Why can’t peace be made in Ukraine? – The post

During these months of war in Ukraine, an argument often cited by analysts and commentators is that not enough diplomatic efforts have been made to end hostilities. This argument has various nuances, but the general idea is that if only the parties to the conflict were more serious and involved in the peace negotiation, if more efforts were made to find agreements and positions in common, then it would be possible to reach a cessation. the fire and start a process of negotiations, stopping the war and thus saving thousands of lives.

This thesis is also very present in Italy, well represented in newspapers, on talk shows and by some politicians. It is also a transversal thesis: with some differences expressed by both the leader of the Lega Matteo Salvini and a good part of the parties and movements on the left of the Democratic Party, as well as large pieces of the 5 Star Movement, including the leader Giuseppe Conte.

Almost always this thesis takes the form of a more or less implicit criticism of the West, and in particular of the United States: the fact that the West continues to arm and support the Ukrainian resistance would be one of the reasons why the war is still ongoing. . In some extreme cases it is said – or it is implied – that the West and the United States would have some interest in a military escalation with Russia, and would therefore be inciting Ukrainian resistance, effectively prolonging the war. Moreover, this thesis corresponds almost perfectly to the version of events promoted by the Russian regime: Russian President Vladimir Putin again this week he said speaking on the phone with French President Emmanuel Macron that to stop the war the West must stop supplying arms and support to Ukraine.

In fact, judging from the diplomatic efforts made so far by the parties to the conflict, the statements of the leaders and the situation on the ground in Ukraine, it is quite clear that the main obstacle to a diplomatic solution to the conflict so far has been Russia, and in particular Russia. the will of Putin and the Russian regime to ignore any serious attempt at negotiation.

The negotiations and their failure
Negotiations between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations to obtain a ceasefire began in the early stages of the conflict and, at least formally, never ended. Initially, the two delegations first met in a location in Belarus, near the Ukrainian border, and then had many video call sessions. The highest-profile meeting was in March in Antalya, Turkey: it was sponsored by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and was attended by Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers.

Despite numerous meetings, however, the negotiations have so far been a failure and have played an irrelevant role in influencing the course of military operations. The war has not stopped and it does not appear that the negotiations will do much about it, at least in the immediate future.

This does not necessarily mean that the negotiations are useless. Keeping a channel of contact open between the parties is very important, and in any case the work of diplomacy is often long and cumbersome: small advances that at the moment seem to have little importance can turn into big results over time.

The negotiations are also having some success on the humanitarian level: for example, if it has been possible to evacuate in recent days part of the Ukrainian civilians trapped in the Azovstal steel plantin Mariupol, is due to a negotiation between the parties, favored by the UN.

But the most important result, namely a ceasefire, seems a long way off and each of the two sides – Russia and Ukraine – blames the other for failure. Since the meetings between the delegations take place behind closed doors (not to mention that much of the diplomatic work is probably done in secret, away from the events disclosed to the public), it is impossible to really know if the mutual accusations are founded, but there are some elements that suggest a difference in approach.

Negotiations in Istanbul on March 29 (Turkish Presidency via AP)

The most notable concerns the composition of the delegations: if we exclude the meeting in Antalya, in which the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers met, in all the other events the weight and importance of the two delegations was very different: that Ukrainian included prominent ministers and personalities, such as Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and Mykhailo Podolyak, Zelensky’s chief adviser, who is very present in the media. The Russian one, on the other hand, was made up exclusively of second or third level personalities: the head of the delegation was a former Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinsky, to whom was added a whole series of deputy ministers and minor figures.

As many analysts have noted, none of the members of the Russian delegation would have had direct access to President Vladimir Putin.

In the diplomatic field, if a delegation has little weight it usually means that the sending country is not taking the negotiation very seriously, simply because there is no one who has the authority to make important decisions, impose conditions or make concessions.

There is also a difference in public goals and demands. Those of Ukraine are quite clear: the minimum objective is to repel the Russian invasion, the maximum (and unlikely) one is to take back the territories occupied by Russia in 2014, that is, the Ukrainian east and possibly also the Crimean peninsula. It is more difficult to understand what Russia wants from this war: the authorities continue to speak of the “denazification” of Ukraine, a vague term that does not actually set any concrete objectives. Even today, several months into the invasion, it is not entirely clear what Russia’s political and military goals are in Ukraine, and of course it is difficult to negotiate with someone if their demands are not explicit.

Between the two sides, at least in words, the Ukrainian side has shown itself to be more open to compromise and negotiation. Since the beginning of the conflict, and sometimes in a creative way, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked to be able to meet Putin directly, to speak and negotiate with him, but his requests were systematically ignored. Obviously, asking for a negotiation does not automatically mean being serious about completing it, but even in this case there is a difference in approach between the Russian and the Ukrainian side: at least formally, Zelensky offered Putin a dialogue window, while Putin he did not do the same.

The most obvious element of Russia being the main obstacle to the negotiation, arguably, is the large number of world leaders who have contacted Putin – or attempted to contact him – to try to persuade him to a ceasefire or even simply to understand what his conditions and requests are. All have been ignored and none have achieved any significant results.

The most notable case is the French president Macron, who in the months of war (and with a brief pause in the weeks following the Bucha massacre, carried out by Russian soldiers) regularly telephoned Putin, obtaining only circumstantial statements from the Russian president on the fact that if the war does not end, the fault lies with the Ukrainians and the West. Such as he wrote lately The Mondehearing people close to the French president, «the communications between Macron and Putin were more a dialogue between the deaf than a real discussion. […] Macron tried the whole spectrum of possible approaches: patience, persuasion, indignation. He hit the same wall every time. ‘

The same happened to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, even if communications were much less frequent, and to the few other Western leaders who have spoken to Putin in recent months.

A possible flaw in this approach is that Russia does not consider Western leaders reliable interlocutors, because they are too much in favor of Ukraine: it is difficult to negotiate if those who present themselves as mediators are clearly biased. The fact is that several far more neutral countries have tried to do the same and have failed.

In March, Turkey had managed to organize the highest level meeting between the representatives of the two countries, bringing together the foreign ministers, and then had organized others in Istanbul, but without achieving great results: at one point, the authorities Turks had assumed a meeting between Putin and Zelensky as probable, but were denied.

During the early stages of the conflict, Israel, a country that has maintained good relations with Russia, also tried to offer itself as a mediator: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had seen Putin in Moscow and it had seemed, at least in the early days, that Israel could have been a perfect neutral country to facilitate negotiations. Zelensky had shown a certain availability, saying he was ready for a meeting with Putin in Jerusalem. Even in that case, however, Russia had ignored the offer, and after a few weeks the Israeli mediation attempt had failed: already at the beginning of April Israel had gone from being the «main international mediatorTo have interrupted contacts with Russia.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s press conference following a meeting with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister in Antalya, Turkey, on March 10 (AP Photo)

An attempt at diplomacy by UN Secretary General António Guterres, who last week visited both Moscow and Kiev, also failed quite blatantly. Russian forces have withdrawn from the Ukrainian capital for several weeks now, and the city is considered relatively safe. But just as Guterres was visiting the center of Kiev, Russia has resumed bombing the center (however quite far from the UN delegation). The Russian authorities said it was a coincidence, but many saw a message against Guterres.

The Russian regime would also have ignored the diplomatic attempts of Pope Francis, who al Corriere della Sera he said of having tried several times to organize a meeting with Putin in Moscow, without success.

It is however true that when it comes to diplomacy – and such high-level diplomacy, in which some of the major world powers are involved in an attempt to stop a war – it is rather difficult to understand the real intentions of the parties simply from public statements and events. : there is a whole piece of secret diplomacy which is often spoken of only after the fact, or even never. It cannot be excluded, therefore, that in fact the positions of Russia and Ukraine are different from what they appear if we consider only public information. Nor can it be ruled out that an agreement is closer than it seems, and that the commitment to diplomacy is more intense than it appears.

All the information available so far, however, suggests the opposite: that the negotiation is in fact at a standstill, and that the major responsibilities of this bloc must be attributed to Russia.

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Why can’t peace be made in Ukraine? – The post


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