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Plan for Peace?

This comes with the usual aveat that I am not an expert, by any means, on the region. However, it is hard to get good news about it, and I have been looking for clues in Izvestiya for what Putin might be willing to settle for.

Today’s lead article gives a look at the state of peace talks. Zelensky offered a week ago to guarantee Ukraine’s neutrality and that it would not join NATO — huge concessions that I was surprised to see, although given the situation, Ukraine doesn’t have a lot of bargaining chips. The article in Izvestiya announces that Putin’s press secretary Dmitrii Peskov has praised Zelensky’s willingness to accept a referendum in Ukraine on the status of Crimea and the two Donbas states. Obviously, Peskov has no authority, but his statement would be a way for Putin to signal that things are moving in the right direction. It would not be surprising to hear Putin issuing a statement in the next day or two that these concessions are inadequate in themselves and he still insists on the “de-nazification” of Ukraine, something he would obviously very much like. However, if the military situation does not improve in the near future, he may be willing to accept less than he initially thought he was going to get, and this statement begins to establish the idea that Russia could be content with a more achievable set of demands.

I had originally not considered Ukraine’s NATO membership as a negotiable point, but it makes perfect sense that it is. Ukraine has done remarkably well in the war so far, but their long-term prospects are still bleak. If Russia achieves a military victory down the road, every Ukrainian political leader who opposed Russia would face imprisonment or death on the grounds that he was a “Nazi” who was dangerous to Russia. The Crimea and the Donbas republics are faits accomplis, so their concession is more a pro-forma matter that formally removes a thorn in Russia’s side (ongoing complaints that their occupation of Crimea and the Donbas is illegitimate) but doesn’t change anything. Promising Ukraine’s military neutralization gives Russia significantly more time and opportunity to turn Ukraine into a puppet state. Without NATO help, it is unlikely that Ukraine would be able to build a credible defense against future Russian invasions, leaving it little option but to play along with Russian demands. The article specifies that Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine had the goal of the “demilitarization” and “denazification” of Ukraine. While “denazification” is looking less likely, Russia could still demand a range of cutbacks and limitations in Ukraine’s military that could further undermine their hope of resisting Russian attacks in the future.

Westphalia connection: this is actually quite interesting, because Peskov’s statement on the matter begins, “Ukraine is a sovereign nation.” As we know, sovereignty is not a key theme of Westphalia, but calling a referendum in the country to endorse the cession of Crimea and the Donbas republics definitely is. This is precisely what France wanted with regard to Alsace: not just the Emperor’s personal agreement, but a document backed by the estates of the Empire conceding the territory. The fact that the estates voted not to give Alsace to France, but France took it anyway in the treaty, is typical of the way these negotiations are conducted. The Peace of Westphalia declared that it spoke for the estates of the Empire, and many of them signed it, so it served France’s purpose of creating an appearance of consent to their conquest.

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