Are we any nearer to a peace deal to end the Russia-Ukraine War? Both Ukraine and Russia have offered concessions.
Zelenskyy has suggested that Ukraine could drop its ambition to join NATO in exchange for neutrality and opt for non-nuclear status. Senior Russian officials no longer talk of ‘denazification’, by which they mean regime change, or the surrender of the Ukrainian armed forces.
They say they are scaling back operations in the North, particularly around Kyiv, as an act of good faith to ease tensions and aid negotiations. In truth, it is the strength of Ukrainian resistance that has forced the Russians to scale back and rethink their strategy. This was evident in claims that they had achieved their initial objectives (they have not) and are turning to the second phase, which is, according to Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, “the main goal – the liberation of Donbas.”
This is a revealing comment, as much of the analysis from the west has been to assert that Putin is a mad man with a lunatic agenda to reclaim Ukraine as the historic and spiritual birthplace of Russia. Kievan Rus was the first Slavic kingdom that was formed in the Middle Ages, based in Kyiv.
Shoigu’s words suggest that the plan was always to secure a compliant Ukrainian government that would concede independence to the Donbas, which would effectively place it firmly under Russian control, and to secure the land bridge with Crimea.
Ukraine has been pressing another argument, endorsed by NATO hawks, that they are at stage one in a long term plan to reclaim the Russian Empire that collapsed with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Warsaw Pact thirty years ago. In this version of reality, Ukraine is the front line in a war between Western liberal democracy and Eastern autocracy.
The cold war rhetoric coming from Ukraine and its Western allies and the Russian claims that Ukraine was a Nazi state engaged in genocide against its Russian speaking population are both untrue. The latest statements from Zelenskyy and top Russian officials suggest that the negotiations do have a basis for progress.
It would help if everybody dialled down the rhetoric and concentrated on achieving a ceasefire. Zelenskyy hinted as much last night with his statement that Russian statements of intent “do not drown out the ruptures of Russian shells”. But he still describes Russia’s war aims in apocalyptic terms, claiming that they seek the destruction of Ukraine.
This was challenged in Newsweek of all places. Despite the devastation and the undeniable horror of the war and the suffering of Ukrainian people, defence analysts with access to White House briefings expressed their surprise that the destruction and the deaths of civilians had been so limited in comparison to other wars. Think Aleppo, Mosul, Raqqa. Whatever its initial intentions, when the original blitzkrieg came unstuck, Russia did not unleash the devastation of which it is capable. Kyiv, a city of millions, has suffered hundreds, maybe thousands, of deaths as a result of artillery bombardments. But most of the air strikes have been directed at military targets. It seems that Russia’s war aim now is not mass destruction but
to take enough territory on the ground to have something to negotiate with, while putting the government of Ukraine in a position where they have to negotiate.Putin’s Bombers Could Devastate Ukraine But He’s Holding Back. Here’s Why (newsweek.com)
Of course there is a long way to go before we can expect a negotiated peace deal. But it seems we are moving away from fears of uncontrolled Russian expansion into Europe and the resulting nuclear apocalypse. What we need now is for warmongers on all sides to be quiet and for a cease fire to end the suffering of the Ukrainian people and open up the prospect of a negotiated settlement.
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Life long socialist. Now retired, I have been an office junior, a bookseller, a docker and a teacher. I write a lot and read a lot more. Committed member of the Society of Authors, English PEN and the National Education Union. Uncommitted member of the Labour Party. Will they expel me before my direct debit expires?