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More Details on Peace Talks

Izvestiya has a very interesting article this evening on Russia’s peace talks with Ukraine. The first thing I noticed was that the idea of a national referendum on peace came, not from Russia, but from Zelensky. Elsewhere the article quotes Zelensky as saying Ukraine “wouldn’t give up a foot of its territory,” which sounds brave but also more than a little unrealistic at this point (considering that Crimea is included in that). The referendum is, I believe, Zekensky’s attempt to get the population to share in the responsibility for the surrender of territory. It need not be completely self-serving, either, although it definitely would take some of the pressure off of him if he agreed to it. Getting the nation to accept the territorial concessions formally forces people to see that there was really no alternative. They may not like it, but in the future they will be unable to spin credible theories about a treacherous government that gave away their land without their permission. From Russia’s side, I see only benefits, as it provides the broadest possible affirmation of their conquests. The only danger is if Ukrainians reject the resolution, which I wouldn’t rule out, but it’s doubtful if most Ukrainians would be willing to keep risking their lives for the sake of their claim to the Crimea or the Donbas region.

The other thing I noticed was the form of the negotiations. They began 5 days after the invasion and took place in Belarus at first, but then, due to logistical difficulties (not specified), were carried on by video link. This is surely not the first use of video in negotiations, but it may be the most significant. Since I work from home, I find video conferencing very comfortable and I’m glad to see national leaders are willing to use it when face-to-face negotiations are too difficult. I couldn’t tell if negotiations continued to be by video or in person, though my assumption is the former.

Zelensky also seems to have proposed the idea of Ukrainian neutrality, or at least the concept of neutrality with an international guarantee of their security. The article mentions the 1994 Budapest Memorandum which was supposed to accomplish the same thing in exchange for Ukraine’s surrendering of its nuclear weapons. It was not, the article notes, a treaty as such but more a declaration of intentions, which carries less weight in international law — and clearly the U.S. did not take their responsibility in the least seriously. For Ukraine to accept neutralization in the future, they would want a much more formal agreement. Although, of course, all treaties are subject to future political decisions, it is true that people tend to take their responsibilities more seriously if it has been signed and ratified according to the proper forms. Zelensky has suggested that the guarantors could be a few members of NATO. In exchange for renouncing a formal military alliance, and incorporation of Ukraine’s military into NATO’s military structure, some NATO members would promise to defend Ukraine in the case of invasion. I’m not sure about this on either side: I don’t know that Russia would agree to such an agreement, and I’m not sure that, as Ukraine, I would have much confidence that a few Western European countries would risk war to defend me. According to an expert consulted by the article’s author, the only possible guarantors could be Russia and the United States — which really means the U.S., because Russia is the sole threat to Ukrainian security in a military sense.

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