerned about the fate of the Russian nuclear arsenal in the context of a highly probable political crisis inside Russia catalyzed by military defeats in Ukraine.
In terms of tactics, it is Russia’s failures, especially in Kherson, that made some Western policymakers think that the time is ripe and right to start peace talks with Putin, but not on his terms.
It’s no accident that conspiracy allegations appeared about a peace plan offered to Putin by six countries: Russia would withdraw its troops from all the occupied territories and in exchange would get guarantees that Ukraine would not join NATO in the next seven years; the issue of Crimea’s status would be suspended for seven years, but the peninsula would be completely demilitarized and the Russian Black Sea Fleet would leave it; Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus would be demilitarized up to 100 kilometers deep into both sides; Russian troops would leave Transdniestria which it would again be part of Moldova.
This appears to be a reasonable compromise solution which actually amounts to Russia’s capitulation. The Kremlin is very unlikely to accept such terms. The alleged plan does not completely look agreeable to Kyiv either (especially the postponement of Crimea’s de-occupation and Ukraine’s accession to NATO) – if, of course, the plan really exists.
What is Ukraine’s position in this political–informational fuss about peace talks with Russia?
Zelensky has confirmed the possibility of negotiations with Russia (not with Putin, and here Kyiv’s position is unchanged), but stressed the key terms: restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity; reimbursement for all the damage and losses from Russia’s invasion; punishment of every war criminal; international guarantees of Ukraine’s security. No one in Ukraine trusts Putin and everyone understands that Russia only wants a pause to consolidate the occupation of Ukrainian lands, accumulate additional military resources and launch a new offensive at Ukraine.
And the last question: Can peace talks start (during the G20 summit, for instance)?
Considering Putin’s refusal to take part in the G20 summit and the symbolic obstruction of his foreign minister Sergey Lavrov (the Western leaders refused to stand before cameras together with him), the start of official peace talks is nowhere in sight, let alone any agreements. The best the summit is likely to produce is an extension of the grain export deal.
What is happening at the moment is a probe of the Russian and Ukrainian leaderships’ positions regarding the very possibility of peace talks and some compromise. It’s not even an attempt to open a political window to peace talks. Rather, it is an attempt to make a narrow opening through which a distant prospect of peace talks could be seen. But the fate of these talks and this war will be decided during the next several months on the battlefield
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