The Kremlin has rejected Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s peace offer and says he must accept the annexation of four Ukrainian regions. But foreign policy experts have some suggestions.
The war in Ukraine must end with an agreement, not a ceasefire Photo Shutterstock
In his intervention at the international support conference for Ukraine, organized in Paris on Tuesday, December 13, where one billion euros was collected to help the population of the neighboring country, which is going through a winter under bombs, in the dark and cold, President Volodymyr Zelensky he also made a peace offer to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
“Holidays are when normal people think about peace, not aggression. I propose that Russia at least try to demonstrate that it is capable of renouncing aggression. It would be fair to begin the withdrawal of Russian troops from the recognized territory of Ukraine by Christmas. If Russia withdraws its troops from Ukraine, then a cessation of hostilities will be ensured”.
Moscow responded that if it wants peace, Ukraine must accept the new realities with the southern and eastern territories incorporated into the Russian Federation.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded: “The Ukrainian side must understand the existing realities. These new realities exist because of the policies pursued by the Ukrainian leadership and the current Ukrainian regime over the past 15 or even 20 years. These realities mean that the Russian Federation owns new entities as a result of the referendums that were held in those territories. Without taking into account these realities, any progress on the path of negotiations is impossible”.
WSJ. War must end with an agreement, not an armistice
“Even as they continue to help Ukraine, Americans should start thinking about what kind of peace they want. It’s not a matter of maps yet. We do not know where the armies will stand when serious peace talks begin. And the military facts on the ground will be decisive for the negotiations about the territories. But if you leave borders aside, making peace is a difficult task,” writes Walter Russell Mead, professor of international relations at Bard College and former editor of the National Interest magazine, in an article for the Wall Street Journal.
Avoiding a frozen conflict
First, the war must end quickly. The longer it lasts, the more destructive it will be. Second, peace must be real. This means that fighting cannot be allowed to degenerate into a frozen conflict that can erupt again at any moment.
“We do not want sanctions to continue to hang over the world economy. We don’t want half of Europe to be permanently on the warpath. We want this war to end with an agreement, not an armed truce,” he explains.
Third, the war must end so that Russian aggression does not go unpunished. Future Russian leaders, as well as potential aggressors in other parts of the world, must see that wars of conquest are very expensive.
Fourth, the end of the war should not set the stage for the next one.
America does not want the war to end with the collapse of the Russian Federation. Mead believes that the collapse of the regime in Russia will cause chaos and war in the Caucasus. And that, in his opinion, would be a nightmare. Nuclear weapons and materials would be put up for sale. It would also strengthen China.
“Even if we don’t always like the way Russia is governed, its stability is very desirable, in contrast to the emergence of a zone of anarchy on the territory from Ukraine to the Pacific and Arctic Oceans,” explains the American researcher.
He stresses that achieving all these goals will not be easy. Barring the complete collapse of the Russian state, Moscow is unlikely to relinquish its occupation of all the territories Ukraine would like to return. It is also unlikely to pay all the reparations demanded by Kyiv or allow an investigation into war crimes, as the Ukrainians and their supporters insist.
“But American and Western security and aid commitments can make an inevitably imperfect peace deal acceptable to Ukrainians,” the author is confident.
He adds that Joe Biden’s team must prepare for the next stage. Negotiations with Russia will be difficult, as will negotiations with allies and Congress.
“If after the war Russia will be weaker and Ukraine stronger, NATO will be less important in the eyes of many Germans. Some in Berlin will focus on building a postwar business relationship with Russia rather than alienating the Kremlin by advocating harsh peace terms,” Mead writes.
He adds that there are also states in Eastern Europe who believe that the Russian Federation should disintegrate. Biden’s team also needs to think ahead so the conflict ends with something more lasting than a truce.
The Korea model
Sir Lawrence Freedman, author of the book “Command: The Politics of Military Operations from Korea to Ukraine”, reports in the “Financial Times” that the war that began with a Russian invasion may end with an armistice rather than -a formal peace treaty.
As the war in Ukraine moves inexorably closer to entering its second year of conflict, a less common analogy has begun to circulate – Korea.
The central point of the comparison is that the Korean War never formally ended. It was halted by an armistice in 1953, which ended the fighting without the signing of any formal peace treaty. Instead, this truce persisted for decades, essentially freezing the conflict.
The hope that a ceasefire could be the way to an end to hostilities in Ukraine is based on three ideas. First, neither Russia nor Ukraine is in a position to achieve total victory. Second, the political positions of the two countries are far too far apart to make a peace agreement possible. Third, both countries are suffering heavy casualties, which could make an armistice attractive.
Why would Moscow and Kiev accept it
It is true that Moscow still uses the language of victory. Vladimir Putin compares himself to Peter the Great, the tsar who won the Great Northern War after 21 years of fighting Sweden. But the reality is that Putin has already failed in Ukraine. His forces were repulsed from Kyiv, Kharkov and Kherson.
His partial mobilization of civilians caused thousands of Russians to flee the country, but did not turn the tide on the battlefield. An estimated 100,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded – and more are dying every week in brutal trench warfare.
Putin’s inability to admit the extent of the disaster he has caused to his own country, as well as Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine, are now the great obstacles to peace.
But it is possible that a decision by Russia to gradually stop the war will be disguised as an adjustment of military tactics, in order not to admit defeat. Russia did the same when it withdrew from Kherson. Putin distanced himself from that decision, which was announced by military commanders and the defense minister. Putin may be able to accept a ceasefire – which can be disguised as an acceptance of military advice or a gesture of goodwill.
Like the Russians, the Ukrainians continue to suffer heavy losses. They also have to deal with a brutal but effective Russian tactic – the deliberate destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure. The loss of water and electricity supply makes the winter much more difficult to endure and makes it extremely difficult for millions of Ukrainian refugees to return home. As the months of exile turn into years, it becomes increasingly unlikely that the refugees will ever return to Ukraine.
So the Ukrainians also have some reasons to accept the freezing of the conflict – without giving up the most important political goals. For them the big obstacle is the complete lack of confidence in Russia’s intentions. But the fact that Ukraine’s Western allies have also seen their illusions about the nature of Putin’s Russia shattered means that in the event of a ceasefire, Ukraine will not be left to face its future alone. On the contrary, it is more likely that Ukraine will receive military aid and security guarantees that will turn it into an indigestible “hedgehog” that Russia will hesitate to attack.
A truce would also allow Ukraine’s friends to pour in financial aid to facilitate the country’s reconstruction. South Korea was completely devastated after the Korean War, but now it is an advanced and prosperous country. Conversely, a Russia still led by Putin and refusing to repent for its crimes in Ukraine could look forward to a future of persistent international isolation and increasing poverty. And as Russians begin to grasp that reality, the long-awaited rebuilding of Russia could finally begin.