Moscow-Kyiv talks on thin ice
The war in Ukraine continues to rage while Ukrainian and Russian negotiators talk, reported DW.
Experts say that for now neither side is ready for a breakthrough and fear that the war will last a very long time.
Russia's war against Ukraine is entering its fourth week. Apart from the news of fighting and victims, there are reports of talks between the governments in Moscow and Kyiv. Having met a few times in person in Belarus, the negotiators are now talking via video link.
So far, to no avail. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that he will not give up his "plan" until his key demands are met: "demilitarization," "denazification," as well as a "neutral status" for Ukraine. He has also called on Kyiv to recognize Crimea as Russian territory, as well as the independence of the "people's republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk. For his part, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shown willingness to concede that Ukraine will not become a member of NATO.
While few concrete details have emerged from the negotiations, an article in the British Financial Times daily this week caused a stir. It said that Russia and Ukraine had made "significant progress on a tentative peace plan" and were discussing a 15-point draft deal. According to certain people who had been briefed on the talks, it said, the deal involved "Kyiv renouncing its ambitions to join NATO and promising not to host foreign military bases or weaponry in exchange for protection from allies such as the US, UK and Turkey." Ukrainian delegates say that Kyiv needs legally binding commitments, the report said.
'An absurd situation'
Alyona Hetmanchuk, the head of the Kyiv-based think tank New Europe Center, said that it was an "absurd" situation. "First, one has to agree to a cease-fire, and then one can conduct concrete negotiations. But this is what it is like today: The more intensive the negotiations are, the more gunfire there is," she said.
She said that the fact that Ukraine was willing to agree to neutral status was its biggest concession. "Not only because NATO membership is one of the goals of the constitution, but because it has the support of an unprecedented majority," she said. She explained that the concession had been linked to security guarantees that would effectively replace Article 5 of the NATO treaty, its principle of collective defense.
But she said the proposal was "quite delusional" because NATO states had not indicated they were willing to give Ukraine such guarantees. She said that Russia was also unlikely to agree to such an offer.
She said that for Kyiv the red line would be the acknowledgement of Crimea and Donbas: "That would be a complete capitulation."
Hetmanchuk doubted that the talks would be successful but said that they were important for "improving the humanitarian situation and showing the world that Ukraine is willing to make certain compromises."
'No more talk of deposing Zelenskyy'
Andrei Kortunov, the head of the Russian International Affairs Council (RSMD), explained that "a conversation about more fundamental issues is beginning" in these negotiations, which were initially about humanitarian corridors. He said that he had detected a certain "dynamic" in Russia's attitude to certain issues.
"There were comments implying that 'denazification' would entail a rebooting of Ukraine's state project, perhaps new elections, and the removal of right-wing nationalist forces from the political arena," he said. "Now, the agenda has been scaled down. There is no more talk of deposing Zelenskyy."
He said that Moscow's main demand concerned Kyiv's aspirations to NATO membership and its cooperation with the alliance. As for the recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk, he said that this question could be put aside indefinitely and believed that it was possible that Russian troops might well withdraw from the territories it had conquered since the beginning of the war.
Talks for 'PR reasons'
Robert Brinkley, a former British ambassador in Ukraine, was pessimistic that the talks between Moscow and Kyiv would reach a breakthrough. He said that this could be expected only when "both sides were ready," but for now they were both "trying to improve their positions on the ground."
He did not directly answer a question as to whether Britain would give Ukraine security guarantees. Instead, he underlined the negative experiences that Ukraine had faced with the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, when the nuclear powers Russia, US and Britain assured Ukraine that they would respect its borders and sovereignty in return for it renouncing the nuclear weapons that it had inherited from the Soviet Union. "That document did not provide any guarantees, and therefore I think that Ukraine will look very carefully" at a new agreement, he said.
The former British diplomat also pointed out that NATO was not sending troops to Ukraine or providing aircraft to enforce a no-fly zone as Ukraine had requested.
Hans-Jürgen Heimsoeth, a former German ambassador to Ukraine, predicted that the first results would materialize only in a few weeks. He said that the two sides were conducting negotiations "for certain PR reasons" but that there were differences in their style. Whereas the Russian leadership was uncompromising, Ukraine had shown it was open regarding neutrality and foreign bases on its territory, he said.
'A deceptive ploy'
The political analyst Winfried Schneider-Deters, who lived a long time in Ukraine, is the only one of the experts DW talked to who described the negotiations as a "smokescreen."
"It is a deceptive ploy by Putin," he insisted. "He wants to lull the West into a sense of security by letting peace appear on the horizon so that it stops supporting Ukraine with weapons. It is also a maneuver to buy time. Since the first offensive failed so miserably, he needs to collect his forces for a second wave of attacks."
Schneider-Deters said that Putin aspired to a "military solution." He added that Kyiv also needed these talks "to rally and train the volunteers who have been signing up." He also evoked the Budapest Memorandum, saying that Ukraine should not agree to security guarantees. He pointed out that though the West was not fighting in Ukraine, it could "deliver weapons and more weapons." His prognosis was that the war would "last a very long time."