Negotiations or capitulation? How the view of Ukraine peace talks needs to change

Monday, 13 May 2024 — Sergiy Solodkyy, for European Pravda
Prospects of "peace in Ukraine" have been voiced for many years, but they often have a controversial meaning. Photo East News

The First Peace Summit for Ukraine is set to be held in Switzerland in a few weeks. World leaders will be discussing the conditions for ending the Russian war. Preparing for the summit is one of Kyiv’s top priorities.

However, while this process is ongoing, certain Western countries, by limiting their assistance to Ukraine, are pushing Ukraine towards "negotiations" and effectively towards concessions to Russia – sometimes without even intending or wishing to. And the voices of foreign leaders advocating for Russia to be involved in negotiations have grown louder.

So far, Ukraine has managed to defend its position that involving Moscow would be inappropriate. However, the camp of countries code-named "peace at any price" has no intention of giving in and is turning a blind eye to the fact that in the current conditions, negotiations would resemble consultations on the terms of Ukraine's capitulation.

And while China’s motives in calling for "peace" are understandable (an opportunity to strategically defeat the West), the statements made by some countries that sincerely consider themselves friends of Ukraine are shortsighted to say the least. Equivocal statements can even be heard from Switzerland, which is hosting the inaugural Peace Summit.


Indeed, in strategic terms, the greatest danger for Ukraine comes from states that claim to support it and publicly proclaim the importance of Ukraine’s victory but, for various reasons and in various ways, actually weaken Ukraine’s positions.

Covert capitulation

Following Ukraine's unsuccessful counteroffensive in 2023, Western approaches to military aid for Ukraine were in need of a radical overhaul. Limited and measured assistance to the Armed Forces of Ukraine had failed. The only correct option seemed obvious: to transform the "drip-feed" into an "avalanche" in which Ukraine would receive more and more weapons weekly, demonstrating the futility of prolonged war with Russia.

Instead, the opposite happened: instead of delivering massive arms supplies, key Western countries put the process on hold. And although there are no real grounds to believe this pause was deliberate, that doesn't change the consequences.

Instead of the promised support "for as long as it takes", Ukraine has been weakened.

Because of this, calls for negotiations from China, Türkiye, Switzerland, Slovakia, etc. have grown louder. The camp of countries supporting Ukraine's covert capitulation, presenting it as a "freezing" of the conflict, has grown larger.

It's worth noting that Russia has significant experience of pretend diplomacy.

And not just when it comes to the war with Ukraine.

Even as it declares itself ready for negotiations, the Kremlin does all it can to sabotage them. And even if a certain agreement is reached, Moscow continues to pursue its own goals, which have nothing to do with the agreed terms. For Ukraine, this experience is fresh and very vivid: from 2014 to 2022, Ukraine held about 200 rounds of Minsk negotiations with the Russian Federation. 20 ceasefire agreements were reached, and every single ceasefire was violated by Moscow.

There is plenty of evidence that this hasn't changed. The Kremlin has not become any more interested in restoring peace.

- Russia has just launched a new offensive and has no plans to stop it.

This is the official position. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov openly admits that even if negotiations start, military action will not cease. The "pacifists" who are trying to push Ukraine into negotiations ignore this position and pretend that the start of negotiations will bring peace on the front lines. ("It's better to negotiate peace for 10 years than to kill each other for 10 years," the Prime Minister of Slovakia explained, even though Russia aims to talk and kill simultaneously.)

- Negotiations won’t be about returning what has been stolen, but about stealing what hasn't been stolen.

The Kremlin demands that Ukraine give up its claim to the occupied territories. This is Moscow's basic negotiating position. For Moscow, negotiations are another way of violating international law without military action. Russia presents this in its statements as "the need to consider a new reality".

Under the Russian constitution, Crimea and four Ukrainian oblasts (Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia) are part of Russia.

- Negotiations will take place under the threat of Iskander missiles.

In its attempts to weaken Ukraine's position, Russia threatens to strike countries which back it. The Russian Foreign Ministry sent a diplomatic note on this as early as April 2022. Since then, these threats have been voiced many times. Recently, the Russian Foreign Ministry has made nuclear threats against NATO countries.

Western panic

Any negotiations with Russia built on such a matrix are completely unacceptable. Kyiv has every reason to consider this as a form of capitulation.

But Russia’s "rules" are not immutable. The pro-Ukrainian camp in the West could firmly resist them. What we see does not inspire optimism, though.

We constantly hear that "everything depends on Ukraine", but at the same time, we see Ukraine’s partners creating circumstances that play into Moscow's hands. The limited arms supplies have contributed to the success of the Russian plan.

At the same time, the United States and Germany (the main weapon suppliers) are not prepared to discuss any political decisions that would involve real protection for Ukraine.

Mentions of bilateral guarantees, NATO membership, "closing the sky", etc. are met with either diplomatic silence or open irritation from Ukraine's partners.

And some Western countries, given the constant threats from Moscow, are afraid to acknowledge that Russia is an enemy that must be defeated.

France's proposal to send troops to Ukraine caused such a surge of panic and denials from other states, as if supporting Ukraine constituted complicity in war crimes, rather than assistance provided by international law.

Putin has created a "Russian reality" and he demands that it be accepted, and Western resistance to this is either too modest or inconsistent.

The West's policy needs to be reversed

The time for a turning point has indeed come.

Rather than pushing Ukraine towards negotiations, what is needed is ambitious, swift and large-scale support. And it's time to finally understand that negotiations would only lead to undesirable outcomes in the near future.

The most important thing to realise is that negotiations would not stop the war. 

If Ukraine were to agree to them, Russia would prolong the negotiation process for as long as the situation on the front lines allowed it to continue its offensive.

Weak and inconsistent support for Ukraine has emboldened Putin. He feels that a window of opportunity has opened up.

This is also aided by the public support that Putin enjoys in Russia. The war has allowed him to silence his critics as never before. Putin long ago discovered the formula for his popularity – repression plus war. After all, he came to power during the second Russo-Chechen war.

This was confirmed in 2014 when his popularity ratings soared amid Russian aggression against Ukraine. The same thing happened after 2022. So the idea that Putin is more interested in negotiations than war is nonsense.

The second consequence of immediate negotiations would be destabilisation in Ukraine, with narratives of "secret negotiations" being spread by Russia in Ukrainian mainstream and social media.

The third consequence, or risk, of starting negotiations is that it could further slow down arms deliveries to Ukraine, or even bring them to a halt.

Moreover, there are currently no guarantees of sustained support for Ukraine. The NATO Secretary General's initiative for a €100 billion Ukrainian defenсe support fund is the right idea, but individual NATO member states have vowed to block it. Russia reads such signals as a manifestation of Western – and therefore Ukrainian – weakness.

The fourth risk of "peace" negotiations is that they would encourage aggression.

The West's response to the Russian war will set up a historical model that other aggressor states will follow in their actions. A weak response would be an invitation to further acts of aggression that would be heard not only by Moscow, but also by other potential aggressors.

It would indicate that the West will eventually come to accept the occupation of territories seized in war.

Both Russia and other aggressor states would draw several important lessons from this.

First of all, that it is important to prepare better for military action and blitzkrieg operations. And secondly, that it is also necessary to convincingly threaten to use nuclear weapons, as that renders the West passive.

The fifth risk is the risk of direct war with NATO, which would increase rather than decrease.

Moscow's claims relate not only to Ukraine, but also the entire Euro-Atlantic space. Russia openly talks about redrawing NATO territory and imposing additional conditions on the Alliance.

So even if it "gave up" Ukraine, the West would still live in fear that Russia will start a new war one day and carry out its nuclear threats. After all, NATO will not comply with the ultimatum Putin announced in December 2021.

Therefore, forcing Ukraine into a temporary "peace" would not eliminate the threat.

What should the West do to win?

Pleas to negotiate with Russia because Ukraine is unable to hold the front line are unfounded. It is no secret that the West, which has provided sluggish and untimely assistance over these years, bears significant responsibility for the failures of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the battlefield.

Even today's challenges with mobilisation are largely echoes of those strategic mistakes.

The West's decision should not be about how to compel a weakened Ukraine to sit at the negotiating table, but how Ukraine should be urgently strengthened.

This should have been done much earlier.

Since 2014, Ukraine has proposed effective steps that could have prevented a military scenario. The EU and the US, however, betting purely on diplomacy and half-measures, ultimately achieved the opposite effect. Ten years on, the West continues to be extremely cautious, and this only serves to encourage Russia's aggression.

As Putin took further steps over time, EU and US decisions became tougher.

But they have always been late and completely inadequate at the time of adoption.

This paradigm needs to be shattered.

The decision to form a coalition of resolute states that seek to expand assistance to Ukraine has long been overdue.

If the West really believes in the importance of respecting international law, and in restoring a sustainable and just peace in Europe, then courage and determination must become key features of its decisions going forward.

What exactly needs to be done?

The New Europe Center has developed a vision: a list of eight initiatives from international partners that can contribute to forcing Russia into genuine – not pretend – negotiations.

  1. More and newer weapons, delivered on time. It is important to send the newest developments to Ukraine, including long-range missiles – American ATACMS (300 km+) and German Taurus. Arguments about caution and escalation which prevent them from being sent to Ukraine have the opposite effect. It is the West's restraint, not its boldness, that encourages Putin to further aggression.
  2. Increasing arms production. A significant increase in arms production, including through joint manufacturing with Ukraine, will be a powerful signal of the democracies' determination to resist the aggressor.
  3. Confiscation of funds for the benefit of Ukraine. Confiscation of Russian assets (at least US$300 billion) frozen by Western countries will significantly improve Ukraine's chances of winning the war of attrition.
  4. Invitation to join NATO and start of the accession process. Inviting Ukraine to join the Alliance will be a decisive geopolitical step demonstrating that Ukraine will never again be part of the "Russian Empire" in any of its incarnations. This will be a signal to Putin of the futility of continuing military action before Article 5 is applied to Ukraine.
  5. Intermediate security guarantees. Ukraine’s partners must provide more serious security guarantees than the current agreements. The so-called strategic ambiguity approach (such as the guarantees for Sweden and Finland before they join NATO, or the US model of guarantees for Taiwan) can be taken as a minimum.
  6. Protecting the skies. The creation of an anti-aircraft shield over part of Ukraine (e.g. the west) by Ukraine's partners will also open up the possibility of deploying troops from partner countries on Ukrainian territory.
  7. Right to self-defence. The West must lift the taboo on Ukrainians' right to strike Russia with Western weapons. Self-defence is one of the inherent rights of a country provided for by the UN Charter.
  8. Sanctions enforcement. Ukraine’s partners must introduce reliable oversight tools to monitor third parties’ compliance with restrictive measures.

Ukraine has never denied the importance of negotiations.

But such negotiations should be based primarily on respect for international law. The West’s decisions so far have had little impact on Putin's desire even to reread the UN Charter without arbitrary interpretations.

Sergiy Solodkyy, New Europe Center,

for European Pravda

Translated by Daria Meshcheriakova

European Pravda

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