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Russia-Ukraine war peace talks; any hope in sight?

Russia and Ukraine have been fighting since February 2022. Even though the friction between the two nations did not only start in 2022, it was the 2022 open war that really caused the world talking. The two warring nations have all recorded significant casualties, losing some of their best officers to the cross-fire. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) verified 10,582 deaths of civilians in Ukraine during the war as of February 2024.

Since the war began, a number of world leaders have all added their voices to the calls for the two fighting nations to end their atrocities but to no avail. The war has resulted in a humanitarian crisis, particularly in Ukraine as thousands of Ukrainians were internally displaced or fled abroad. Many of the displaced Ukrainians went to neighboring Poland, with others going to Hungary, Romania, and Russia.

The fact remains that the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has reached a high level of tension between Moscow and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO); a situation that does not only affects the region where the war is taking place, but the entire world. One thing which cannot be overlooked is that a full control of Ukraine is critical to Russia’s stability and strategic objectives. That is why the ever-increasing approach, through successive NATO enlargements, to Russia’s borders by the US-led NATO military force has created a very tense scenario. Russia considers this approach and tactics by NATO unacceptable. This is because it will be suicidal for Russia to have its former Cold War enemy on the borders of its territory.

The main problem or the underlying issue fueling the war between Russia and Ukraine is not only the conflict between the two nations, but the conflict between Russia and NATO-USA. The possible use of Ukraine as a territory that could bring closer a threat to Russia’s security alters the geopolitical and strategic situation in the region.

The effects of the Russia-Ukraine war on global economies has got many nations talking. China, Turkey and Germany, for instance, have called for peace talks to help end the war. These three major economies see peace talks as the best possible window through which the two-warring nations can smoke the peace pipe. The reason is that many great wars across the world were all resolved through negotiations and not through the use of guns.

Some African nations in 2023, for instance, called on both the President of Russia and Ukraine to cease fire and use negotiations to end the war for global peace. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is quoted to have said: “We feel that we have a right to call for peace – the ongoing conflict also negatively affects us” when the African delegation met President Putin.

Similarly, when they met President Zelensky, President Ramaphosa again called on Ukraine and Russia to de-escalate the conflict, saying “This war must be settled, and there should be peace through negotiations.”

On March 22, 2024, China’s special envoy for Eurasian affairs, Li Hui, said that even though Russia and Ukraine view the prospect of peace talks very differently and are adamant in their positions, both nations believe the conflict will end through negotiations.

“All sides insist on their own positions and there is a relatively big gap in their understanding of peace talks… but all agree that negotiations, rather than guns, will ultimately end this war,” he said.

He said China wishes for an international peace conference recognised by both Russia and Ukraine, with both participating equally. Switzerland plans to host a peace conference this year, but Russia believes that such a conference will not achieve its objectives if it is held without its participation.

The German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is also reported to have said that high-ranking officials of a number of countries are conducting closed talks on the settlement of the Ukrainian conflict. However, according to Dmitry Sergeyevich Peskov, a Russian diplomat and the Press Secretary for President Vladimir Putin, Kremlin does not participate in these consultations.

In an interview with a German-based publication, Märkische Allgemeine, the German leader was asked about the prospects of a settlement or at least a freeze of hostilities, and he replied that mediation initiatives always exist.

He specifically mentioned direct talks between Moscow and Kiev at the beginning of the conflict, which collapsed in the spring of 2022. It has been Russia’s position that negotiations, which revolved around Ukraine’s neutrality achieved some initial progress, but Kiev decided to abandon them and continue military action.

Moscow has maintained that it is open to negotiations with Kiev, provided that it acknowledged the reality on the ground. However, on October 4, 2022, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a decree, formally declaring the prospect of any Ukrainian talks with Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin “impossible”, but leaving the door open to talks with Russia.

Scholz also stated that there was a dialogue on the safety of the Russian Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which was attacked by Ukraine, as well as an exchange of prisoners, as a result of which hundreds of soldiers from both sides returned home.

In addition, the Chancellor noted, a number of countries, including Ukraine, are currently discussing at the level of security advisers, which may appear to lead to the peace process.

But responding to Scholz’s remarks, Dmitry Peskov noted that Russian officials were not present at the aforementioned talks at the level of security advisers. For him, the Chancellor’s statement “does not change the essence of the ongoing event,” recalling that Germany remains one of the most prominent supporters of Kiev.

Peskov noted that although there is no common view among the EU countries on how deep they should be involved in the Ukrainian crisis, this does not change the dominant approach in Europe, according to which Ukraine should be pushed to the fight to the last Ukrainian.
The Turkish leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has said that Turkey is ready to host a summit between Ukraine and Russia to end the war, stressing the importance of negotiations.

As it stands now, it is obvious that both Russia and Ukraine recognise negotiations as a major step towards ending their protracted war. However, such a thing could only take place when the mediators are neutral and fair in their positions and also when the two parties are actively involved in all the processes. Once any of the mediators is perceived to be directly or indirectly involved in the war, it will be difficult for them to be peace brokers in this matter.

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