Ukraine and Russia have entered the defining stage of military confrontation, which should become decisive for the further proceeding of the war.
While Ukraine, with the support of its Western partners, started a counteroffensive in hopes to reach the internationally recognised borders of 1991, Russia hopes for a ceasefire and to gain a foothold in the occupied territories. Russia has so far failed to achieve its strategic goals that were announced at the beginning of the conflict. Earlier, if the Russian troops were tasked with seizing the entire territory of Ukraine, and later parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, now the main goal is to retain the previously occupied territories. In the Russian media, leaders make cautious statements about the possibility of the end of the so-called “special military operation (SMO)”. For its part, the Kremlin seeks to convince the Ukrainian authorities to make concessions and thwart a counteroffensive.
Ironically, Russia’s push for peace is accompanied by an escalation of hostilities, intensification of pressure on Western partners for supplying weapons, activation of the Informational Psychological Special Operation (IPSO), and attacks of the civilian population. In May, the Russians launched 185 missiles and 342 drones across Ukraine, which were aimed at infrastructure facilities, residential buildings, and other civilian structures. Most of the shelling was aimed at the capital, Kyiv, with a population of 3.6 million.
Russia’s push for peace is accompanied by an escalation of hostilities, intensification of pressure on Western partners for supplying weapons, activation of the Informational Psychological Special Operation (IPSO), and attacks of the civilian population.
At the same time, international mediators are trying to propose their own plan for a peaceful settlement of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
What kind of peace does Ukraine want?
Following the Chinese “Proposal for the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis”, Brazil, the Vatican, Indonesia, and a few African states proposed their peace initiatives as well. Developing countries are concerned about the consequences of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on the economic stability of the world, as well as their own economies due to the fluctuating prices of raw materials and food products. The desire to achieve a ceasefire, even if at the cost of territorial concessions on the part of Ukraine, is a common feature that unites the peace initiatives of the specified states. However, the strategy of the status quo is not a solution to the problem, but only its postponement. For Ukraine and its Western partners, not only is the culmination of the war important but also the prevention of any future conflicts. There are no such guarantees if the Russian troops continue to remain in Ukrainian territory.
The freezing of the conflict in Donbas and the withdrawal of the army in 2014 did not bring peace to the Ukrainian territory and was used by the Russian Federation to engage in the conflict under the pretext of “protecting Donbas”. Thus, the Ukrainian authorities emphasise that they do not accept any proposals that would involve the loss of territories or the freezing of the conflict. The main condition for the end of the war and the beginning of negotiations is the withdrawal of all Russian troops from the occupied territories. The official position reflects the public sentiment. According to the results of research by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology from May 2022 to May 2023, there were no significant changes in the mood of Ukrainian society, and the absolute majority of respondents, 82-87 percent, are against territorial concessions, even if the war may last longer because of this or there will be other threats.
The main condition for the end of the war and the beginning of negotiations is the withdrawal of all Russian troops from the occupied territories.
The lack of trust in Russia excludes any preliminary agreements and dialogue. The Budapest Memorandum, according to which Russia, together with other countries, guaranteed sovereignty and territorial integrity in exchange for the renunciation of nuclear weapons, and the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, according to which the countries recognised each other’s borders and established the principles of respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, did not stop Moscow from launching a full-scale SMO.
Ukraine strives to achieve a just and lasting peace that involves not only the restoration of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country but also the receipt of international guarantees. Acquiring full membership in NATO is the main priority for Ukraine, but before joining the organisation, Ukraine seeks to receive clear and written guarantees of its security at the NATO summit in July this year.
The next principled position of President Zelenskyy is that since the war is taking place on Ukrainian territory. it does not recognise alternative peace plans. Instead, all proposals, if they are acceptable to the Ukrainian side, should be included in the Ukrainian Peace Formula.
What is wrong with the “peace plans” of other countries?
The difference between Ukraine’s position and the proposed peace initiatives by the abovementioned countries is that none of them contains appeals to Russia to stop aggression and leave the territory of Ukraine, nor do they offer mechanisms for achieving stable and lasting peace.
For example, the Chinese side calls on Western countries to stop supplying weapons to Ukraine, ignoring the fact that Ukraine, in accordance with international law, exercises its right to self-defence. Stopping the supply of weapons will not bring peace to Ukraine, but will allow Russia to establish control over Ukrainian territory.
The freezing of the Korean conflict became a source of constant military, and now nuclear, threat not only to the Korean Peninsula but also to the rest of the world.
The speech of the Minister of Defense of Indonesia, Prabowo Subianto, at the Shangri-La Dialogue security conference in Singapore was also indicative, where he proposed to mimic the Korean version of the division to end the Ukraine conflict—a 15-kilometre withdrawal from both sides to create a demilitarised zone and United Nations (UN)-led referendums in “the disputed territories”.According to the minister, this kind of decision “helps maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula for 70 years.” This proposal seemed controversial even at the time of its announcement.
On a joint panel with the Indonesian minister, South Korea’s defence minister, Lee Jong-sup, stressed that denuclearisation and peace talks have failed, while North Korea continues to develop its nuclear and missile programmes. The freezing of the Korean conflict became a source of constant military, and now nuclear, threat not only to the Korean Peninsula but also to the rest of the world.
Commenting on the “peace proposals” from the already mentioned states, the Minister of Defense of Ukraine, Oleksiy Reznikov, noted that “Now there is a competition among countries who can be a mediator. But there is one nuance: for now, everyone wants to be mediators on the side of the Russian Federation. And that’s why such mediation is not suitable for us. Because it lacks impartiality, it lacks true independent mediation.”
The main problem of all peacemaking initiatives is that they are based on a misunderstanding of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. One of them relays the Russian narrative that the war was allegedly caused by the expansion of NATO, without taking into account Moscow’s security interests. Ukraine’s agreement to neutral status did not stop a full-scale invasion. Moreover, Russia did not start a war and did not take any serious action against neighbouring Finland, which joined the organization this year. Indicating that the war is not about NATO expansion. Next is the argument in favour of reaching a compromise with Russia. Given the fact that Moscow officially annexed four Ukrainian regions on 30 September 2022, and the constitution of the Russian Federation does not provide for the de-annexation of territories, thus a compromise for Ukraine looks like consent to territorial losses. The peacekeeping countries should put pressure on the Russian Federation to give up its illegal occupation instead on Ukraine to stop resisting the Russian troops on its territory.
Without Ukraine, Russian integration projects such as the Union State with Belarus, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), do not have the proper influence and potential.
For the preservation of statehood and the defence of the right to the existence of the Ukrainian nation. Without Ukraine, Russian integration projects such as the Union State with Belarus, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), do not have the proper influence and potential. In addition, Russia will come out of this war significantly weaker in terms of its military and economic potential, which may further weaken its influence in the post-Soviet space.
Russia’s reluctance to voluntarily release Ukrainian territories, as well as the inability of the UN to force Moscow to comply with the UN Charter and international law, push Ukraine to move along two parallel tracks simultaneously—to achieve a military victory over the Russians on the battlefield and to expand the circle of countries that will contribute to the achievement of a just and lasting peace in Ukraine by diplomatically supporting the Ukrainian Peace Formula. This would require the creation of an international platform with the participation of not only partner countries that actively support Ukraine, but also those that adhere to a neutral position, in particular India, China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, etc., to discuss and shape the post-war world construction.
The Russian-Ukrainian conflict led to the destruction of the international system formed after the Second World War. And how it will end and what rules will be established will depend on which trajectory the world will follow—justice, the rule of law and equality of all nations, or the predominance of the power of great powers over smaller ones and the continuation of imperial wars.
Nataliya Butyrska is a freelance expert on International Relations from Kyiv, Ukraine
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).
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