25 June 2022

Saturday, 12:21

WAR’S NO LIMIT TO TALKS

Availability of opportunities to agree on peace extremely important for the parties to the Ukrainian conflict

Author:

01.05.2022

Ukraine has been in a state of war for more than two months now. The war that is claiming many lives every day and costs millions of dollars not only to Ukraine and Russia, but to the rest of the world. For several weeks, the world has been waiting at least for a ceasefire, which could be the starting point for an interim solution for the Ukrainian conflict.

This makes the mediators intensify their efforts to find ways to end the bloodshed. Among them, the leading role belongs to Turkey, whose leadership insists on direct negotiations between the top leaders of the conflicting countries. Ankara's efforts are understood and supported by the UN leadership, which has joined the peacebuilding process, albeit rather late.

 

War is no limit to negotiations

On April 22, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that efforts to organise such a meeting were yielding some results. "There is some progress. However, they are far from what we want. We hope for real progress. We are not giving up hope," the Turkish leader said. He noted that if the presidents of the conflicting sides accept Turkey's invitation, the summit could be held in Istanbul.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who joined these efforts, arrived in Ankara and discussed with the Turkish president the need for humanitarian corridors in Ukraine to evacuate people. Thus, the UN leadership explicitly acknowledged Ankara's efforts to achieve peace in Ukraine as the most effective, thus securing Turkey's role as the main and so far non-alternative facilitator of the Russian-Ukrainian dialogue.

The UN Secretary General then flew to Moscow, where he held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Guterres proposed setting up a joint team of UN, Russian and Ukrainian representatives to make the humanitarian corridors work.

The subject of the ceasefire and assistance to Ukrainians in need, especially the residents of Mariupol, was the focus of talks between the UN chief and Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky.

The events of recent weeks also confirmed that this is probably the most important issue on the international agenda today.

 

New stage of the war

As expected, intensity of military operations in Ukraine has begun to shift to the east of the country. Fighting has also intensified primarily around Mariupol, where the defendants of the city have continued to fight against the superior Russian forces for more than two months since the start of hostilities. 

According to the adviser to the Ukrainian president, Alexei Arestovich, President Zelensky warned Moscow on April 18 that "if the defenders of Mariupol die, Ukraine will finally withdraw from the negotiations". A few days later, speaking at a press conference in Kiev, the Ukrainian president added that another condition for Ukraine's possible withdrawal from the negotiating process was the initiation by the Russian side of a possible referendum in Kherson and the proclamation of the Kherson People's Republic.

Remarkably, almost two days after Arestovich's statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the storming of the industrial zone of the Azovstal plant in Mariupol with the remnants  of Ukrainian military inappropriate and ordered to cancel it. Thus, on the one hand, the Russian side claims the capture of Mariupol, while on the other hand, Kiev can argue that resistance remains in the city and, therefore, there is no need to withdraw from the negotiations for now.

Maintaining the possibility of continuing negotiations is crucial for both sides. Nevertheless, Kiev's statements give an impression of determination, with the Ukrainian army strengthening its defensive positions and increasing resistance, to continue military action until Russians are pushed out of Ukrainian territory as far as possible.

For Russia criticised for ill-preparedness for a prolonged military campaign in Ukraine, the campaign can result in not only material, human, but also image losses.

Moscow stated that a draft peace agreement with clear wording had been handed over to Ukraine and Kiev's response was expected. "Our draft document, which includes absolutely clear expressions, has been handed over to Ukraine. The ball is in their court, we are waiting for an answer," spokesman to the Russian president Dmitry Peskov said. Timing of the response depends on Ukraine, but Kiev's reaction "leaves much to be desired", Peskov said.

This is confirmed by Kiev's scepticism towards Moscow's proposals and indicates that the Ukrainian side, sensing the growing support of Western states as well as relying on its own potential, will push for more favourable negotiating conditions for itself. Basic agreements reached in Istanbul at the end of March may remain on paper.

 

Europe with Kiev

On April 20, a week after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European High Representative for Foreign Policy Josep Borrel visited Kiev, the head of the European Council, Charles Michel, visited the Ukrainian capital. One of the central issues that were discussed at the meeting between Michel and Zelensky was the establishment and operation of a trust fund for Ukraine also called the Ukraine Recovery Fund.

According to World Bank estimates announced two days after the EU chief's visit to Kiev, the physical damage to Ukrainian buildings and infrastructure caused by the war has already reached around $60bn. In turn, the Ukrainian president said that the country needs $7bn a month to compensate for the economic losses caused by the ongoing hostilities.

These funds can only be provided by Western countries, in particular the European Union, which, by the way, has itself suffered quite significantly from the sanctions imposed on Russia. At the same time, Brussels believes that the proposed fund will provide investments and reforms in consultation with the Ukrainian government. It is unknown how the grants and loans will be distributed, as is the approximate amount of funds. Presumably, financing will be deposited into the fund’s account over a period of decades.

It is interesting to observe a new practice of recurrent visits of individual European leaders to Kiev. Following the leaders of the Balkan states and Poland, Prime Ministers of Denmark Matte Frederiksen and Spain Pedro Sanchez visited Kiev. It was important for European leaders to see for themselves the scale of consequences of the hostilities and to assess the extent of their involvement in supporting Ukraine, politically and economically. Both countries have announced large-scale military assistance to Ukraine. Thus, Spain is contributing 200 tonnes of ammunition and other materials, including trucks and 20 armoured vehicles. Denmark, on the other hand, is allocating about $90 million for weapons, which with its total military contribution exceeds 1 billion Danish kroner.

 

US military diplomacy

Leader in military support to Ukraine is still the US. Washington has launched a programme to reduce its military potential aimed at geostrategic containment of Moscow.

US President Joe Biden recently announced that US military aid to Ukraine will reach $3.2 billion. It is about allocating another $800 million in military aid to Ukraine, in addition to the funds already allocated for this purpose. New supplies will include heavy weapons, dozens of howitzers, tactical drones and 144,000 pieces of ammunition. The last package for the same amount included artillery systems, shells, armoured personnel carriers and helicopters.

Biden made it clear that the aid was practical and allocated specifically for the purpose of countering the "second phase" of Russia's military campaign.

Overall, the total amount of foreign aid to Ukraine since the outbreak of hostilities may come close to or even exceed the $20bn mark. As early as April 8, the governor of the National Bank of Ukraine, Kirill Shevchenko, said that since the start of large-scale hostilities, Ukraine has received international financial, technical and humanitarian support totalling $15bn. Of this amount, more than $5bn has gone straight to the budget.

Leader in economic assistance to Kiev is also the US. According to Shevchenko, the government will be able to use the additional $500m to stabilise the economy, support the population and pay salaries.

While the Russian side directly reproaches the West for military and economic support to Ukraine, seeing it as the main reason for the continuation of the war and thus its humanitarian consequences, the West itself sees its support not only as an opportunity to help Kiev. They want to inflict as much military, economic and political damage as possible on Moscow to curb its geopolitical ambitions.

Speaking at a press conference in Kiev on April 23, the Ukrainian president said that he was not interested in Russia's opinion on arms supplies from the West. He added that in case of further supplies, Kiev would continue to liberate all its lands. Apparently, Crimea was also implied in this statement.

 

Kiev understands Baku

Remarkably, during a recent press conference, the Ukrainian president also touched on Azerbaijan's assistance to Ukraine. "Aliyev supports Ukraine. In terms of arms supplies, it is difficult for Azerbaijan to provide assistance to Ukraine. This is true and it is understandable, because they have Garabagh," he said. According to him, Ukraine would like more involvement of Baku, but does not demand it.

"It's one of the few countries where we understand the balance of neutrality because they can have a war. But we expect more and we can't tolerate the situation for longer, because it will be difficult for us," the Ukrainian president explained half-jokingly.

Certainly, Kiev's expectation for more support from friendly countries is understandable.  But in this case, as Zelensky himself put it, Azerbaijan itself needs support to prevent a new conflict and to establish a stable, lasting peace in the South Caucasus. This is precisely what motivates Baku's intention to force a regional dialogue using the '3+3' formula.

At the same time, given the consequences of the conflict, Baku continues to provide feasible humanitarian support to Ukraine.

 

Zelensky blames NATO states

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian president accused NATO states of being indecisive about Ukraine's admission to NATO, which, in his opinion, made Russia's attack possible. Zelensky noted that some countries were not going to impose sanctions against Russia, believing that it would not be necessary since Ukraine would be completely under Russian control in three days. This statement is indicative of an implicit accusation of the German and French authorities, the key states advocating dialogue with Moscow.

Currently, the Ukrainian side prefers to engage in dialogue with Washington, London and Warsaw, as well as the Baltic states and a number of other states with tough positions on Moscow, rather than develop political contacts with Paris and Berlin. Incidentally, the latter are still in no hurry to provide Kiev with the offensive weapons that the Ukrainian side is hoping for.

In contrast to some of Ukraine's European partners, Japan adopted a tough anti-Russian stance from the very first days of the conflict. For the first time since 2003, the Japanese Foreign Ministry designated the Southern Kurils as "illegally occupied" by Russia. It is also the first time since 2011 that the islands have been called "territories owned by Japan".

Thus, Tokyo makes it clear that with territorial changes becoming a geopolitical reality, Japan is ready to engage in them by openly asserting its rights to the Kuril Islands. 

With the ongoing war in Ukraine, various international actors try to exploit new opportunities to pursue their own interests.



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