“The ‘war party’ rules in Kyiv, and it seeks, at least in words, to defeat Russia ‘on the battlefield.’ Under such conditions, it is difficult to imagine a peace dialogue,” said the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, on May 30.

Accusations of Ukraine’s reluctance to start a peace process are coming from Moscow more and more often, as are assurances of their readiness for negotiations.

Obviously, in this way, Russia seeks to weaken Kyiv’s position at the Global Peace Summit in Switzerland on June 15-16.

But Moscow also pursues a more ambitious goal. At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Putin failed to convince the world that the best solution for everyone would be a quick surrender of Ukraine.

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Now Russia is trying to “sell” the same idea, but under the guise of “peacekeeping.”

Imitation of goodwill

The full-scale invasion of Ukraine began to the accompaniment of harsh and uncompromising rhetoric from the Kremlin.

However, six months later, in September-October 2022, Moscow began to talk about its readiness for peace. The reason was completely banal: at that moment, Putin’s “blitzkrieg” was clearly a failure, and Russia had lost the strategic initiative at the front. Russian troops were knocked out of the Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy regions, then from the Kharkiv region and the right bank of Kherson region, and plans to land in Odesa sank along with the cruiser Moskva.

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With 90 countries and organizations expected to attend the event, the agenda is likely to include only three of 10 points in President Zelensky’s peace plan.

To prevent the further collapse of the occupying army, the Kremlin was forced to announce a partial mobilization in Russia, as well as to throw thousands of Russian prison inmates into “meat assaults.”

Destroyed Russian armored vehicles in liberated Buch. Source:t.me/Pravda_Gerashchenkо

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Despite Russia’s failure, there was no sign of Putin’s real intentions to stop the bloody war. But his generals desperately needed an operational pause to prepare mobilized recruits and replenish the weapons reserves depleted after the considerable losses of the first months of the war.

The occupation administrations, installed on the captured Ukrainian territories after Feb. 24, also required time to consolidate their power and suppress at least the active resistance of residents.

In addition, the Kremlin was frightened by the consolidation of the West, which began to provide effective support to Ukraine. In such a situation, the best gift for Moscow would be the beginning of negotiations with Kyiv to gain time and try to undermine the West’s determination to continue supporting Ukraine.

All these calculations were well understood in Kyiv and in the capitals of Western states. The Minsk agreements, concluded in 2014 and 2015, despite all the efforts of Kyiv, did not lead to lasting peace.

However, even in the first days of the full-scale war, President Zelensky repeatedly publicly appealed to Putin with the offer to meet at the negotiating table. But until Russia started having problems at the front, the Kremlin scornfully brushed off such appeals.

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Even at the negotiations between the delegations of Ukraine and Russia, which took place in March 2022 in Belarus and Turkey, the Russians agreed to put forward clearly unacceptable demands from a position of strength, the fulfilment of which would have been not only humiliating for Ukraine, but also suicidal.

Similarly, in the fall of 2022, the Kremlin spoke about negotiations exclusively “on its terms,” without naming them. It is obvious that Kyiv was not going to capitulate or give the occupiers time to recover.

Repeating lies

During 2023, Putin returned to the topic of negotiations several times, and this year, assurances of readiness for dialogue became a constant refrain in the Kremlin’s official rhetoric. But did the context of such statements change?

Russia also needs an operational pause. This need became especially acute after the long-awaited adoption of US military aid for Ukraine and the activation of assistance from EU countries.

Moscow is particularly concerned about the prospect of Ukraine receiving F-16 aircraft, as well as permits for the use of long-range missiles on the Russian Federation territory.

If, with its own means, Ukraine was able to inflict a series of stinging strikes on many objects located deep in the Russian rear, then what will it be capable of later?

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In addition, Ukraine is carrying out increased mobilization aimed at re-staffing existing units and creating new combat units. The cumulative effect of all these measures can greatly complicate the occupying army situation and probably put Putin in front of the need to conduct a new wave of mobilization, which is extremely unpopular in Russian society.

Tank crews training of the 24th Mechanized Brigade named after King Danylo. Source: Facebook

In addition, the start of negotiations on the Kremlin’s terms would raise the question of the feasibility of further support for Ukraine by Western countries: What is the point in this, if Kyiv is ready to capitulate now?

The word “capitulation” is not an exaggeration in this context. The Kremlin has still not outlined its negotiating position, hoping, obviously, that the result of the negotiation process will be the acceptance by Kyiv of all of Moscow’s ultimatums.

Putin has indirectly confirmed this version, saying on May 28 that Russia is ready to resume the negotiation process based on the Istanbul negotiation results. And the meeting in Istanbul, as we know, was nothing more than an invitation for Ukraine to capitulate.

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Lavrov’s following statement, from May 30, also testifies that Moscow still seeks to induce Kyiv to capitulate: “Russia is open to peace negotiations, not a truce. There is a theoretical possibility to speed up the settlement: in case of the cessation of the Western weapons supply and the cessation of hostilities by Kyiv.”

These conditions are difficult to call adequate. We have already seen the consequences of the delay in approving aid for Ukraine in the US Congress.

It is not difficult to imagine how much Ukraine’s situation will deteriorate if Western weapons stop arriving altogether. Ukraine’s ability to offer effective resistance will decrease, leading not to a “settlement,” but to an increase in the number of victims, destruction, and eventually to the expansion of the occupation territories.

Likewise, the cessation of hostilities can only be bilateral, and the first step must be taken by the aggressor state, not the victim state. This is not a matter of principles but of common sense.

Substitution of priorities

However, the promotion of the Kremlin’s idea about its readiness for negotiations has not only a tactical but also a strategic purpose. The strategic purpose is to create confusion in the minds of Western societies so that the first item on the agenda will not be military aid for Ukraine, but the beginning of a peace process that Moscow is open to.

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To create the illusion of such openness, Russia used all available means of influencing the opinions of the Western public and establishment.

Portraying the victim as the aggressor is one of Russia’s favorite propaganda techniques.

Exactly in this way, the Kremlin prepared a casus belli on the eve of a full-scale invasion, spreading lies about Ukraine’s aggressive militaristic plans.

Now Russia wants to use this technique again, presenting the leadership of Ukraine as a “party of war” that rejects generous peace proposals, coming from the Kremlin.

ASC 890 Airborne Surveillance Aircraft, two of which will be given to Ukraine from Sweden. Source: Tom Samuelsson\X

f course, the war of attrition is a test for both Ukrainian society and Kyiv’s Western partners. But the worst thing that can be done now is to give in to the temptation to believe in Putin’s goodwill and consider the Kremlin’s statements as a chance to end the war.

Over the past 10 years, Russia has convincingly proved that any scenario proposed by Russia does not lead to the establishment of a real long-term peace. The only way to end the war is to force Russia to agree to the beginning of a peace settlement, whose principles will be developed not in Moscow, but in Kyiv, together with the partner states and having a broad international consensus.

In order for such a scenario to become possible, Russia must face the fact of its inability to force Ukraine to fulfil ultimatums and impose the Kremlin’s rules of the game on the world. That’s why solidarity with Kyiv at the Global Peace Summit and increasing military support for Ukraine are equally important and necessary.

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post. 

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