Despite Putin’s claims, Ukrainian peace talks appear unlikely in the near future



CNN

As a year dominated by Russia’s war on Ukraine draws to a close, Vladimir Putin has sought to suggest he is open to peace talks despite evidence to the contrary, with comments that have been roundly dismissed by Kyiv and the West as a wit A time when the prospect of negotiations in the near future seems extremely remote.

Days after saying he wanted to end his war, the Russian president on Sunday repeated his claim that he was ready to “negotiate with all those involved in this process on acceptable solutions,” state news agency TASS reported.

His comments came amid Russia’s relentless shelling of Ukraine’s energy grid with rockets and missiles, which has sought to knock out power to the country as it enters its cold winter months, and after a ten-month invasion in which Putin has repeatedly tried to denigrate Ukraine’s sovereignty. . .

His comments were rejected by Ukraine and the US and are unlikely to be seen as more than a sideshow by the West.

This does not mean that Ukraine is not open to peace talks. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told The Associated Press on Monday that Kyiv wants UN-mediated talks to begin in February, but only after Russia faces a military tribunal .

But the simple calculation remains unchanged; A conflict that many experts thought would be over in days or weeks has instead turned into an all-out war that Ukraine could win, so any deal that would reduce the country’s borders or represent some form of victory for Putin would be unacceptable to Kyiv.

Putin’s comments on Christmas Day did not, in fact, mark a departure from much of his rhetoric during the war.

Even as he appeared to indicate a willingness to negotiate, the Russian leader on Sunday refused to mention Ukraine itself as a relevant party and continued his offer under the false pretense that it is Moscow that is defending itself with what he euphemistically calls a “special army”. operation.”

“Putin’s discussions of the negotiations have focused on putative discussions with the West rather than with Ukraine, reflecting his continued accusations that Ukraine is merely a Western pawn with no real agency,” the think tank wrote Institute for the Study of War (ISW). his daily assessment of the war on Monday.

“This statement was not a departure from that rhetorical line,” the ISW added.

As has often happened throughout the conflict, Putin’s vaguely conciliatory tone was quickly contradicted by a tough message from one of his key officials.

Sergey Lavrov, Putin’s foreign minister, said Monday that Ukraine must meet Russia’s demands for the “demilitarization and de-Nazification” of Ukrainian-controlled territories, repeating Moscow’s well-worn and false accusation of Nazism against Ukraine, which has used in an attempt to justify. his invasion

Lavrov also called for “the elimination of threats to Russian security from there, including our new territories,” a reference to four occupied regions of Ukraine that Russia claimed it illegally annexed after referendums simulated – or else the Russian military would take action, he said. TASS.

“There is only one thing left to do: fulfill them before it is too late. Otherwise, the Russian military will take matters into its own hands,” Lavrov said. “As for the duration of the conflict, the ball is now in the court of Washington and its regime,” he added, again referring to Ukraine as a puppet of the US.

Officials in Kyiv have been completely indifferent to Putin’s mention of the negotiations.

“Putin needs to come back to reality,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, tweeted on Sunday. “Russia single-handedly attacked Ukraine and is killing citizens. Russia does not want negotiations, but is trying to avoid responsibility. This is obvious, so we are moving to the Court.”

And the US agrees. White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters last week that Putin “has shown absolutely zero indication that he is willing to negotiate” an end to the war, according to Reuters. “Quite the opposite… Everything he’s doing on the ground and in the air shows a man who wants to continue to visit violence against the Ukrainian people,” Kirby said.

The Kremlin is unlikely to see peace talks as a genuine path out of war in the near future, but it may bode well for Putin if Russia can get the West to talk on the issue, experts say.

“Putin’s Dec. 25 statement is part of a deliberate information campaign aimed at misleading the West in order to push Ukraine to make preliminary concessions,” the ISW said, adding that Moscow has stepped up such efforts in December.

Alexander Rodnyansky, an economic adviser to President Zelensky, told CNN on Tuesday that Putin’s comments were likely an effort to buy time in the conflict.

“The blitzkrieg has gone very badly for them and they know it, so they need more time to regroup and rebuild their troops,” Rodnyansky said, adding that it was also the Kremlin’s strategy to dissuade the world from sending more military aid to Ukraine. “We must not fall into this trap.”

In the first ten months of the war, NATO has largely remained united in supporting the Ukrainian resistance, with Western nations sending billions of dollars in weapons and other aid to Kyiv.

Building that support remains a key goal for Putin, whose position would be strengthened if foreign leaders lean on Zelensky to consider a deal with Russia.

Any hypothetical push toward a deal could result in a reduction in Western military aid to Kyiv. And it would present a possible way out to save face for Putin, whose reputation at home would be badly tarnished if he returned from a costly war without significant territorial gains.

Since late summer, the ground war in eastern and southern Ukraine has been defined by a series of decisive counterattacks that have pushed back Russian forces and crystallized Western optimism that Kyiv could win the war

So it doesn’t make much sense for Ukraine or the West to even consider the possibility of a deal that would carve off their lands or reward Putin for his invasion.

But Zelensky and his officials have said throughout that they will continue to explore the possibility of negotiations, without raising any hopes of a truce.

“Every war ends in a diplomatic way,” Kuleba told the AP on Monday. “Every war ends as a result of actions taken on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.”

The foreign minister said the UN would be the most natural agent for such talks. “The United Nations could be the best place to hold this summit, because it’s not about doing a certain country a favor,” he said. “This is really about getting everyone on board.”

Zelensky presented Ukraine’s 10-point peace formula to world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, in November.

The steps include a path to nuclear security, food security, a special court for alleged Russian war crimes and a final peace treaty with Moscow. He also urged G20 leaders to use all their power to “get Russia to abandon nuclear threats” and impose a price cap on Moscow’s imported energy.

During his speech to Congress last week, Zelensky said that US President Joe Biden approved this plan.

But it would take a major come down from the Kremlin for Putin to agree to these terms. And Zelensky has not considered giving up any Ukrainian land, or abandoning his efforts to join NATO and the European Union, and while Western support remains strong, there is little pressure for him to do so.

Given the success of the Ukrainian military in recent months, the continued solidarity in NATO’s position, and the unequivocal nature of Kyiv’s desire to regain and maintain control of its pre-2014 borders, there little sign that negotiations can end the war. in its current phase.

A decisive shift on the battlefield in the New Year could force a change in the calculus, but both sides are locked in what many observers believe could become a long, grinding conflict.

And Zelensky’s visit to the US – his first trip abroad in ten months – shows his intention to keep his allies focused on the conflict and united in their support.

“For me, as the president, a just peace is no compromise regarding the sovereignty, freedom and territorial integrity of our country, compensation for all damages caused by Russian aggression,” Zelensky said during his joint press conference with Biden at the White. house

And Biden told reporters that he and Zelensky “share exactly the same vision” of peace.

Biden said the United States and its allies will focus on continuing “to help Ukraine succeed on the battlefield.”

“He can succeed on the battlefield with our help, and with the help of our European allies and others, so if and when President Zelensky is ready to talk to the Russians, he can also succeed, because he will have won . on the battlefield.”

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