Negotiate now, or capitulate later: ten incentives for Ukraine to make peace with Russia

Jun 17, 2024
Peace sign Ukraine flag.

As the Ukrainian war appears to be nearing its conclusion, the question is what a peace could look like.

1.The Worsening Situation. The window to a compromise peace with Russia is fast closing. Western hardliners are urging Ukraine to expend its remaining military resources in the vain hope of stopping and reversing Russia’s most recent advances, supposedly to strengthen Kiev’s position in future negotiations with Moscow. But wishful thinking is not a strategy. There is no evidence Ukraine is capable of doing this. Ukraine’s attempted counter-offensive in summer 2023 – when both it and NATO were much stronger – was an unmitigated disaster. Ukraine’s remaining ability to inflict significant military costs on Russia is a negotiating card that Kiev needs to play now. The weaker Ukraine is militarily, the less incentive Russia will have to negotiate a peace settlement, as opposed to imposing one.

2. Averting Armageddon. Western hardliners have no compunction when it comes to fighting to the last Ukrainian and they are determined to escalate NATO’s support for Ukraine, even at the risk of nuclear war with Russia. But Western escalationism is a sign of weakness, not strength, a barometer of NATO’s persistent failure, and the inability of its guns, tanks, missiles, mercenaries, sanctions, sabotage, technicians, intelligence, targeting and terrorism to turn the tide of war in Ukraine’s favour. All-out nuclear war would be catastrophic, not least for Ukraine, which would be wiped out in the first wave of attacks.

3. Saving Odessa. The Donbass is lost, and Kharkov may be doomed, too. Control of Odessa might be maintained as part of a peace settlement, but only if Russia faces – as it does just now – a very hard fight to seize it. Should Ukraine collapse militarily and be unable to effectively defend Odessa, Putin will have no reason to concede to Kiev a city he considers historically Russian. Odessa’s retention as a result of a negotiated settlement would signal Ukraine’s survival as an independent, sovereign state – a country with a Black Sea port and a viable economic future that is not reliant on Western hand-outs.

4. De-Railing Demographic Decline. Ukraine is heading towards a demographic disaster that could see the country’s post-independence population halved from 40 to 20 million. It desperately needs to halt the slaughter of its young people. And only when the war ends will the millions of Ukrainian refugees living abroad even consider returning home.

5. Reclaiming Sovereignty. The war has turned Ukraine into a Western client state, whose future depends on the whims and electoral fortunes of American and European politicians. Ending the West’s proxy war with Russia would regain Ukraine’s sovereignty.

6. Beating Trump. Come November, the chances are Ukraine will either have lost the war or will be losing even more badly than it is now. Democratic strategists calculate that even a severely stricken Ukraine will be better for Biden’s votes than a lost war. But much more helpful to Biden politically would be peace negotiations with Russia initiated and led by Ukraine. A Trump presidency would be a nightmare for Ukraine, threatening to undermine, and possibly end, US economic and military support for Kiev.

7. Regime-Changing. Elected President on a platform of peace with Russia, Zelensky is all-in on the continuation of the war, whatever the costs to the Ukrainian people. He remains popular among Ukrainians who want to fight on come what may, but the broader public is increasingly embracing the idea of ending the war by conceding territory to Russia in order to save lives and safeguard the country’s future existence. Zelensky’s regime will be ended by peace – and the sooner the better for the families of the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who will die if the war continues for much longer.

8. Getting Russia to Pay. While Putin will concede little or nothing when it comes to the negotiation of vital territorial and security issues, economic and financial concessions are another matter. Aid to a recovering, postwar Ukraine could serve Russia’s trade and commercial interests. One possibility is that Moscow could guarantee the supply of cheap energy to Ukraine, something Russia did for decades before the breakdown of its relations with Kiev. Instead of attempting to steal Russia’s foreign assets, the West should unfreeze the funds so that Putin can invest money in the reconstruction of not just his newly acquired territories but, quite possibly, in Kiev-controlled Ukraine as well.

9. Joining NATO and the EU. While Ukraine’s membership of NATO is not on offer as part of any peace deal, Putin has already conceded Ukraine’s right to join the EU. The negotiation of Ukraine’s entry into the EU will take years and the talks will only make significant, practical progress when the war ends. Putin has also accepted the idea of some kind of international security guarantee for postwar Ukraine. Importantly, peace between Russia and Ukraine could kick-start discussions about the establishment of pan-European security structures that would obviate the need for NATO.

10. “Ukrainianisation”. Not the ultra-nationalist wet dream of an ethnically cleansed Ukraine, but a form of ‘Finlandisation’. Finland was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1939-1940 and then fought on Hitler’s side during World War II, but it survived to prosper during the cold war by balancing between the Soviet and Western blocs. In return for a friendly foreign policy Moscow allowed the Finns freedom of action in their domestic affairs. It was a formula that enabled Finland to become one of the most successful post-WW2 states. Finland aspired to bridge East and West, and had many successes in that regard, notably during détente in the 1960s and 1970s. Ukraine could play the same role in ameliorating the highly dangerous new cold war that is developing between Russia and the West. Like Finland, Ukraine can recover from the dire consequences of siding with Russia’s enemies and benefit from good relations with both Washington and Moscow.


Republished from BRAVE NEW EUROPE, June 09, 2024

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