A man plays the guitar as vendors and shoppers gather at a market in Kyiv

A man plays the guitar as vendors and shoppers gather at a market for used items on December 31, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. As the Russian invasion approaches its one-year anniversary and with little let-up in fighting, the Ukrainian economy continues to suffer. Ukraine's economy is projected to shrink by about 40 percent this year as the country becomes increasingly dependent on Western aid.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Negotiate Now! A Call for Diplomacy in Ukraine

Not to talk about peace is to perpetuate war—pure and simple—and that is something the people of Russia and Ukraine cannot afford.

The Russo-Ukrainian War drags on like a bad dream. Admittedly, there are slight glimmers of hope: Russian President Vladimir Putin stated his readiness to participate in an international peace conference; but Ukraine must firstrecognize Russian annexations, especially Crimea and territories around Kherson, demilitarize, and also guarantee Russian security. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has stated that he, too, is willing to negotiate; but Russia must first meet ten conditions including withdrawal from all Ukrainian territories including Crimea. The insincerity on both sides is striking: negotiations are unnecessary when the demands of each have been met in advance.

Negotiate now! The stated preconditions for talks are merely excuses to delay them. There is no time to wait. Waves of Russian bombs are blasting Kyiv and Ukraine’s cities to bits while its Kamikaze drones have struck 600 miles into Russia, whose citizens are languishing under stringent sanctions. The defeats have mounted and Putin’s possible successors including Yevgeny Prigozhin, the power behind “Wagner,” the savage mercenary group, are sharpening their knives. Following the failure of the Russian president’s initial land strategy, which littered Ukraine with mass graves, his air attacks have wrecked one-third of Ukraine’s electric grids and power stations leaving one-third of its citizens without heat, water, or electricity in freezing temperatures. Estimates are that 100,000 Russian soldiers have already been killed. Thousands of Ukrainian lives have been lost at the front, and many more at home through lack of consumer staples, hospital beds, and medicines. Those numbers will climb: Russia is preparing for a counter-attack using 200,000 fresh troops, Belarus might open a “second front,” Ukraine is continuing its land-war and employing ever more lethal missiles.

The humanitarian catastrophe is worsening and the global community must prioritize the material needs of everyday citizens (and soldiers) over those of governments.

Contradictions also exist whose resolution is possible only with the success of negotiations between these warring states:

  • Ukraine is completely reliant on Western humanitarian and military in defending its sovereignty. Terminating aid is unthinkable though indefinitely maintaining it at current levels is impossible.
  • Under present circumstances, Russia has an incentive to drag out the conflict while Ukraine feels the pressure to win an unwinnable war as quickly as possible. Either way, further escalation is likely.
  • Ukraine’s territorial victories have led Russia to bomb civilian targets mercilessly in a spiraling increase of violence. That will lead Ukraine to attempt strengthening its aviation corps, and air defense systems, whereas Russia will expand its army to protect against invasion. However, what both sides present as “defensive” strategies will likely turn into future offensives.
  • Leaders of Ukraine and Russia have staked their reputations on military victory even though their economies are on the verge of collapse, and their citizens are despairing. The national interests of civil society, and the national interests of the state, are thus objectively in conflict.

Congress has just provided the American military with a 35% increase and a total budget of $813 billion. Much of it is intended to replenish weapons already sent to Ukraine, and new weapons will surely need replenishing in the future. Close to $20 billion has already gone to Ukraine and upwards of $48 billion has just been allocated for the coming year, including “patriot” defense missiles. However, the United States seems ready for talks: President Joe Biden has refused to send battle tanks, precision missiles, and fighter jets to Ukraine even while pressuring Iran to cease sending drones to Russia. That can all change. The House of Representatives in 2023 will have a new Republican majority controlled by its far-right wing. That faction’s most extremist representatives are very influential. They blame inflation on aid to Ukraine, call for abolishing it completely, and consider this “Biden’s war.”

The United Kingdom is the second largest donor to Ukraine; it has provided roughly 2.3 billion euros in aid during 2022. However, the UK is expecting a recession; it is still reeling from Brexit, erratic economic policies, and its inflation rate is over 10%. The European Union is now shouldering more of the burden by implementing a total embargo on importing Russian oil. This will negatively impact the Russian economy, but also create hardships for its own citizens. Fissures are also growing between the Eastern and Western democracies over how to distribute the costs of aid as well as the destructive capacities of weapons sent to Ukraine. Understandably, Eastern countries are more worried about Russian territorial ambitions than their Western counterparts. They also differ in their views on possibility of war between NATO and Russia. Nevertheless, it would be irresponsible for any of them to ignore signs of an alliance forming between Russia, Iran, China, Belarus, and other dictatorships, to counter NATO.

Western media justifiably salutes the courage and resilience of Ukraine in facing Russia’s genocidal invasion. However, support for the citizens of Ukraine is uncritically conflated with support for the government’s war efforts. Such thinking is compounded by fears of “appeasement,” though costs imposed by this war should temper Russia’s imperialist ambitions for the foreseeable future. Self-styled realists’ dismissal of negotiations with Russia reinforces their indifference to turning prolongation of the war into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Meanwhile, human rights activists bemoan Russian atrocities even as they endorse policies that assure their continuance. Should the situation worsen for Russia, probabilities increase that Putin will launch a “tactical” nuclear strike.

Negotiations cannot wait until that happens, there is a withdrawal of forces, and the war aims of each side are accepted. That is especially the case since rough parameters for an agreement exist.

  • Negotiations must include all nations directly or indirectly involved in the conflict, and initially call for immediate de-escalation and troop withdrawals to the borders of March 23, 2022.
  • Security guarantees are necessary for both nations: Ukraine must agree to become a neutral and non-nuclear state, and agree to remain outside NATO in exchange for permission join the EU. Sanctions on Russia would be lifted in accordance with its de-escalation of the conflict.
  • Monitoring the implementation of peace and investigating human rights violations must involve independent international agencies. For example, the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) will need to oversee plans to deal with refugees, exchange of prisoners, collection of corpses, and elimination of land-mines.
  • Creating an international “fund, similar perhaps to the global climate fund, is necessary for the reconstruction of Ukraine.

Continuing support for Ukraine is vital, but it must come with conditions. Even speculative suggestions for peace are necessary when there is only talk of war. The humanitarian catastrophe is worsening and the global community must prioritize the material needs of everyday citizens (and soldiers) over those of governments. Not to talk about peace is to perpetuate war—pure and simple—and that is something the people of Russia and Ukraine cannot afford. Negotiate now!

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