Paths To Peace in Ukraine
French President Macron has been in the news today with a proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Ukraine. He suggested that Ukraine could give up some of its sovereignty to allow Putin to save face, and call off the dogs of war.
Ukrainian President Zelensky said Macron’s attempts to find an “off-ramp” for Russia are doomed because Russia doesn’t realize it needs to back out.
All other things being equal, there it would probably rest, except…
A complication has arisen for the Russians. Apparently Putin is not well. In fact, very sick.
Ukrainian news has played a recording of a Russian oligarch saying that Putin has blood cancer. Putin’s recent symptoms — limping, gripping furniture for support, a puffy face, awkward movements, a trembling hand — could be confirmation of this condition.
Perhaps there is some pressure that Putin is putting on himself, to get out of the conflict.
So here is a challenge that some among the assembled MEDIUM minds could engage in: what is the best acceptable solution for both sides to bring the Ukraine-Russia conflict to a close?
Lest we get overwhelmed by negativity, let’s remember that both sides are amenable to some level of peace proposals. Peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine took place in February and March, 2022, on the Belarus–Ukraine border. They may have been cynical propaganda moves, but the real thing must at some point happen.
Even Putin seems to be moving this way. In his speech on May 9th he could have chosen to do a drum-roll for more destruction; instead, it could almost be seen as a temperate, ‘normal’ discourse. As normal as one gets while bulking in bullet-proof vests at a podium.
The man is scared. He is sick. He is losing (winners do not threaten nuclear war).
Up till now, most of the coverage of the Ukraine-Russia conflict have been just that: articles on the military struggle about who is winning, which technologies dominate, what the war means in terms of drones v.s. armour. This is as it should be.
The social and economic costs are also being well covered, with compassion and empathy.
One element that appears to be thin on the ground among commentators, though, is that of the end-game for the war: what is the approach to follow to find peace?
There is always, of course, the possibility that one side or the other would surrender. But the dynamics of the war keep adding weight to the need for more war:
· More than 8 million people have been internally displaced in Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24;
· The civilian death toll is staggering and hard to calculate, with one mass grave alone being the resting place for 9,000 bodies;
· Ukraine estimates that more than 21,000 Russian soldiers have been killed;
· In Putin’s May-Day speech, he made no significant plans to do anything except stay the course: keep on blasting and killing;
· Zelensky has firmly said that Ukraine will not give up any ground at all;
· The Russians are in turn planning to keep what they have: evidently the Russian-occupied region of Kherson in Ukraine plans to ask President Vladimir Putin to incorporate it into Russia by the end of the year; and
· The economies of both countries have flat-lined, adding even more pressure for ‘victory’.
It is undeniable that with all this being said, it may be that “peace” is off the table in the foreseeable future.
However, if Putin is sick and he is tired of losing, what if there were a path forward? Would it not be worth some effort to come up with directions?
There are at least two conditions to meet for an agreement to be reached:
1. Generally, peace is more likely if both sides can obtain something. This is probably the key to ending the conflict.
2. Serious peace moves will take place when both sides acknowledge that they have suffered enough pain.
Ultimately, for an option to contain the seed of success, it merely has to be less distasteful than continuing the war.
We don’t really know what Putin originally wanted to get out of the war, because all we have is speculation.
Zelensky says that Ukraine has existed for 30 years, and right now he does not want to spend the next 10 years in combat.
Can both sides offer something?
Ukraine, for example, might find it impossible to be without part of its Eastern Region, or to do as Macron suggests and offer up some sovereignty, but that seems to be asking for the negation of a nation. Instead of that, what if (say) Ukraine promised to guarantee access to Russian language rights, especially to the citizens in eastern Ukraine?.
In return, Russia could declare “mission accomplished”, and offer a peace treaty. A joint opportunity might be immediate access to each other’s economic market.
Could this be accompanied by the creation of an alternative international institution(s) that can bring a response to aggression into play instantly, shutting down a window of conquest? We are deliberately avoiding the use of the term “NATO”. While many think that Ukraine’s potential NATO membership was a trigger for war, I think that it was an excuse by Putin. What scared Putin was Ukraine’s economic success, right on the doorstep of Russia. In any event, just to be sure, take NATO off the table, and present Russia with an economic catalyst via the Ukraine.
One of the stumbling blocks could be the (understandable) Ukrainian desire for Russia to admit war guilt. Russia will not acknowledge what they have done to their neighbour. While in a perfect world this would be ideal, it will be one of the hardest pills to swallow. After WWI, Germany found the ‘war guilt’ clause a ready-made lever helping to drive resentment that led to the rise of the Nazis.
War guilt is probably off the table.
And regardless of his intent, Putin will now go down in history as the man who severed Ukraine from Russia, forever and for good.
He also united NATO. Pulled the West together. And helped Ukraine arm itself for whatever comes next. Man was a genius…but not for Russia.
However, if you felt the urge to give some suggestions on what that “Path To Peace” might look like, it could be helpful for all sides. Who knows where the next brilliant break-through will come from? After all, we have seen some clever and accurate analysis on MEDIUM of the war. Can we do the same for the Path to Peace?
Thank you in advance for your thoughts.