The Financial Times published an exclusive story Wednesday about the ongoing peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. These negotiations began only four days after the Russian invasion in Ukraine. The negotiations were slow until March 10, when Turkey announced that it would host a “high-level” meeting between the parties. Russian and Ukrainian peace delegations both made pleasing noises about “progress.”
The latest news is that Russia and Ukraine are exploring neutrality plans in peace negotiations. According to five people briefed, the talks have seen significant progress between Russia and Ukraine on a tentative peace agreement. This plan includes a ceasefire and Russian withdrawal if Kyiv declares its neutrality and accepts limits on armed forces.
Two people said that the proposal was discussed in detail by Russian and Ukrainian negotiators for the first time on Monday. According to them, the 15-point draft would see Kyiv agreeing to renounce its ambitions to join NATO and promising to not host foreign military bases and weaponry in return for protection from the United States, United Kingdom, and Turkey.
The nature of Western guarantees for Ukrainian security and their acceptance to Moscow could be a major obstacle to any deal–as well as the status of territories in Ukraine seized by Russia and its proxies in 2014. The 1994 agreement that underpinned Ukrainian security was not able to stop the Kremlin from attacking its neighbor.
A Russian source informed on the talks said that the settlement proposed could allow both sides to declare victory if it is agreed upon. The source stated that “every side needs to win.” Each leader must be able to sell it to the people. For example, Putin can claim that he wanted to stop Ukraine from joining NATO and putting missiles and bases on its territory.
These are the main points of the agreement: Russia withdraws troops from Ukraine; the Ukrainian Armed Forces continue to exist; Ukraine agrees to not join NATO. However, Ukraine could join the EU and sign bilateral “security assurances” with other countries; there are no restrictions on the number of countries with which Ukraine could deal. It would not be possible to station foreign troops in Ukraine nor deploy foreign weapons systems in Ukraine. Official status would be granted to the Russian language in Ukraine.
All of these things are easier said than done.
Russian President Vladimir Putin set five conditions to end the war when it began. First, the Zelensky government must be removed. He called them “Nazis” and “drug addicts” and stated that Ukraine needed to be de-Nazified. The Ukrainian Armed Forces must be disbanded, and the country declared neutral. Ukraine must recognize Russia's ownership over Crimea. Finally, Ukraine was required to recognize the Russian-leaning statelets Donetsk and Luhansk.
You'll quickly see the problem when you compare the “15-point plan” to Putin’s casus belli. Even more bizarre is the fact that the “15-point plan” leak was not a Ukrainian attempt to move the Russians but rather a Russian negotiation team trying to force the Ukrainians into a deal.
No one knows what some terms mean, including the negotiators. Is it possible that the Russian troops have left Ukraine, thereby reverting to February 23rd? What, exactly, is Ukrainian territory? Are Donetsk and Luhansk up for grabs? Are the Russian “peacekeepers” Putin announced three days prior to going to war counted as Russian troops?
Russia insists that Ukraine recognize its 2014 annexation and independence of Crimea's two separatist statelets. This is the biggest sticking point. Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the president of Ukraine, stated that Ukraine refused to accept the request but was open to discussing it separately.
What did Putin achieve with three weeks of war, approximately 4,000 deaths, and 20,000 wounded soldiers, if the war ends without any territorial questions being answered? If the Russian Armed Forces are withdrawn, Ukraine will be able rearm, refit, and roll over the armies from the sham “republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk. It will also be allowed this time around under bilateral security agreements.
The public doesn’t have any idea what's going on behind closed doors, but we can see that according to some public statements, the Ukrainians don't seem to care. While both Kyiv and Moscow claimed they had reached an agreement, Ukrainian officials doubt that President Vladimir Putin is truly committed to peace. They fear that Moscow might be trying to buy time so it can regroup its forces and relaunch its offensive.
There's a chance that this is trickery or illusion. A source familiar with the talks said that the Russians have lied about everything, including Crimea and the build-up of troops at the border. This source said that they must put pressure on them until there is no alternative but to reach a peace agreement.
Putin was uncompromising on Wednesday and vowed that Moscow would fulfill all its war goals in Ukraine. He stated that Ukraine would not be allowed to take aggressive measures against his country. Putin referred to Ukraine as Nazis and claimed that the invasion was proceeding as planned. He also said that he was going to achieve the goals he set.
There is no way to reconcile Putin's prewar demands with the best possible deal through negotiations. For the world to see a deal, it will take a great climbdown on his part–or something more intense inside the Kremlin.
The peace talks seem to be a good proxy for Russia's views of the war. It was clear that the ambitious operation plan launched by the Russians on February 24 wasn't going to work when the first meeting took place. The operation was close to a deadlock when the Russians agreed to have high-ranking discussions.
Volodymr Zelensky does not sound like a man who is trying to find a ceasefire-and-peace agreement. He stated on Wednesday that Russian peace talks were sounding more realistic, but it was necessary to give Ukraine more time before any agreement could be made. After his team stated that Russia's invasion in Ukraine would be ended, Zelensky made an early-morning statement. This was because Russian forces were running out of supplies and troops.
“The meetings continue, and, according to me, the positions taken during negotiations sound more realistic. However, it is necessary to have the right decisions in Ukraine's best interests,” Zelensky stated in a video address Wednesday ahead of the next round of talks.
He sounds like a man who knows that the Russian position will weaken the longer he drags it out.