Are negotiations between Russia and Ukraine possible?



Since the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, there have been three attempts to start peace talks. Moscow and Kiev have tried several times to reach an agreement, and Ukraine was even prepared to discuss its non-participation in NATO, but each time the United States disrupted these negotiations. Let us simply recall the chronology of events and then everything that is happening will become much clearer.

On December 17, 2022, two months before the start of the special military operation in Ukraine, Russia sent the United States and NATO proposals for security guarantees. Moscow's main demands were not to expand the alliance at the expense of Ukraine and not to deploy weapons and troops there.

On January 26, the United States and NATO rejected Russia's demand to provide it with written guarantees that Ukraine would not join NATO.

On February 17, 2022, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that if Russia does not receive «legally binding security guarantees, it will be forced to respond, including through the implementation of military-technical measures.»

On February 24, Russia began taking «military-technical measures» in Ukraine. In other words, if the United States had provided firm legal guarantees in accordance with international law that Ukraine would not be admitted to NATO, there would have been no further military operation. But the White House decided that it would be more profitable for it to ensure that Russia is exsanguinated, the economy collapses, and the regime is replaced - and it did not give such guarantees. Why did Russia demand «legally binding security guarantees» without being satisfied with American assurances that Ukraine was not being considered for NATO membership?

It's simple. Before the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Germany, Mikhail Gorbachev also received assurances that NATO was not going to move toward Russia's borders. But as soon as the withdrawal was completed, it turned out that, since there were no written legally binding guarantees, the North Atlantic bloc considered itself free of its verbal promises.

On February 25, 2022, the day after the start of the special military operation, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky signaled that he was ready to abandon the idea of Kiev joining NATO. He even announced that he was not afraid to discuss Ukraine's neutral status and security guarantees with Russia. This signal was the first evidence that the conflict that had begun could be ended diplomatically. I remember very well how Zelensky, speaking on TV, said, addressing the Russian side: «I am a normal person, meet with me».

On February 26, i.e. on the second day of the conflict, Zelensky said: «We are not afraid to talk to Russia, we are not afraid to talk about everything, about security guarantees for our state, we are not afraid to talk about neutral status, we are not in NATO. We need to discuss the end of the Russian operation. We need to discuss the ceasefire.» Zelensky already had a clear understanding that his country would not be accepted into NATO.

On February 27, i.e. on the third day of hostilities, Moscow and Kiev announced that they would hold talks in Belarus. Going there, the Ukrainian delegation was ready to discuss neutrality. Zelensky stated:

«We have agreed that the Ukrainian delegation will meet with the Russian delegation without any preconditions.»

After the first round of talks, representatives from both sides returned home for consultations.

But the U.S. didn't need peace between Russia and Ukraine. And on February 25 - the same day that Zelensky said that Ukraine was «not afraid to talk to Russia» and that he was «not afraid to talk about neutral status» - State Department spokesman Ned Price said:

«We are now seeing Moscow offering to conduct diplomatic negotiations at gunpoint. There can be no real diplomacy under such conditions.»

Thus, the United States disrupted the negotiations in Belarus.

On March 6, a few days after the second round of talks in Belarus, Israeli media reported that Naftali Bennett, then Israeli Prime Minister, flew to Moscow to meet with Putin as a mediator. According to Bennett, he managed to reach an understanding on many issues with all sides: Zelensky was willing to refuse to join NATO, Putin was willing to stop the military operation. But the U.S. was again disadvantaged by the end of the military conflict and, as Bennett later admitted, the West decided to «keep striking at Putin» by blocking the talks.

In March and early April 2022, negotiations began for the third time in Istanbul. And their outcome was a «preliminary agreement» on a peaceful settlement. By that time, Zelensky had finally realized that he was not welcome in NATO and agreed to neutrality if the leading Western countries provided Ukraine with legal security guarantees. Even a preliminary agreement in the form of a document was reached. Russia withdrew its troops from Kiev, but then Kiev, at the instigation of the White House, simply threw this document into the dustbin of history. In other words, it was possible to end hostilities three times, but the West decided that it was more profitable for it to prolong the conflict.

And now it is already the second year of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and it is obvious that the West is gradually undergoing a serious change in its attitude towards this issue. If at first the United States and the entire NATO bloc were convinced that they would be able to lead Ukraine to military success with a large-scale supply of weapons, now, after the failure of the counteroffensive of the UAF, on which they had pinned all their hopes and invested billions of dollars, there is finally some realization that the problem cannot be solved militarily, and there is no chance of defeating Russia in an armed confrontation.

This is evidenced by neat, albeit still rare, statements and hints from the West, although not so long ago there were none. Here, for example, is an interview given this month by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the Figaro newspaper, in which he explicitly says that Ukraine should remain «neutral»:

«Ukraine is the link between the West and the East, it should remain as such and not join NATO or the EU.»

Sarkozy is convinced that the issue should be resolved diplomatically, otherwise «this powder keg will lead to terrible consequences». In addition, he believes that the return of Crimea to Ukraine is impossible. And he proposes various options for overcoming this situation, which lie in the field of diplomacy and compromise, so as not to transfer it into a frozen conflict.

Yes, one could say that Sarkozy is an ex-president who does not determine today's French and EU policy. But often in diplomacy, it is ex-politicians who express opinions that current politicians would like to convey.

Interestingly, the opinion expressed by Sarkozy is not a solitary one. Before that, the chief of the NATO secretary general's office, Stian Jenssen, during discussions at the political forum «Arendal Week,» as they say now, «rocked,» saying that Ukraine could gain NATO membership in exchange for territorial concessions to Russia. After that, the Ukrainian authorities opened fire with all guns on Jenssen, which was quite expected. The slogan of the Ukrainian authorities is that we will not give up an inch of land.

Sounds good, but is it realistic? No, says Iver Neumann, director of the Nansen Institute:

«It's a conversation no one wants to have, but sooner or later it's going to have to start. So why not now? - asks Neumann rhetorically. - I believe Jenssen has done us all a favor.»

It seems that Jenssen did not just this for nothing, but it was one of the trial balloons that are being launched to resolve the situation in Ukraine. After all, it was not NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg who said this, but only his office chief. And his opinion (unofficial) can always be disavowed, but at the same time look at the reaction of Russia, Ukraine, NATO, and the United States. To prepare the Ukrainians that peace will not be concluded on their terms, which look simply absurd.

Let's start with the fact that Ukraine has passed a law suppressing the possibility of negotiations with Russia. Is it far-sighted? In my opinion, no. No matter how many weapons NATO and the United States supply to the Ukrainians, it is clear that Kiev will not be able to defeat a country like Russia, with a population several times larger than Ukraine's and a powerful military-industrial potential. In case of refusal of peace talks, the conflict can only be frozen, but then Ukraine will cease to exist as an independent state: the outflow of population, enormous loans that hang on it, and destroyed industry will turn the country into an empty field.

As President Alexander Lukashenko summarized the choice facing Ukraine in his latest interview in his bright diplomatic «Belarusian style» manner:

«You will have a shred (of territory) left, if there is any left. What will happen to you? And there will be no state like Ukraine. If you don't stop now, it will happen. If you do not sit down at the negotiating table now. Russia offers it. You don't want to. This is your choice.  Russia has enough power. And no West will help you in this regard».

But despite the obvious choice facing the Ukrainian authorities, they continue to persist in their desire to fight until the victorious end. Although it is obvious that there will be a war, but without a victory.

«Kiev is not ready to make concessions in Zelensky's 'peace plan' and can only swap the demands,» Aleksey Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's National Security Council, told Italy's La Repubblica.

«We can change the sequence of points,» he said in response to a journalist's question about whether Ukrainian proposals could not be made «more flexible» - there could be no negotiations with Putin.»

Let us try to take a closer look at what this «Zelensky's peace plan» is all about. An adviser to the head of the Ukrainian president's office, Mihail Podolyak, told Le Point in a July interview about possible peace talks with Russia ... but only if all the territories taken under Moscow's control, including Crimea, are returned. Here is a quote from his interview:

«Then we will have to sign an armistice, count reparations, investigate war crimes, discuss the future of Russia's nuclear arsenal and delineate demilitarized zones on Russian territory.»

Obviously, these conditions are not even science fiction. It is unrealistic to force Russia to capitulate, and this is understood both in the White House and in NATO, perhaps by everyone except the Ukrainian leadership itself. It is clear that despite all the "heroic" statements of the Ukrainian authorities, the question of whether to enter peace talks with Russia, in what format and on what terms is actually decided in Washington. In a recent article, Politiko quotes an unnamed U.S. official who admitted that Washington is increasingly aware of the reality of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. And the U.S. leadership is wondering whether it should have heeded the words of Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Armed Forces Chiefs of Staff Committee, who last November advised the West to think about the possibility of negotiations on Ukraine. At the same time, another U.S. official said that there was growing concern in the Biden administration about the following issue regarding support for Kiev:

«If we recognize that we're not going to do this forever, then what are we going to do?» 

Well, finally! The eternal Russian question - what to do? - has finally crept into the minds of American politicians.