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The View From Here: Ending the war

Mar 29, 2022 | Featured, The View From Here - Walter Kish

Volodymyr Kish.

After a month of bitter fighting and untold misery for Ukraine’s civilian population, Russia’s ill-conceived and incompetently executed war against Ukraine has bogged down into a stalemate, essentially a war of attrition. Putin’s “special military operation” is in shambles, and Russia has become isolated both economically and politically from most of the free world.

Short of a drastic escalation that would bring Russia into a direct conflict with NATO, Russia has no chance of winning this war. It is still possible, of course, that Putin might be lunatic enough to keep escalating, perhaps even to the point of using chemical or nuclear weapons. In all probability, however, it is likely that sometime in the next month or two, the Russians will realize they are in a no-win situation and will seek a face-saving way out through a negotiated ceasefire and start peace talks for real. The only realistic possibility remaining for the Russians in terms of territorial gains is the seizing of a land corridor along the Black Sea coast from Crimea to the Russian border in the east. The imminent fall of Mariupol in the near future would accomplish that, after which the Russians could declare “victory”, and then offer to negotiate in order to consolidate their hold on that captured corridor.

So, what could both sides aspire to achieve in the negotiations that follow? I will try to analyze some of the possibilities and their chances of success.

In terms of the territorial aspects, the Russians would demand to keep the Black Sea coast corridor so that they have a permanent land link to Crimea. They would also require Ukraine to recognize their hold on Crimea and the Donbas. They would likely agree to remove their troops from all other areas in the north and east, as well as the Kherson area. Ukraine would initially demand that, at minimum, the Russians move back to their positions at the start of the war, but likely would be willing to consider accommodating some compromise on some of the Russian demands, but the land corridor to Crimea would be the big stumbling block and not negotiable. No doubt, any talks on this point would be long and heated, with considerable pressure put on both sides by the EU, NATO and the U.S. It is hard to see any possibility of compromise on this issue, and consequently talks could drag on inconclusively for a long time. Most of Ukraine’s population strongly opposes any territorial concessions to the Russians, and this would weigh heavily on Ukraine’s negotiating position.

One of the main stated objectives of the Russian invasion was to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. On this, Ukraine might be persuaded to agree that it would refrain from seeking NATO membership for the foreseeable future. This was not in the cards even before the war, so this would not really be a big concession, and more a matter of accepting the current reality. Ukraine would unequivocally not agree, however, to the accompanying Russian demand that it “demilitarize”. Though not a member of NATO, Ukraine would require that NATO continues to supply it with the military aid and technology it would need to deter future potential Russian attacks. It would also seek to obtain strong security guarantees from all parties to prevent future Russian incursions. On this score, presuming that the Russians continue to lose this war, the Russians would have little leverage, and it is likely that Ukraine would have the advantage on these points of contention.

Another major area where Ukraine would likely prevail is on the issue of reparations. Russia has destroyed hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Ukrainian civilian and economic infrastructure. Ukraine would demand that Russia pay for the damage that it has caused. Here too, Russia has little leverage. Most of its foreign assets have been seized or frozen, and these would be used to pay for the damage Russia has inflicted on Ukraine. The western world would likely refuse to lift its crippling economic sanctions on Russia unless it agreed to pay reparations for the reconstruction of Ukraine.

Who wins or loses in possible peace negotiations will depend on the situation on the ground at the time real negotiations begin. If the Ukrainian forces are successful in their counterattacks and can push most of the Russian advances back to their starting point, then Ukraine will be in a strong bargaining position. If the Russians succeed in regrouping and reinforcing their forces and gain control of most of Eastern Ukraine, then they would be able to unilaterally impose a peace settlement on their terms. This latter scenario, however, is looking increasingly unlikely.

The most probable scenario, in my view, is that the war will drag on inconclusively for perhaps another month or two, after which battle fatigue and the reality of an economically crippled and bankrupt Russia will force both sides to the negotiating table. That’s where a new, political war will begin in earnest. I have little doubt that the Ukrainians are well prepared for those battles too.

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Nadia Prokopiw
Federal Provincial Child Care
Serving Ukrainian New Comers in Toronto

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