There have been reports of rising Western pressure on Ukraine to make concessions to Russia to achieve an agreement to end the Russia-Ukraine war. The foreign minister of Ukraine has immediately warned against making concessions to Russia since all previous negotiations from 2014 always failed, and Russia exploited the time to plan a new escalation.
The positions on the battlefields, or the balance of power between the warring sides, usually shape peace negotiations. Beginning with the most recent invasion, Russia attempted to encircle Ukraine and impose ultimatums on the Ukrainian government. But it ended in a political and military failure for Moscow.
Now, when the Russian regime is nearing a total collapse, any talk of Western pressure on Ukraine is not efficient for several reasons. And we will see why here below.
“US privately requested Ukraine to demonstrate that it is willing to deal with Russia”
According to the Washington Post’s sources familiar with the negotiations, the Biden administration is privately urging Ukraine’s leadership to show that they are willing to negotiate with Moscow and abandon their stated position that they would not hold peace talks until Russian president Putin is gone from office.
However, the motivation behind this might be to prove that Ukraine is making all necessary efforts for its international supporters rather than forcing it to the bargaining table.
The debates highlight how nuanced the Biden administration’s stance on Ukraine has grown, as American officials publicly pledge to support Kyiv with significant aid while also hoping for an end to the Russia-Ukraine war, which for the past eight months has had a devastating impact on the global economy and raised fears of nuclear war, the Washington Post wrote.
Ukraine declared talks with Putin impossible after “annexations” in September
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree proclaiming it “impossible” to talk with Putin at the end of September after Russia annexed four more regions of Ukraine in the east and south. Zelensky stated in a televised address, “We will deal with a new president.”
This movement has been exacerbated by repeated airstrikes on Kyiv and other cities, systematic atrocities in Russian-controlled territories, including rape and torture, as well as Moscow’s phony referendums and annexation declaration. Ukrainian authorities have become increasingly vehement in their rejection of potential compromises, denouncing voices saying that talks with Russia are possible.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, said that if Russia wins, “we will enter a period of chaos: a blooming of despotism, wars, genocides, and nuclear races. Any ‘concessions’ made to Putin now would be a pact with the devil. You won’t enjoy the cost.”
The West also sees a potential turning point if Ukrainian forces approach Crimea, even though the G7 appeared to support a Ukrainian vision of victory last month by endorsing a plan for a “just peace” that included potential Russian reparation payments and security guarantees for Ukraine.
Why are successful talks with Putin a mission impossible?
Due to intense pressure during the initial stages of discussions, the political leadership in Ukraine was prepared to make significant concessions after the first two months of the war. The military balance has consistently moved in favor of Ukraine since April. Any hope for a negotiated resolution was crushed by Russian war crimes, and the Ukrainian position became firm.
Through the conflict and its military victories, Ukraine has also gained significant international military and financial backing. Putin’s decision to escalate despite failures on the battlefields has created concerns even among his loyalists and foreign allies, as Russia is not entirely isolated yet.
Moscow has almost ruled out the option of holding new negotiations with his most recent annexations and airstrikes on civilian infrastructure. There is no chance of a political solution that protects Ukrainian statehood, independence, and territorial integrity until Russia has given up all hope of winning the war on the battlefield.
Ukraine, on the other hand, has declared its intention to “drive Russian forces back to positions occupied before the February 24 invasion” and eventually regain “complete sovereignty over its territory,” (which means that Russia has to leave Crimea). Furthermore, the European Union and the United States continue to tighten their economic sanctions against Russia. Western allies continue to provide Ukraine with weapons, so the Ukrainian army becomes stronger.
We should also take into consideration that no settlement will be possible if it does not have Ukrainian society support, which at the moment does not favor concessions of any kind after all the atrocities Russian troops have committed against Ukraine and the airstrikes on energy and civilian infrastructure.
Concessions to Russia can jeopardize global security in a long term
Making demands of the Ukrainian government would be a failure for long-term security and stability in Europe and globally. A new, stable security order in Europe won’t be conceivable unless Russia realizes that Ukraine and the West can push back. Making concessions to Moscow is not the method to accomplish this because the Russian government only speaks a language of power.
Making concessions to the aggressor state is not the only way to end the war. A peace agreement can only be negotiated and maintained by two parties. To close the huge trust gap that now exists, pressure on Ukraine would be unsustainable. And the most recent history has proved that despite all of the agreements reached, Russia was constantly planning new attacks. With such a high level of mistrust, maintaining peace and stability does not appear to be feasible. Therefore, it’s difficult to imagine how to persuade Ukraine to pursue a plan that has already failed them so tragically.
Russia wants talks because its position is extremely fragile
Russia’s ongoing war of aggression has been stopped because of the Ukrainians’ heroic and tenacious defense. Putin’s regime has not yet realized his error and left the idea of capturing and keeping Ukrainian territories. With Russian moves to get Iranian weapons, it was made quite clear that if with international pressure on Ukraine we achieve an early truce, Moscow will reshuffle its army, reload its weapons supplies, and wage another attack.
The war in Ukraine has claimed the lives of more than 65,000 Russian soldiers, a shocking number. Due to a lack of men, Putin ordered the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of fresh recruits in September, an extremely unpopular decision that the Kremlin had wanted to avoid. Thousands of Russians have left the country to avoid being mobiliZed and sent to certain death.
Moscow must leave imperialist ambitions first
Until Russia gives up its aspirations of being an imperialist nation, it is likely to continue to be a destabilizing power in Europe and the world. It should be simple to arrange a deal under which Russia agrees to leave and Ukraine agrees to let them depart. It can happen shortly as the heroic Ukrainian military and western sanctions have weakened Russia to the point where even its government must recognize the war is lost.
In the current situation, Putin should have no trouble portraying any settlement as a win given his complete control over the Russian media and a loyal parliament.
Giving up Ukraine will mean compromising global security
Keep in mind that Ukrainians pay the costs of self-defense from Russian attacks, and they are against prospective compromises. They should have a say in which of the many challenging directions their nation goes. Without understanding how vehemently Ukrainians hate Russian domination and how highly they value territorial integrity, we cannot correctly assess what is at stake in Ukraine’s defensive battle.
Therefore, it is risky for the international community to push Ukraine to choose a course of action that goes against what Ukrainians desire. Trying to override popular opinion could destabilize the government.
By assisting Ukraine in defeating Russian troops, the West also prevents the dangerous spread of Russian aggression outside of this war and sends a message to Putin and other authoritarian leaders that the West will support our democratic allies in their fight for freedom. Ukraine has inflicted significant costs on Russian forces and is reclaiming previously captured territory.
The West should assist Ukraine in winning this war and putting Russian forces back to their territory. If Kyiv chooses the route of negotiations, the allies should assist Ukraine in starting from the strongest position possible so they take place according to Kyiv’s terms rather than Moscow’s. Any negotiated agreement must guarantee sustainable peace rather than merely a break for Russian forces to regroup and attack again.
It should not be an agreement with Moscow on exchanging territory for a ceasefire given their responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide against Ukrainians. This war was sparked by Putin, but Ukraine is advancing now, while Russians are retreating – first from the Kyiv region, then from Kharkiv, and now from Kherson.
It is difficult to understand how giving in to Russia can lead to permanent peace. The West should not make the same error it did in 2008 when it failed to provide Ukraine and Georgia with NATO Membership Action Plans at the Bucharest summit.
The current crisis of the European and global security system must be resolved before Russia and Ukraine can find peace, whether through a military victory or a diplomatic settlement. Therefore, rather than concentrating on Ukraine, the West needs to maintain pressure on Russia. The Russian invasion might not finish immediately as a result, but it might end permanently.
As Timothy Snyder, a world-renowned historian specializing in Eastern Europe, rightly said, “it is senseless to shelter Putin from the sense that he is losing. He will figure that out for himself, and he will act to protect himself. […] Ending the war means thinking more about the Ukrainian people and their future, and worrying less about problems that Putin does not have.”
And we should not think about how to avoid “humiliating Putin”, as French president Macron once said. The Russian propaganda machine will come up with a justification for the troops withdrawal for the Russians, and the peace will be restored.