As the war in Ukraine enters its second year, with no glimmer of hope for a negotiated settlement to end this war that is wreaking havoc on the world’s economy, the most pressing questions around the world seem to be: When will this war end? Is there any chance of it ending soon? How will it end, peacefully or violently?
These and other questions are pressing on the international scene because the war is affecting the economies of all countries and, consequently, the living conditions of most societies in most regions of the world, especially in Europe and Africa, to varying degrees.
Adding to the global frustration, what many saw as a sign of hope for a possible end to this war has quickly evaporated as conditions make any chance of negotiations extremely difficult, at least in the short term.
The literature on negotiations, as well as past and current diplomatic experience, suggests that setting difficult and tough negotiating terms before a round of negotiations begins is a given.
Each side sets a ceiling for negotiations and then begins a path of deals and understandings in which the chances of gains and losses depend on each side’s ability to maneuver and make concessions in exchange for what it believes are major strategic advantages: political, military, sovereign, economic and even propaganda advantages.
However, to speak of negotiations in this case cannot be reconciled with the idea of strengthening the negotiating position near or far. The dilemma of the conditions announced so far in the war in Ukraine is that they seem to depend on a zero-sum conflict equation. Each side wants all or nothing.
Experts believe these conditions are not only unworkable on both sides but that the situation depends largely on the war environment. Neither side has been able to shift all or part of the balance of power in its favor.
The military conflict remains a battle between Russian and Ukrainian forces. The superiority of both sides in the air and on the battlefield remains elusive, as Ukrainian forces suffer casualties on a daily basis and Russian forces resort to bombing infrastructure and maximizing Ukrainian casualties to pressure the Ukrainian leadership to back down from their strong demands.
Most notably, however, Russian forces have withdrawn from the areas they captured. The facts show that the calls for negotiations are still largely propaganda and there are still doubts on both sides about whether either side is serious about sitting down at the table to negotiate the fate of the war.
Interestingly, most of the debate is between Moscow and Washington, which began talks when President Joe Biden said early last December that he was willing to negotiate with President Vladimir Putin if the war ended – a request the Kremlin responded to with a statement that it was open to talks. However, that was on condition the West accept Moscow’s terms.
TALK OF negotiating the fate of this war is more like taking the pulse of the two sides and it may take some time for the atmosphere to improve before sitting down at the negotiating table. Relations between Russia and the West have entered a dark tunnel as Western sanctions against Russia persist. Russia continues to take countermeasures that could harm Western economies.
The most recent measure is the curbing of oil production in response to Western countries imposing a price cap on a barrel of Russian crude oil. In addition, analysis of the crisis shows that it is difficult to reach a consensus between the two sides, Russia and the West, on certain issues, such as Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine.
Putin will not accept a withdrawal that marks the end of his political history. Nor will the West agree to give legitimacy to Russian war gains or to change Ukraine’s political system, disarming it and forcing the neutrality Moscow talks about. In addition, there are other conditions that are difficult to achieve or accept in whole or in part by both the West and Ukraine itself.
So interests seem to be far apart and contradictory, especially after Russia annexed four Ukrainian regions through referendums that Kyiv considers illegitimate. So there are no real signs that compromise agreements can be accepted or are on common ground that paves the way for an end to the war. The dilemma of this war is, as I said, that it has become a confrontation between Russia and the West.
Even the talk of negotiations is between Moscow and Western capitals, not between Kyiv and Moscow, although Moscow seems to be taking a position closer to a call for negotiations. Putin has expressed a willingness to negotiate, a call that has been seen by some as promoting the idea that Russia is not responsible for the continuation of the war.
But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s remarks that “the time for negotiations is now, whether we like it or not,” has led some to say that Moscow wants to end the war because it has achieved virtually most of its strategic goals.
However, an analysis of the evidence suggests that this argues for the need for Ukraine to surrender. By this demand, it is not so much the intended side (Ukraine) that is meant but it practically is a capitulation by the West, supporting Kiev in every possible way, financially and militarily, so that the thought of negotiations seems to be a relatively distant prospect.
In summary, talk of negotiations now seems to be more of a pulse-taking exercise, the purpose of which is to avoid responsibility for the continuation of the war with all its consequences for the countries, the West and Russia. This does not reflect the real intentions for dialogue, postponed until the equations of the military conflict on the ground change qualitatively.
The writer is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.