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The Long Road to A Peace Deal Between Russia and Ukraine

Russian Tanks in Ukraine
Russian Tanks in Ukraine. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

With the illegal and unrecognized annexation of four Ukrainian territories yesterday morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to set the terms for negotiations to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky quickly responded in the negative to Putin’s riposte, suggesting that he did not intend to negotiate with Russia for as long as Putin remained President. While the prospects for negotiations in the near term between the two countries do not look great, it’s nevertheless worthwhile to examine the points on which Moscow, Kyiv, and the rest of the international community will discuss when talks resume.

Territorial Concessions

The first and most significant problem for negotiations involves the control of territory. At the moment, there are four kinds of disputed territory in Ukraine: 1) territory occupied by Russia but not yet annexed, 2) territory occupied by Russia and annexed today, 3) territory annexed by Russia today but occupied by Ukraine, and 4) territory annexed or occupied by Russia in 2014. Ukraine wants all of this territory back and Russia will be reluctant to cede any but category 1.

Much will depend on the course of fighting before a cease-fire effectively freezes the lines of control and makes the transfer of territory difficult. At the moment, Ukraine is retaking territory from Russia, primarily in category 1 but some in category 2. Further Ukrainian success in category 1 could make negotiations easier, while further success in categories 2 and 4 will make negotiations more difficult.

Experience in Bosnia and the Caucasus suggests that any negotiations over the transfer and control of territory will be painstaking and complex. The introduction of peacekeepers offered by a mutually acceptable third party (perhaps India, Turkey, or China) may also be necessary to separate the combatants.

Reparations

There is no question that Ukraine will demand reparations for the damage inflicted during the Russian invasion.

The destruction of Ukrainian life and infrastructure since the beginning of the war has been extreme, especially in the east but with effects felt across the entire country.

However, there is little reason to believe that Russia will have any interest in or incentive to make good on this damage, particularly given the dire economic circumstances that Moscow currently finds itself in. Some have suggested using Russian assets seized abroad to fund Ukrainian reconstruction, and although there are legal and regulatory problems associated with this solution, it does have some merit. Much depends on the international attitude towards Russia and Ukraine as hostilities wind down.

Legal Immunity

The loss of life, damage to property, and well-documented war crimes associated with the Russian invasion will almost certainly lead to substantial legal claims against Russia and specific Russian citizens after the war.

Russia will undoubtedly demand immunity for its crimes and the crimes of its citizens, but Ukraine and Ukrainian citizens will have extra-territorial venues for prosecuting both civil and criminal claims against Russia.

Long story short, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Russian policymakers feel secure sending money or traveling abroad. Negotiations could potentially remedy some, but not all, of this vulnerability.

External Support

An international guarantee of Ukraine’s sovereignty and security will be one of the most difficult sticking points in any negotiation.

Although Ukraine seems to have the military advantage now, a prolonged cessation of hostilities could enable Russia to reconstitute its military capabilities and once again threaten to invade. Ukraine will thus almost certainly demand some kind of external guarantee of its security; indeed, just yesterday morning, President Zelensky announced that Ukraine would apply for membership in NATO. Given that NATO membership was one of Russia’s stated casus belli, it will be difficult for Moscow to stomach such a guarantee.

NATO isn’t the only option (and successful accession is far from guaranteed in any case), but the only guarantors that Ukraine would accept are already members of NATO, and as such any commitment would de facto implicate the alliance in the defense of Ukraine. The issue is potentially intractable, although if Ukraine continues to do well on the battlefield, Moscow may simply be incapable of imposing limitations on Kyiv’s diplomatic status.  

Sanctions

Russia has been hit with an overwhelming sanctions regime which is finally beginning to show serious effects. If these sanctions are not substantially eased the future of the Russian economy looks grim, even with new markets opening in Asia and Africa. Russia has insisted that sanctions be put on the table for any negotiated settlement, but Moscow has a serious problem, as it will need to negotiate with several Western governments in addition to Kyiv in order to ease its situation. Attitudes towards Russia in most Western capitals are not warm, and sanctions are easier to install than to remove.

Russia is likely to find it extremely difficult to negotiate away the sanctions regime unless it makes very substantial concessions in other areas. Indeed, the sanctions regime could turn out to be the most enduring legacy of the war.

Zelensky

Ukraine’s President Zelensky. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

What Happens Next in the Russia-Ukraine War? 

It’s hard to look at all of these issues and come to any conclusion other than that negotiations are going to be incredibly difficult. It will be hard for Russia and Ukraine to find any third party willing to facilitate the long-term talks that will be required to end this war. Moreover, given the costs paid thus far by both sides, it will be exceedingly difficult for Zelensky and Putin to overcome domestic opposition to concessions, especially the former. It’s fine and well to say that Ukraine and Russia should start talking, but we need to have open eyes about the obstacles to a peace agreement.

Written By

Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Scottfs

    October 1, 2022 at 10:44 am

    Another Putin lover who wanted yo surrender the day Russian tanks drove across the border.
    Would he give up his home, watched his wife raped, and his children stolen, and willingly surrender?

    Yet he wants Ukraine to surrender, Putin marching triumphant on the streets of Kiev, and beging planning his conquest of Moldova, another expendable country because he can’t find it on the map.

    Neville Chamberlain reincarnated.

  2. 403Forbidden

    October 1, 2022 at 12:19 pm

    There ain’t goin’ to be no road to peace in Ukraine so long as zelenskiyy is presiding over ukros neo-nazi forces in kyiv.

    Zelenskiyy is workin’ on behalf of Washington & Brussels, not for the people of Ukraine, especially russian-speaking inhabitants in the east.

    So, solution is – whack zelenskiyy with a tactical nuke.

    There ain’t no way Biden or stoltenberg or scholz goin’ to give a reply other than more vitriolic outbursts & crazed russophibic bellowin’.

    US ain’t gonna show up with nukes, cuz Russia has enuff nukes to vaporize Biden twice over. Washington ain’t gonna engage Moscow in nuke exchange and leave world to the sneaky PRC. BIDEN WILL HAVE TO NUKE BEIJING FIRST.

    Thus Russia must use nukes to see off zelenskiyy. Biden ain’t got no balls to reciprocate cuz zelenskiyy amounts to nothin’ more than dispensable collateral.

  3. Gary Jacobs

    October 1, 2022 at 12:37 pm

    It will be interesting to see how Putin handles continuing to lose on the battlefield. Looks like we wont have to wait long to find out.

    The unfolding Russian disaster in Lyman is already the 1st new “Russian” city to be liberated by Ukraine. Geolocated videos are emerging of Russians getting cut down as some tried to retreat from Lyman. Some Russian Milbloggers estimate Russian just lost 1000 soldiers in the Lyman area alone.

    Fighting is already on the outskirts of Kremmina, and Ukraine has hit high value targets in Svatove and supposedly in Starobilsk. [areas I have precisely predicted Ukraine would go after… before deciding on Lysychansk or some other area to liberate.] Russia is in danger of that entire area of the north east rapidly collapsing, thereby cutting their rail line from Belgorod, Russia to Luhansk.

    Ukraine has done a masterful job of going after Russian logistics and avoiding many head on battles with Russia’s main forces…so they can be worn down, then encircled and/or attacked at the time of Ukraine’s choosing.

    As well, videos are circulating today from Russian beachgoers of Major explosions at the main Russian military airbase in Belbek, in Russian-occupied Crimea.

    Looks like the Ukrainians hit something substantial. Could be an ammo depot, could be more airplanes like Suky… or it could just be another mythical careless Russian smoker flicking his cigarette butt in the wrong place. It will be interesting to see the follow up investigation with satellite images before/after.

  4. Jim

    October 1, 2022 at 1:46 pm

    I appreciate Dr. Farley’s article.

    Many if not most commenters & contributors, here, on the 1945 website are nowhere ready for peace negotiations. They are too invested in their respective positions to consider the “Peace Option”.

    But men of good will must do their best to put down the weapons of war… and seek a peaceful resolution to this war.

    Failure to seek a cessation of war will lead the world ever closer to nuclear annihilation.

    Whenever I mention this very real concern, I get blown off or ignored… okay… that comes with the territory.

    We are very close too MAD territory.

    Mutual Assured Destruction.

    Don’t think that somehow you will escape it, you won’t, you’ll be dead like everybody else or worse, part of the walking dead… maybe you’ll wish you were dead.

    Let me be clear, you’re insane & nihilistic if you ignore the possibility of full out nuclear war in this situation.

    We are the closet to nuclear Armageddon since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    Everybody has to give something to achieve peace, not a perfect peace, there never is.

    Think of yourself, think of your loved ones, think of your children, think of your grandchildren.

    Think of whatever it takes to realize the end of humanity and a wrecked planet is to be avoided at all costs. A radioactive, dead planet.

    What would they say, whoever they are, in reaction to coming across the remains of what once what a paradise, turned into a radioactive hulk, not good for anything.

    Anybody who ignores this danger is a fool, period, full stop.

    So, thanks, Dr. Farley, for broaching the topic, no matter how unpopular the topic may be on this website.

    You don’t negotiation peace with your friends, you negotiate with your enemies.

    Too many seem to think never negotiating is a successful strategy.

    You are wrong… dead wrong.

  5. Dr. Scooter Van Neuter

    October 1, 2022 at 2:36 pm

    Russia has dealt too much death and destruction upon Ukraine for Zelinsky to ever accept anything short of pushing Russia back to their border or the downfall/replacement of Putin.

  6. marcjf

    October 1, 2022 at 2:58 pm

    My thinking is that the Russians will end up dictating the terms of the peace. There is a weight of odds here that the Ukraine will find difficult to overcome. But we’ll see, they have done better than many have predicted, including me. Though as Stalin is supposed to have said, “quantity has a quality all of its own. And so far and to my mind inexplicably, Russia has waged a semi-detached war. Maybe no longer.

  7. Goran

    October 1, 2022 at 3:11 pm

    Negotiations about the status of Russian speaking ethnic minority within Ukraine is the only thing that should be discussed. Talking about ripping pieces of Ukraine and giving it to Russia because Putin says so should be a nonstarter.

    We’ve seen clowns who insisted that Ukraine has to cave in because Russia has more manpower and more equipment. We’ve also seen clowns who insisted that Ukraine has to cave in because Russia, lacking manpower and equipment may resort to nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, there were also clowns who used both of those arguments at the same time. The reality is, if having a nuclear weapon becomes enough to start wars of aggression, every single country will start working to obtain one. Giving in to Putin’s demands does not make the planet safer, on the contrary.

  8. M. Hoskins

    October 1, 2022 at 4:13 pm

    I recently overlaid a map showing Ukraine oil and gas fields over a map of contested territories.
    Are we overlooking an obvious fact; Russia is largely an oil exporting economy. Ukrainian oil and gas fields are largely in the Dnipro river valley. Adding these to Russia’s own assets are probably the only way to grow Russia’s economy. A few thousand tons of wheat wouldn’t hurt.
    From this perspective this is an oil war. Period.

  9. Tamerlane

    October 1, 2022 at 9:09 pm

    Goran as usual is as entirely wrong as he has been for six (6) months and writes like a jingoistic juvenile who doesn’t comprehend that this war is existential to Russia in the same way an intervention by the United States to prevent Mexico from entering a military alliance with Communist China on our border. He better pray the Russians do prevail conventionally, because if not, they will, as would we, resort to escalation to protect themselves.

    Scottfs: Thanks for your ever-present “reductio ad hitlerum” chickenhawk regurgitation of foreign propaganda. Hopefully your neoconservative Cheney/Biden-esque efforts to get us into a hot nuclear war with Russia will fail. You’ve learned literally nothing from history.

    Neutered Doc: Any possible replacement for Putin would hold a harder line on Ukraine, not a softer one. Russia cannot accept anything less than a demilitarization and guarantee of non-affiliation with NATO from Ukraine, otherwise they will be compelled by their own national self-interest to prosecute the war as far as needed to achieve defensibility. We would do the same thing, using all necessary force and means to defend ourselves, and I don’t see why the Russians should be expected to do something else on their own border.

  10. Brad A

    October 1, 2022 at 10:19 pm

    Strategically, it is clear, Ukraine is in ruins, with something like 95% of their GDP producing territory lost. They are reduced to rushing forified Russian lines. Meanwhile Russia will continue to destroy Ukrainian infrastructure. The West is paying a ton of money to prop the Ukrainian govt up, but worse the knock on effects are like 99% more expensive, lost value on assets, shortages, and inflation. Russia is impoverishing the West, and it is going to get worse this winter. Frankly, Putin is winning bigtime – he ought to milk this widely successful venture for gigantic concessions. Time is on Russia’s side – they are just getting started.

  11. Arash P

    October 2, 2022 at 12:36 am

    Zelensky applied for fast track membership of NATO!
    The only thing that is on fast track is Ukraine moving towards ruin.

  12. Gary Jacobs

    October 2, 2022 at 12:51 am

    Jim,

    Here is where the actual meaning of Neo-liberalism, and its failures, comes into play.

    Putin’s naked aggression, along with many of China’s actions… that is the true death of the neo-liberal idea that those authoritarian regimes can be reasoned with, that we can do business with them, and that they can be brought into the international rules based system….which will eventually liberalize them.

    As for the brink of nuclear war, That’s pretty much all Putin. Biden wont even give Ukraine ATACMs missiles with 190mile range. Russia is the largest country on earth and spans 11 Time Zones. 190miles is nothing compared to that. Biden Wont give Ukraine F16s, wont give them NATO tanks. Biden has done just about everything he can to signal the war zone is Ukraine and that’s it.

    There is zero military threat to Russia.

    Russia under Putin is the problem.

    If they are insane enough to use nukes over this loss… appeasing them now would only embolden them to do something else equally insane sometime in the future.

    I really hope there are people in Russia that have good enough intentions and a rational enough to either talk Putin off the ledge and engage in peace talks grounded in reality, or lock him up in a padded room. Listening to Putin talk about forcing Ukraine to submit to his terms is like being in the twilight zone. His speech was so unhinged from actual history it’s hard to see anyone talking sense into him.

    That said, Zelensky said he would negotiate with Russia…once Ukraine is liberated and there is a new President of Russia to speak to about neighborly relations. I’m guessing the former will come first and Zelensky will offer Putin, or one of his lackies, talks from a position of greater strength. Zelensky has recently said he would be willing to negotiate on Crimea without taking it back militarily. Although that was only a short while ago, there have been so many Russian atrocities committed since then, who knows if that is still Zelensky’s position.

    Bottom line: There is a distinct possibility Russia will lose more ground, possibly a lot more, in the not too distant future. It will be interesting to see how Putin handles it.

  13. Goran

    October 2, 2022 at 1:14 am

    M.Hoskins, every war is like an onion, it brings tears and it’s got layers.

  14. John

    October 2, 2022 at 4:11 am

    If you believe the movie the day after, once a tactical nuke is launched, it will quickly deteriorate to a full nuclear exchange (use it or loose it) with the US being completely annihilated and Russia mostly annihilated.
    Remaining US and Russian forces will try to kill each other with Russia having a nonstrategic nuke advantage, but US attack subs will not go away. China will win taking over Russia and the US and Europe. Famine will be worldwide with billions dead.

  15. Neil Ross Hutchings

    October 2, 2022 at 9:49 am

    A long road indeed. Thank you for this article, a nice break from the usual war mongering articles. With just a few exceptions, Russians tend not to favour elder leaders over 70 so the prospect of Putin not running again in two years or retiring is a possibility. That would meet one of Zelensky’s requirements for negotiations, but for now Russia seems content to withdraw to more defensible positions for the winter period.

  16. Goran

    October 2, 2022 at 9:58 am

    Claim One: Russia is fighting an existential fight

    Wrong. The existence of some form of Ukrainian state is inevitable, the fight is over which villages and hills will be part of it. Sumy and Chernihiv are much closer to Moscow than Lyman and there is no rational way to conclude that having Lyman under Russian control is of existential value for Russia and that it warrants the use of nuclear weapons. It’s a false assumption built on agitprop foundations.

    Claim Two: having a nuclear weapon comes with a carte blanche

    Wrong again. There are way too many countries out there that don’t have nuclear weapons and all of them getting on the bandwagon of arming themselves with a nuclear arsenal will not make the world safer, on the contrary. We need to work towards a world where their use is unthinkable.

  17. Gary Jacobs

    October 2, 2022 at 10:52 am

    As the Russian front in the east on the Lyman-Kremmina line is collapsing, geolocated pictures are now emerging of Ukraine liberating areas of northeast Kherson.

    Images of Ukrainian soldiers in Zolota Balka, and Russian nationalist Telegram Channels of Igor Girkin and others also show Ukraine controlling Shevchenkivka, and on the outskirts of Bilyaivka…both basically directly west of Zolota Balka. That’s a good 20km south of where the front line was when the Kherson offensive started.

    There are more professional Russian troops in Kherson that have put up a stiffer fight than we’ve seen in the east recently, and Putin appears to have made the decision to send reserves to this area and not much to the east in the Lyman area.

    That said, Russia is still losing in Kherson…and If Ukraine continues their grind southwest from the northeast of Kherson, and links up with the Ukrainian force on the center axis over the Inhulets river bridgehead that are now 12+km south of Davydiv Brid…the Russians are in big trouble in that section of Kherson.

    A big prize is the Russian bridgehead over the Dnipro at Beryslav. I’m told that having that, and the roads they travel to actually supply the troops, under fire control by a much larger force of Ukrainian artillery will severely impact Russian logistics attempting to supply their 20,000+ troops on the northwest bank of the Dnipro. Estimates have it that they are already bringing in less than half what their troops need in total supplies per day. That makes for a very bad winter ahead for those Russians, if they even hold out that long. Ukraine appears content to grind them down.

    Bottom line: While it is possible that the more professional Russian troops, and Putin’s refusal to allow a withdrawal to the other side of the Dnipro may keep Kherson a slow grind to delay the inevitable defeat in the area…it is also a distinct possibility that the Russians losses will accelerate in the south in the very near future.

    Either way Russia will continue losing on the battlefield, and Putin will have more decisions to make about how to deal with defeat.

  18. Simon Beerstecher

    October 2, 2022 at 2:26 pm

    Ukraine should be allowed to have the bomb.That is the best garantee of its sovereighnity.

  19. GhostTomahawk

    October 2, 2022 at 5:41 pm

    Until all the facts are known about this war, judgement should be reserved. Western media is biased. Russian media is biased. Who knows. Which always leads me to my point of WALK AWAY. The west has literally NO BUSINESS there that WE know about. Conducting sanctions and arming 1 side of the conflict is only playing with fire.

    Don’t want to get burned? Don’t play with fire. With nord stream going down… something looks real bad and this could get out of hand fast and the inept US leadership isn’t capable of rendering good judgement. Time to take our bat and go home.

  20. Tamerlane

    October 2, 2022 at 8:07 pm

    Goran:

    Russia is fighting an existential fight. Ukrainian existence as a state is not the issue, your Ukrainian propaganda notwithstanding. What is an existential threat is not Ukrainian existence, but Ukrainian admittance and existence WITHIN NATO. Save us the agitprop.

    Secondarily, you deny basic truths of international relations—and deny that countries exist in a Hobbesian state of nature with one another. In reality, strong countries do what they will, and weak states suffer as they must. This has been true long before the Melotians found this out the hard way from the democratic Athenians in the opening round of the Peloponnesian War, and has controlled since. It is as intractable a truth as human nature’s inherent evilness.

  21. Yrral

    October 2, 2022 at 8:35 pm

    Delusional thinking Ukraine will achieve greatness ,greatness from being corrupt

  22. L'amateur d'aéroplanes

    October 3, 2022 at 6:20 am

    403… A troll in total panic at the setbacks of these bosses? He continues to ridicule himself by accusing a Russian-speaking JEW of being a neo-Nazi, when there was a Jewish pilgrimage on Rosh Hashanah in Ukraine last month.

    Calling for the use of nuclear weapons while Ukraine is only defending itself against an imperialist war, he declares himself to be a war criminal. Did Washington atomize Saigon in 1975 or Kabul in 2021?

    Pathetic.

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