Yet More Ukraine Peace Talks
Bargaining continues amidst poisoning and mass killing.
WSJ (“Ukraine outlines peace proposals; Russia says it will reduce Kyiv, Chernihiv attacks“):
Russia and Ukraine prepared to hold cease-fire talks in Turkey to try to end more than a month of war while intense fighting continued, with Ukrainian forces pressing to retake territory north of the capital Kyiv after Russian forces fired missiles at several Ukrainian cities overnight.
Russian negotiators were due to arrive in Istanbul late on Monday, followed by a Ukrainian delegation during the night, for cease-fire talks scheduled for Tuesday morning. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky over the weekend outlined the conditions under which Ukraine might accept neutral status as part of a peace settlement with Russia, saying his country could hold a referendum on neutrality, but only after Russian occupation forces leave Ukraine’s territory.
The Kremlin said negotiations so far haven’t yielded any breakthroughs, and Western officials have expressed doubts about whether Russia is ready to halt hostilities in Ukraine.
WSJ (“Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian Peace Negotiators Suffer Suspected Poisoning“):
Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian peace negotiators suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning after a meeting in Kyiv earlier this month, people familiar with the matter said.
Mr. Abramovich, Ukrainian lawmaker Rustem Umerov and another negotiator developed symptoms following the March 3 meeting in Kyiv that included red eyes, constant and painful tearing, and peeling skin on their faces and hands, the people said. Mr. Abramovich has shuttled between Moscow, Belarus and other negotiating venues since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Mr. Abramovich was blinded for a few hours and later had trouble eating, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Some of the people familiar with the matter blamed the suspected attack on hard-liners in Moscow who they said wanted to sabotage talks to end the war. A person close to Mr. Abramovich said it wasn’t clear who had targeted the group.
Mr. Abramovich and others involved in the incident since have improved, and their lives aren’t in danger, the people said. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who has met with Mr. Abramovich, wasn’t affected, they said. Mr. Zelensky’s spokesman said he had no information about any suspected poisoning. “I’m fine,” Mr. Umerov tweeted on Monday.
WaPo (“Ukraine claws back territory in country’s north ahead of talks in Istanbul“):
Ukrainian forces have reclaimed control of a few small fronts in the country’s north, officials said Monday, as Russia appears to be directing its fiercest attacks on besieged areas in the country’s east and south, including Mariupol.
As the war grinds into its second month, Ukrainian and Russian delegations are set to meet in Turkey on Tuesday for in-person negotiations. Kremlin officials have delivered icy remarks ahead of the talks, however, dampening prospects of a meaningful outcome. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday said his government should “stop indulging the Ukrainians” in negotiations.
Western intelligence officials and others say Moscow seems to be changing tactics to focus most intensely on the eastern Donbas region where the invasion began, after attempts to topple capital Kyiv and other key cities have stalled.
Ukrainian forces have taken back Trostianets, a town south of Sumy that is about 20 miles from Ukraine’s northeastern border with Russia, a senior U.S. defense official said. Ukrainian officials said the government had regained control of Irpin, a suburb of capital Kyiv.
Despite the modest gains, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said there was no indication that Russia has fully reversed plans to take over or attack Kyiv. “According to our information, the Russian Federation has not 100 percent dropped their attempts if not to take at least to besiege the capital of Ukraine,” Ukrainian Defense Ministry official Sergey Rudskoy told reporters.
Dan Drezner, WaPo, “How robust is the global opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?“
As the war in Ukraine rages on, the Biden administration has earned praise for building a multilateral coalition to push back on Russia’s re-invasion of its sovereign neighbor. That said, not every country is on board with this coalition. U.S. allies in the Middle East have been reluctant to sanction Russia. India, a key member of the Quad alliance, has refused to sanction Russia and stepped up its purchases of Russian oil. China, of course, has blasted the sanctions. Chinese firms have signaled they will continue to buy Russian commodities.
[T]he global south’s opposition to Russia’s actions might not be quite as vigorous as in the global north. Any small country caught in the middle of great-power tensions has a powerful incentive to sit on the sideline when perceived heavyweights duke it out.
The thing is, the global south had its chance to stay on the fence, or even side with Russia, when the U.N. General Assembly voted on this issue in March. And most decidedly chose not to do that […]
Russia mustered the support of Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea and Syria. Thirty-five countries (including China and India) abstained; 141 countries voted in favor. A more recent General Assembly vote broke down along similar lines, so it is not like the global south changed its collective mind over the past month. Indeed, last week, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres called on Russia to end its “absurd war” in Ukraine.
Consistent with the logic of weaponized interdependence, the global south is adhering to the U.S.-led sanctions regime because its leaders have no desire to be excluded from these networks. This is why India is not using rupees to buy Russian oil. This is also why, according to Reuters, even China’s Sinopec companies have curbed their investments into Russia: “The move by Asia’s biggest oil refiner to hit the brakes on a potentially half-billion-dollar investment in a gas chemical plant and a venture to market Russian gas in China highlights the risks, even to Russia’s most important diplomatic partner, of unexpectedly heavy Western-led sanctions.”
[Bloomberg’s Pankaj] Mishra’s predictions about the continued decline of the United States might be proved true in time. But if Russia finds itself stymied in its invasion of Ukraine, U.S. statecraft will have played an important supporting role. The global south might conclude that U.S. support counts for more than they had previously believed.
Max Boot, WaPo, “Stop overestimating the Russian military and underestimating Ukrainians.”
The United States had excellent intelligence about the Russian plan to invade Ukraine but terrible intelligence about how the invasion would fare. At the start of the war, officials expected that Kyiv would fall within two days. That was more than 30 days ago. This wildly off-target assessment is the mirror image of the U.S. mistake in Afghanistan, where the intelligence community was surprised by the speed of the government’s collapse.
Spectacular Russian setbacks are changing that view, but there still appears to be a residual assumption that sooner or later Moscow will get its act together and crush Ukrainian resistance. While the Russians have shown an appalling willingness to commit war crimes, there is no indication that they are breaking Ukraine’s will to fight. More than a month into the war, the invaders are losing — and there is no reason to expect a sudden reversal of fortune.
The Ukrainians have shown themselves to be skilled and courageous defenders who are taking full advantage of Western-supplied weapons. They retreated into the cities — where the power of Russian armor and air power is dissipated — and set about wearing down the invaders by targeting their supply lines and commanders.
My Two Cents:
Not much has changed over the past few days from the 30,000-foot view. Putin will almost certainly not achieve his maximalist goals from the invasion but nor are we likely to be able to relish in the utter and humiliating defeat that justice requires. Any negotiated peace at this point would almost certainly leave Russia with more Ukrainian territory under its effective control than the status quo ante. Whether Zelensky is willing to pay that price to stop the slaughter—and whether Western leaders would be willing to remove crippling sanctions on Putin and his cronies under that scenario—remains to be seen.
The widely-reported poisoning episode is par for the course, alas, and speaks to the awfulness of Putin and his regime. Why anyone would trust that a negotiated settlement would be anything like a permanent peace, with all terms adhered to, is a mystery.
(Though it could easily turn out to be an accurate forecast)
Just saying the quiet part out loud. 🙂
No we won’t have a Grant and Lee at Appomattox moment, where some Russian general hands over his sword and Zelensky allows Russian troops enough trucks and fuel to reach the Ukr-Russian boarder.
That’s too bad, not because it is unsatisfying but because the war won’t be over and Russian aggression will have been rewarded. In the west, the usual suspect will want to go back to what was business as usual.
@JohnSF: Ha. No, just a typo that Grammarly suggested the wrong correction for.
Zelensky’s been a good war leader, but he also failed to prepare because he misjudged Putin’s intent. I wonder how he’ll do negotiating.
I’d argue that Zelensky can play good cop – hey, let’s make a deal – but that we should be prepared to play bad cop. The sanctions are ours not Zelensky’s. Our preference should be to keep the sanctions on for many months. We don’t want to make the horror movie mistake – just because you hit the masked killer with a shovel doesn’t mean he’s down for good. You need at very least to break some bones.
Certainly there should be no deal without a robust international force to police the peace. Turkish troops maybe. But with serious surveillance capability so the Russians can’t throw artillery and act innocent. A neutral Ukraine is fine and dandy as long as that doesn’t mean exclusion from the EU, but it needs to be a Swiss neutrality: armed and very dangerous.
I’ve seen some commentary from people usually well informed on things Ukrainian that Zelensky thought Putin was bluffing, because he was being told by the General Staff (correctly) that Russia hadn’t mobilised enough men to win.
And was trying to crater the Ukrainian economy by forcing repeated on/off mobilisation by Kyiv.
If so, what he, and they, got wrong was the level to which Putin is both delusional and obsessive, and how much the Kremlin were misreading Ukrainian military capacity and political solidarity.
Regarding sanctions, possibly best is to end the real economy breaker, the freezing currency reserves and transactions, but only when the deal is sealed and the Russians back over the negotiated border, not just for some “cease fire” ploy.
Russian tricksiness in negotiation is notorious.
But others should be maintained: technology trading restrictions, oligarch overseas investment restrictions etc.
At least until Putin is gone, and preferably until Russia becomes content to be a “normal” state, no longer haunted by a nostalgia for imperium.
And it’s a certainty IMO that long term Europe is going to move away from reliance on Russian hydrocarbons. Nothing can stop that.
Turkish peacekeeepers: interesting idea.
Be very good if it could be managed; on an “outside NATO” basis.
(Better yet, Turkish and Greek peacekeepers. And someone else to keep the peace between them, LOL)
I’m going to Santorini and Istanbul in May, there better not be any Turkish/Greek nonsense. Bad enough waiting for another damn variant.
The longer any negotiations take, the weaker the Russian military becomes, and the greater the damage to the Russian economy. By extension, that reduces the risk of another Russian attack in the future, avoiding the death and destruction in a future conflict.
The longer the negotiations take, the more Ukrainian civilians will die in this conflict, and the more desperate Putin becomes, likely leading to even more horror.
Politics rarely presents easy choices.
As you point out, our interests and Ukraine’s are not identical. They want the killing of Ukrainians to stop, we want the dying of Russians to continue. We have a golden opportunity to really damage Russia, to cost them a decade in recovery time, to permanently reduce their oil and gas exports. The more we weaken them the less use they are to China, and the more successful the Ukrainian military is, the more they write a guide book for Taiwan. Taiwan should be intensively training large numbers of reserves and stockpiling weapons.
Don’t know how solid this is, but one of Russia’s only supposedly good divisions appears to have had its ass solidly kicked.
And it all then went to sh!t.
@Michael Reynolds: The problem with the asymmetry you note is that it’s very easy for us to “fight to the last Ukrainian.” That’s not a good outcome for them, unless they can achieve total victory. And I don’t think they can.
The Ukrainians seem pretty aware the prospects of a repeat invasion are definitely in play whenever Russia feels up to it, so not an easy choice.
It’s really up to the Ukrainians what they think, not what you or Michael or a whole lot of other people think.
@charon: As I’ve pointed out in the OP and have elaborated on more extensively previously, any negotiated settlement will likely be conditioned on the US and its allies agreeing to remove sanctions. So, while Michael and I are all but irrelevant to the situation, US public opinion is not.
Constant worry the Russians might return for another bite at the apple is likely not something they desire all that much, also not a super great outcome.
That sort of thing has been known to happen.
I am not the political scientist so I don’t really know about that. I do think removing sanctions is a pretty crummy idea given Russia’s likely future behavior.
We can probably achieve a better result with a strong Ukraine less damaged, and rebuilt, and progress to a normalised Russian state (or states, if some provinces split off).
Such a state(s) should be able to develop mutually beneficial trade, ordering and even security relationships with Europe, and at least neutrality re. US/China alignment.
Most Russians have very little desire for playing mini-me to Beijing; it’s only the current rulers (out of spite and desperation) and some “Eurasianists” who see any appeal in a autocratic alliance.
Probably a better outcome than just further damage to a ineffectual military machine, that China could replace anyway.
Sanctions aren’t an “all or nothing” package, as I said earlier.
The real short-term wreckers will need to go, for peace, and we could hardly deny Ukraine that.
But Nordstream 2 is never coming back IMHO; and so long as Putin or any Great Russian chauvinist rules in Moscow, NATO/EU will very likely maintain technology/investment restrictions, and keep Russia at arms length in international relations.
We will require carrots/sticks ongoing.
Russia will doubtless try to play for full normalisation and/or splitting the West in the negotiations.
There is going to be a lot of playing crafty buggers by the Kremlin in the near future.
Washington is going to have to co-ordinate well with Kyiv (and preferably a lot of it with zipped lips) and herd the Euro-cats.
Russia gets most of its foreign income from oil and gas, but also from other extractive industries (a country that big will have mines of everything you can think of).
I don’t know what can be done about the latter, but the former can be consigned to the ash heap of history within a few decades (let’s be realistic) by promoting renewable sources of energy, as well as using more nuclear power. As a side bonus, we’d also knock down the income of undemocratic places like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Texas 😉
BTW I’ve mentioned a few times Russia has developed, and tested, a narrow body commercial airplane, the MC-21.
Soviet era passenger jets were, to put it charitably, underachievers. Pretty much no one used them outside of other communist countries (a few wound up in some third-world countries). A regional jet already in service, the SU-100 “Superjet”, has proven problematic (it finished off Interjet), and not very popular, but it wasn’t a bad first attempt, all things considered. The MC-21 looked like a good follow on, and basis for a next generation narrow body with a decent chance at chipping away the Airbus Boeing duopoly.
All that, IMO, won’t happen now. More so since China is making its own domestic narrow body, the C919.
I didn’t even realise Russia was fielding division formations at all; I’d assumed they were all operating broken up into BTG’s.
No wonder the Russians are so very kindly “reducing” their attacks on the northern front!
Incidentally; there’s a lot of chattering about how the Russians are now going to “envelop” the JFO (Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation)/Donbas front once there forces are “redeployed”
That may be easier said than done.
Ukrainian Army has ten brigades on the JFO line, reputed it best, and making effective use of a prepared chequerboard of fortifications.
The fighting there has got less reports, due perhaps to lack of dramatic movement.
But it has been pretty intense.
Meanwhile the Russians have still not taken Mariupol, and are expending vast logistic effort on bombarding it, and are still likely take heavy losses there.
And the northern end of that front is still a slogging match as well.
And the a lot forces in the north are badly beaten up and the stockpiled supplies depleted.
Getting them back into the line soon is asking a lot.
And the reported “forming up” BTG’s are fairly likely to be even worse off in training and equipment than the intial assault forces.
Maybe the Russians can break through in the south east quickly; but I would not care to bet on it.
Some speculation that I think is relevant to this conversation.
It’s not their toys I want to see destroyed, it’s Putin and his gang. Already the myth of the almighty Russian army is in ashes, if his economy craters some ambitious fellow, probably in the intel services or military, may decide to see him off. It’s a long shot, but any successor has a stark choice: become a normal nation and trade with both the West and China, or continue being stupid and end up as China’s Belarus.
It’s up to the Ukrainians to decide whether they want an armistice, but we should look to our own needs when/if we look to scale back sanctions. There’s a shared interest in the long term, a strong, western-aligned but perhaps formally neutral Ukraine.
I’d very much like to see Putin gone.
But that is not likely to be an immediate outcome.
It can be obtained, or an equivalent effect – degrading the strategic capacity of the Russian state – by long term sanctions.
It could take a decade or more.
Hopefully quicker; but hope is not a plan.
Plan for sustained Cold War.
However, if Ukraine, asks for the “economy killer” sanctions to be lifted on conclusion of a peace treaty, it would be politically impossible to refuse, domestically and internationally.
Nor would it be wise: if Ukraine is in a position where it sees peace as viable, forcing war upon it to sustain ALL sanctions is unlikely to turn out well.
It could easily rupture the Western alliance, undermine leverage re. global isolation of Russia, cement Russian dependence on China, and might even lead to Ukraine making a peace on worse terms.
There is no point making a high-risk play to attempt to achieve at speed what can be obtained more surely, albeit more slowly.
Sanctions are not an “all or nothing”; some can be given up, some maintained.
As long as Putin is denied a clear “win”, and the economy is being attritted, that will serve.
Patience, and you shall see the body of your enemy floating down the river.
And the other side of the coin will be arming a “neutral” Ukraine to the teeth.
If the Kremlin were not such fools they would have realised that statements of “neutrality” are about as much use as a chocolate teapot.
Or perhaps I’m the fool here; and the Kremlin aren’t (at least not at first glance): neutral status as such purely in words not the goal.
Negotiation tactics, instead.
Potential that “neutrality guarantees” along with “assurances” of “denazification” and “military limitation” are all intended as ways of sneaking political control of Kyiv through the back door.
As were previous demands for “federalized” DNR/LNR under Minsk agreements (as interpreted by Moscow).
They remain fools, though, by imagining that Ukraine is any longer amenable to “back door” political control.
Russia continues to envisage Ukraine as a polity similar to (pre-Putin) Russia: a coalition of kleptocratic and power wielding interests, rather than a coherent nation. Into which external control can be relatively easily injected.
The Putinist’s think their realist-cynical view of politics is so very clever, but it keeps tripping them up.
@JohnSF: I suspect if Ukraine chooses the path of “neutrality,” they will follow the example of the Swiss and Swedes and opt for armed neutrality. That would be an opportune moment for the West to re-equip their military with the best weaponry around.
Ukraine has already made it plain they reject any “demilitarisation” beyond the exiting commitment not possess nuclear weapons.
And indeed at present they are calling for an explicit military security guarantee, along the lines of Belgium 1914, from major Powers.
You can bet Russia will try to game the negotiations, though.
And that’s the point when the yelling of “Ukraine must concede, for Peace!” will get really loud.
Managing the negotiation phase is going to a real test of Western solidarity and US leadership.
(Especially if a “negotiation with combat”)
Over at BJ Adam Silverman explains why that can not happen.
I’m going to have to read through the whole article to figure out where Silverman is coming from on this, but this is strange.
I’ve not heard of him before, but his bio indicates he should know what he is on about.
But in parts this report, to be blunt, he’s talking out of his arse.
re. the US Senate, I’d defer to his better understanding of it’s politics, procedures, and the likelihood of a treaty being ratified.
But re. “Germany, France, Turkey, and the UK”:
– he says nothing at all about the position of Turkey
Correct (unless you were to relocate their entire field armies); but as a joint force, that’s another matter.
True; but the reality is that Ukraine has zero chance of meeting the membership requirements for years, on a whole variety of grounds. The Latvians, who are very supportive of Ukraine, have conceded the same point.
This does not necessarily rule out a defence guarantee treaty; doesn’t rule it in either, but it’s a different topic entirely.
This is incorrect; what happened is that the Finance Minister is reported as saying there was little point weapons because “you’ve only got a few hours left”.
Lindner denies this, though it was hardly an uncommon opinion when the invasion was launched, and is in any case not even in the dominant party in the coalition.
Beating up the Germans for being complacent mercantilists is a favourite hobby of mine; and Lindner does need to consider that his time is done; but Silverman is making a mountain out of a molehill here. It was not government policy.
In any case, Germany is not going to be a military guarantor; history and the fact that it’s army needs a lot of work to be able to operate outside a NATO framework rule it out.
This is just flat out wrong.
God knows the army needs more men, money and materiel, but it currently musters three combat divisions and three independent brigades in the Field Army.
If the preferred course is NATO membership, then surely that is as much ruled out by the factors Silverman cites as is a guaranteed neutrality?
If the preference is for a total Ukrainian military victory, that would be my preference also.
However, I don’t think Ukraine has much chance to take Crimea, due to geography.
And even the DNR/LNR may be beyond it’s capacity to muster offensive, rather than defensive, military power.