Your one-stop shop for everything related to the Peace of Westphalia

Mediation and Russia-Ukraine

In spite of some recent talk of resuming negotiations, there doesn’t appear to be any serious attempt to mediate peace at present. Zelenskyy declared negotiations impossible after the Russian annexations in September, while Putin refuses to negotiate until the U.S. recognizes Russia’s conquests. This is a classic problem in beginning talks: one or both sides hopes to win its most important goals by making them a precondition for negotiations. Westphalia was subject to this difficulty as well, even after the Treaty of Hamburg (1641) laid out the preconditions for negotiations. France and Sweden insisted that they had a right to negotiate with their allies, which included, they claimed, individual Imperial estates. The Emperor, Ferdinand III, was unwilling to allow his subjects to appear as allies of foreign powers, although he considered making exceptions for certain estates that France and Sweden would name. To his dismay, his opponents insisted on the participation of all Imperial estates as a means of ensuring that the ensuing treaty would be accepted by all.

In spite of the changing justifications used by France and Sweden, they eventually won the point, aided by the fact that Imperial estates began appearing in Münster and Osnabrück without the Emperor’s permission. Eventually, Ferdinand issued a blanket invitation to avoid the embarrassing possibility of being forced to negotiate unwillingly alongside his own subjects. In that case, the weak position of the Empire, especially in regard to its own subjects, forced it to grant the preconditions that its opponents demanded.

The situation was similar with Spain and the Dutch Republic. The Dutch refused to negotiate at all unless Spain recognized their independence first. Philip IV tried desperately to salvage any semblance of authority, however symbolic, over the Dutch, but he was too desperate for peace to insist for long.

I doubt that either Russia or Ukraine is as tied to its preconditions as it claims it is. For one thing, Ukraine already agreed in principle earlier in the war to recognize the results of a plebiscite in Donetsk and Luhansk. For another, their preconditions are diametrically opposed and it is hard to believe that one (and probably both) of them will give in to some extent unless the war takes a drastic turn in favour of one side. Zelenskyy’s hard line against negotiations came only after Russia annexed Kherson and Zaporizhia. It is unlikely that he could persist if Western nations threatened to withhold military aid. Putin’s line that he is willing to defend “Russian territory” (presumably including the September annexations) with nuclear weapons gives him a stronger position, but the fact that he doesn’t control any of them in their entirety — and some of them well under half — undermines even the pretense of credibility he could give himself. I can’t predict Russia’s negotiating position, but I would be surprised if peace talks began with these territories already resolved in Russia’s favour.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.