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Not Quite a Ceasefire

As you probably know by now, Russia is pulling back from Kiev “in order to create conditions for successful negotiations.” The withdrawal seems to be real, although the reasons for it probably are not. I would imagine that Putin has given up on seizing Kiev, so by pulling back he can avoid further attrition to his battered army and gain some credit on the world stage at the same time. He could also, of course, be preparing for another major offensive aimed at Kiev, or perhaps shifting his forces for attacks elsewhere. There isn’t really any way to know, at least with the information I have, so we’ll just have to wait and see. I do think that Putin has put enough of a scare into Ukraine that he can get what he wants from the war, which is Ukraine’s neutralization. That is short of his original goal of “de-Nazification,” but it is still a major accomplishment, and it will not appear as a defeat in spite of Russia’s unexpectedly poor military performance.

Interestingly, Russia continues to claim that the war is all about the Donbas region. The article cited above concludes with the summary, “In mid-February 2022, the situation in the Dobas escalated because of shelling by the Ukrainian army. The authorities of the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics announced the evacuation of residents to the Russian Federation. On February 21, Putin signed a decree recognizing the independence of the DPR and LPR, and on February 24, he announced the launch of a special operation to protect civilians in the Donbas.”

Russia’s military withdrawal is interesting because it is not part of any formal agreement. Ukraine is offering nothing in return, and the withdrawal is limited to a single front, around Kiev. There is not even a ceasefire, not even in that region (although one imagines the Ukrainians will be content to allow the fighting to subside once the Russians pull back). As you might imagine, I can dig up a similar example from the Congress of Westphalia: in 1647, the governor-general of the Spanish Netherlands, Leopold William, unilaterally announced that he would not be sending privateers against Dutch shipping in the North Sea. The campaign on the ground was already going to be highly limited because of the ill health of Frederick William, the Dutch stadtholder (and general), as well as Holland’s unwillingness to fund another aggressive military campaign. Thus, although there was no formal agreement, there was a de fact armistice between the two countries. Leopold William’s motives were transparent: the Dutch were debating whether to accept a peace with Spain, and anything that could add to their goodwill was to Spain’s advantage. In Putin’s case, I suspect it is more a matter of military weakness. He could, of course, withdraw without announcing it, but that would seem like a retreat. By declaring it openly, he can claim that the withdrawal is for the benefit of the negotiations.

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