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Why Won’t Russia and Ukraine Negotiate?

Terminator Tank Ukraine
Terminator. Image Credit: Russian State Media.

Questions about whether and how the international community should push Ukraine and Russia into negotiations have thus far been vague as to the structure of negotiations. Wars of territorial conquest have become rare.

It is even less common for nuclear powers to find themselves in situations of conventional vulnerability relative to the victims they’ve determined to invade. But peace conferences are extraordinarily complex affairs, and it’s worth thinking about some of the negotiating models available to us for ending the conflict.

The Vietnam War and the Paris Peace Accords

The Paris Peace Accords, resulting from several years of negotiation between the United States, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the Communist resistance within South Vietnam, bear some superficial resemblance to the situation in Ukraine.

The United States sought to extricate itself from Vietnam while ensuring the sovereignty of its client. This isn’t a perfect analogy for the Russia-Ukraine War, but there are certainly echoes; the US wants the war to end but wants to ensure that Ukraine remains sovereign and independent, while Russia wants to sharply limit Ukrainian sovereignty while annexing Ukrainian territory.

Talks eventually resulted in a US withdrawal, although not without interludes of tremendous violence on all sides. Much of this violence came out of a desire to alter the terms of negotiations, although some (the Christmas Bombing of Hanoi) was part of an effort to reassure the Saigon government that it was not being abandoned. In effect, however, the Paris Peace Accords did not end the war in Vietnam, they merely limited the US role in that war. The war continued for three more years at varying levels of intensity before North Vietnam conquered and destroyed South Vietnam with a massive mechanized invasion.

In short, the Paris Peace Accords are a fine model for negotiation if the intention of the United States is to create a decent and politically comfortable interval between a ceasefire and a Ukrainian defeat. It is not likely that Russia would wipe Ukraine off the face of the map, and it might even be possible to avoid another war depending on how rapidly Kyiv acquiesced to Russian demands, but the point would be to extricate the West from the situation and concede Ukraine to the Russian sphere of influence. While there are certainly some Americans who would be happy with this outcome, it runs counter to existing US policy.

The Collapse of Yugoslavia and the Dayton Accords

The Dayton Peace Accords offer a different but still problematic model.

Presided over by Richard Holbrooke in Dayton, Ohio (a venue selected for its lack of nightlife or pretty much anything interesting) in late 1995, the Dayton negotiating sessions attempted to end the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina by creating a new constitutional order with carefully designed ethnic boundaries. Each of the players wanted terrain, but did not want that terrain inhabited by a different ethnic group.

This led to ethnic cleansing on all sides, with Serb destruction of Bosnian Muslim communities representing some of the most horrific atrocities seen in Europe since World War II.

US power undergirded the Dayton Accords, demonstrated in a very concrete way by the aircraft taking off from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Each of the three parties understood that the United States could apply the squeeze if it didn’t like the outcome, although for each the squeeze was a little bit different.

The Americans could threaten the Serbs (and to a lesser extent the Croats) with airstrikes if they didn’t play ball, and the Bosnians (and to a lesser extent the Croats) with a suspension of aid if they put up too much resistance. After about a month of tense negotiations the leaders reached a tense agreement that has (mostly) kept the peace in Bosnia for the last twenty-seven years.

Theoretically, the Dayton model could offer a template for helping Russia and Ukraine sort through the complex communal and territorial issues associated with Donbas and Luhansk. In practice, the leverage of the United States (or any third party mediator) is starkly limited by the inability to forcefully coerce Russia into concessions.

Moreover, both Russia and Ukraine appear indifferent to the ethnic considerations that structured preferences for the participants in the Wars of Yugoslav Dissolution. The idea that Russian territorial gains could be negotiated away, thus, seems quite difficult to imagine.

What’s Next? 

Negotiations aren’t magic. They require careful preparation and can only succeed under favorable underlying circumstances. Often negotiations that succeed in curtailing a conflict for a time simply set the stage for a more serious conflict later. Advocates of forcing Ukraine into negotiations with Russia before the time for those negotiations is ripe need to answer difficult questions about the structure of and expectations from any such talks. We should also take care to condition expectations that even successful negotiation outcomes can be reached quickly. Dayton lasted a month but it was the endpoint of a process that had begun three years before. The process that led to the Paris Peace Accords took almost five years, during which the war continued to rage. It is absolutely NOT the case that wars are ended simply by putting the parties in the same room and getting them to talk.

Expert Biography and Expertise

A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, 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), Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020), and most recently Waging War with Gold: National Security and the Finance Domain Across the Ages (Lynne Rienner, 2023). 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.

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.



  1. 403Forbidden

    February 2, 2023 at 1:31 pm

    Negotiate ?

    The Minsk agreement was a ruse to buy time for the neo-nazis to exterminate the Donbass natives. Which is now slowly coming true.Though final success is still far from certain.

    Angela Merkel herself confirmed the truth.

    How to negotiate.

    The neo-nazis look at the Donbass natives in the same light as European descent conquistadors view the yanomami tribes of north Brazil.

  2. Paul Hoffman

    February 2, 2023 at 3:00 pm

    Too late for a cease fire or a negotiated peace

  3. Jim

    February 2, 2023 at 3:28 pm

    Give peace a chance.

    Negotiations have to take into account realities on the ground.

    Sorry, you can’t go back to what Russia would have accepted before the war started or even what Russia would have accepted at the Istanbul Turkey peace negotiations…

    However, we now know Ukraine was not serious about negotiations at Istanbul… another “buying time” stalling tactic… as revealed by the SBU head guy… when he admitted the negotiator who was assassinated, was killed because they thought he actually was negotiating in good faith.

    Ukraine is completely untrustworthy… a pack of liars.

    (A successful result for peace might also allow the power clique in Kiev to not be removed… maybe offering survival to the regime would be an incentive to negotiate in good faith.)

    Sad to say, as a proud American, the U. S. foreign policy apparatus is not trustworthy, either.

    Still peace negotiations are the best route to spare Ukraine more death and destruction.

    And save Europe from drifting into a catastrophe.

    After a successful peace negotiation, all Ukraine Project promoters in U. S. government positions have to be removed from those positions in the government… they have proved a danger to the Republic… possibly traitorous.

    Clean house… of these failed ideological warmongers who wanted to rule the world… but only ended up hurting America’s vital national security interests around the world.

    Victoria Nuland needs to be frog marched out of her government office with a shoe box in hand with the rest to follow.

  4. YS

    February 2, 2023 at 4:49 pm

    as POTUS said “We will keep on fighting the Russians till the last Ukrainian standing”

    no comments are necessary

    clearly, he’s protecting his family interests as well as sponsoring industry (MIC) at US taxpayers expense

    “assume nothing question everything”

  5. Sofronie the monk

    February 2, 2023 at 5:13 pm

    Yeah, why aren’t the Ukranians negotiating? Dunno, usually the victims of a rape tend to be a bit upset and refuse to simply settle with their aggressor. It’s a real mystery why…

    Jim, my boy, still playing the “peace” card? So what happens after Ukraine would sign the peace Putin wants? Then it would be the turn of Moldavia, the Baltic States, Poland and Romania to “give peace a chance” as well, right? Because we can’t have them hurt Russia’s “vital national security interests”, now can we?

  6. Tallifer

    February 2, 2023 at 5:51 pm

    The Paris Peace accords are a good model: Russia should leave all of the Ukraine, just like America left Vietnam.

  7. GhostTomahawk

    February 2, 2023 at 6:10 pm

    The answer is easy.

    Western interference

    Russia tried to make peace. Minsk Accords in 2015… broken by Ukraine with help from the west

    March 2022… stopped by England

    So tell me why Russia should beg for peace that the west won’t give.

  8. H.R. Holm

    February 2, 2023 at 10:02 pm

    They won’t negociate because the war-rooters in the U.S./NATO, starting with Pathetic Joe, *don’t want a negociated settlement*, at least for now. Too much money to spread around here, from Lord Voldy and his minions in the Ukr, to U.S. national security interests in the defense industry. And those in Congress in some manner or another. Money does not talk in this conflict—–it shouts!

  9. Serhio

    February 3, 2023 at 12:00 am

    Putin said at the beginning of the special operation that every next sentence would be worse than the previous one. In January 2022, Russia would be satisfied with Ukraine’s implementation of the Minsk agreements. Now a simple cease-fire and withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the four regions that became part of Russia will not suit. You just need to listen to him. He does what he says.

  10. Roger colman

    February 3, 2023 at 5:12 am

    The article was appeasement to a dictator getting ever closer to a Stalin or Hitler qualities. The author remains amoral, as though right and wrong is not in any framework he outlines.
    Lastly the trolls eagerly embrace any “give” such as the author has proposed.
    Why dont the trolls appreciate the fact that a majority of donbass and lukashank residents voted for ukrainian independence and that there have been two fair elections since 2014 where the pro Russian parties had their chance.

  11. Jim

    February 3, 2023 at 12:17 pm

    Yes, I’m still playing the peace card.

    I see you want to play dominoes instead.

    The “domino theory” was wrong regarding Vietnam and it’s wrong today… It’s a classic warhawk analogy which justifies a “police the world” mentality… and causes a militarized foreign policy… at every stop on the domino trail… one nation-state after another.

    The warhawk says, “If one domino falls, they’ll all fall… it was appealing because it generates a mind’s eye mental picture… but nation-states aren’t a set of dominoes ready to fall… if the U. S. isn’t there to police the world.

    You’re worried a series of nation-states are threatened by Russia’s actions.

    There isn’t evidence the Russians or Putin, for that matter, have the designs you impute to them.

    It’s “boogie man” talk… scare tactic to justify continuing a failed Ukraine policy.

    The “domino theory” is what warhawks put out to justify ruling the world.

    Why I play the peace card?

    Because as opposed to your supposed “domino theory” of Eastern Europe… of which there is no evidence… the greatest danger to all of Europe is a General European War… and the current trajectory you want the U. S. to stay on has the greatest chance of leading to a General European War.

    Is that what you want?

    I ask because it seems you want to fight to the last Ukrainian.

  12. The Vietnam Escalation

    February 3, 2023 at 7:32 pm

    The U.S. won’t let Ukraine negotiate anything. We still have a stockpile of old munitions we want burned up so we can get new stuff and we’ve got some new equipment we’d like battle tested. Until we burn through old munitions and test out all of our new stuff, we won’t let this one end. There are plenty of Ukrainians left to send to the battlefield.

  13. Tamerlane

    February 3, 2023 at 7:50 pm

    Roger, you chickenhawks have screwed the United States and those of us who have served this country overseas in uniform for the past 25 years with your “reductio ad Hitlerum” nonsense. Putin isn’t Hitler. And if you want to see Ukraine win, go fight for them. Yourself.

  14. Ezra Teter

    February 3, 2023 at 10:56 pm

    There are still some crazies here who want to fight to the last Ukrainian but it seems like the realists are starting to come out of the woodwork to recognize that sending more weapons or troops into an active war zone isn’t going to help the Ukrainians. The U.S. should accept unlimited refugees from Ukraine if it is so worried about a Russian “genocide” against them. But, sadly, I suspect that we will be no more honorable than when we refused to allow ships filled with Jewish refugees to dock here during WWII.

  15. Joe Comment

    February 3, 2023 at 11:26 pm

    Negotiation would have a point only if there is some possible formula that might satisfy both sides’ minimum requirements. And I don’t see it. Both sides want the same territories, and only one can have them.

  16. TheDon

    February 4, 2023 at 8:35 am

    Lets face it, the vietnam withdrawal was force on our government by 60s protests and the accords were a political “win”. North vietnam quickly attacked after our withdrawl. Negotiations are not the answer all.
    The Russians are fighting for security from Nato members, who we find are ill equipped, except Ukraine. So it appears the Russians worry is a putin nightmare. Most countries relying on Russian fuel were comfortable with the peace and trading.
    So is there a solution for peace.
    Donbas is Ukrainian line to fight for. Russia wants it for a hard to pass wall boundry.
    War will continue until the population tires of death. Governments never end a war unless nothing left like Berlin or Japan.
    Russia wont allow a no man zone between the occupied by nato. So another berlin wall would be created. Not much of a gain for 100000 lives, moving a wall from berlin to ukraine.
    So Putin is going to continue like every historical politician until he is destroyed or ukraine is destroyed. That doesnt make Russia stronger. The region will be hostile and theirs not enough russians to police it.
    The only solution is the church & russian people in mass protest or russias security guarantee respected and a no man zone created for 30 years at Donbas boarder.
    The US and Russians cooperated in space. Its time they cooperate to end a no gain war.
    Russia doesnt have a good future here or at home with thos conflict. It will continue to take lives and dissolve trade and alliances and cause citizens to leave.
    Citizens need to revolt.
    We have some great 1960s protest songs for you.

  17. TheDon

    February 4, 2023 at 9:27 am

    And protests in Russia will grow as children and grand children dont return, but in Ukraine, they will be honored as freedom fighters.

  18. Yrral

    February 4, 2023 at 9:46 am

    US is getting ready to pull the plug in Ukraine,US offered Putin all of Donbass and Crimea for peace with Ukraine,and Zelensky went ballistic Google Zelensky Politico Biden Peace Plan

  19. Longo

    February 4, 2023 at 10:09 am

    Maybe the GENOCIDE party should leave Ukraine before starting any negotiations?

  20. Serhio

    February 4, 2023 at 11:20 am

    I propose to look at the situation through the eyes of Russia. Let’s imagine the situation: Ukraine and Russia have agreed and stopped fighting. We have drawn a line of demarcation for the current positions. Will there be peace? No. Even if Western countries promise not to accept Ukraine into NATO. No one will believe them. Statements by Hollande, Merkel and Poroshenko that the Minsk agreements were needed to strengthen the Ukrainian army and no one was going to implement them clearly indicate that any agreements with Western leaders are not worth the paper on which they were written. There is nothing to negotiate with lying politicians.
    Weapons from Western countries will be supplied to Ukraine. The Ukrainian army will be taught, but not in a hurry, but in a serious way. So any agreements are the way to a new war in a few years, but not on the terms of the Russians, but on the terms of the West. This means no agreements and a war until the complete destruction of Ukraine, up to the use of nuclear weapons against NATO countries, if the situation requires it. Now it will cost much less blood than in 10-15 years. So the blood will continue to flow.

  21. Quartermaster

    February 4, 2023 at 12:56 pm

    Putin has never been willing to negotiate in good faith. At Istanbul he simply offered surrender terms, take it or leave it. Ukraine walked, as they should have. Putin has been calling for negotiations because his army, such as it was, was mauled in Ukraine, something he didn’t expect, and is now simply hoping to hold the territory he has attempted to steal so far. That is not acceptable to anyone with a modicum of intelligence.

    You can not allow a thief to keep what they steal. Putin started a war he could not afford, even if Ukraine had simply folded like a cheap suit. With close a total of 200K deaths now (regular military and the PMCs combined) The war has Russia on the edge with its economy tanking and having to run press gangs to man his army. The numbers bandied about of 300K or 500K troops are simply ridiculous. They won’t be troops. They will be a rabble poorly clothed, poorly armed, untrained, and underfed. Armies of that nature do not win wars and Putin will not be able to field anything after that rabble is destroyed in Ukraine, or elsewhere.

    Those saying the war is essentially over, have no idea what they are talking about.

  22. Jim

    February 4, 2023 at 1:24 pm

    Does it bother supporters of U. S. foreign policy other nation-states don’t trust promises or agreements made by the U. S. foreign policy apparatus?

    It should.

    So, past behavior is a stumbling block to negotiations.

    Frankly, the U. S. publicly has a “no negotiations” policy: “as long as it takes”… to force Russia out of all territory claimed by Ukraine.

    But possibly in secret, Politico reports CIA chief Robert Burns went to Kiev to float a potential deal… which encourages me if the report is accurate (a big “if”).

    Kiev is reported to have gone ballistic… (again, a big “if”).

    Not a surprise, given the fanatical ideology of the ruling clique in Kiev… Stephan Bandera’s ideology to kill Russians… or really any group or individual who stands in the way of their vision of Ukraine nationalism… which is extremely intolerant of any deviation… there is no room for traditional democratic notions plurality…. would the U. S. ban the Spanish language… Ukraine after the U. S. supported coup banned the Russian language.

    Sadly, survival of the Kiev regime seemingly has to be threatened for them to consider any compromise.

    I suspect, but do not know, Russia is willing to engage in compromise… but then we get back to the issue at the top of this comment:

    There is no trust in Kiev’s word

    There is no trust in the collective West’s word.

    We are left with “verify, verify, verify.”

    A difficult problem.

    But that’s the challenge of diplomacy.

  23. Donald Link

    February 4, 2023 at 1:28 pm

    Ex the comments by the Russian trolls that seem to have ensconced themselves into this site, it is possible that Russia may find victory, in their fashion, more than they bargained for. There are a number of component nationalities that have never fully accepted the idea of a union under the communists or a federation under this born again fascist. Even if Russia prevails, a defeated nation of 45 million people can generate a significant number of armed militants willing to cause considerable disruption. Example, the Chechens. They still remember Grozny and periodically demonstrate that by violent means. Putin could have headed a prosperous country that looked westward while still maintaining its own identity but chose instead to nurse a false nostalgia for a brutal and quite dead empire. Mores the pity for all concerned.

  24. mawendt

    February 4, 2023 at 1:39 pm

    “Why Won’t Russia and Ukraine Negotiate?”. What an idiot question. The article *blatantly* didn’t address the Misk Accord in which the West and Russia GUARNATEED Ukraine’s sovereignty and established international borders. When Russia invaded, both the West and Russia blew off Ukraine’s begging that Minsk be honored.

    Ukraine won’t negotiate away it’s land. Period. Russia is the aggressor here regardless of Russia’s claim to preemptive action or offense. RUSSIA STARTED SOMETHING THEAT IT CANNOT FINISH, unless it leaves all of Ukraine – Crimea as well as the Eastern territories.

    Why Won’t Russia and Ukraine Negotiate? Would anyone reading this negotiate with me if I was your next door neighbor, and decided to take YOUR land and property, and used armed force to do it? Hell, no. You’d call the cops, have me arrested, see me in court. And if no lawful authority was around, or if that lawful authority would not act in your protection, it comes down to 1) submit or 2) fight.

    If you are weak and fearful, you’d probably negotiate, and submit.If you are courageous and believe in justice, you’d fight. And if your neighbors were a bunch of weak cowards encouraging you to give up your land, you have to decide how you fight alone until they change your mind or until you can no longer fight. A negotiated surrender is Chamberlain, a fight against an injustice is Churchill. You know how both choices go.

    Anyone promoting negotiation rewarding Russia for using death and destruction might sing a different tune if it was their country, their land Russia rolled up on. But maybe not. I expect a lot of people who promote negotiating away an injustice would most likely embrace the invader, and gleefully join in against their fellow citizens.

    Me? I’d fight until I couldn’t fight any more. Like any real man would. And I’d make the invader regretted ever coming uninvited.

  25. Wharfplank

    February 4, 2023 at 4:08 pm

    I think a fair resolution would be for Russia to withdraw from Crimea and all territory West of the Donets River, which would become the new border. A 60 day ceasefire for Ukranian loyalists to move West over the Donets and Russian-sympathizers to move East. Russia pays 500 million a day out of their oil and gas exports until Ukraine has received 750 billion for reparations and reconstruction. Sorted.

  26. froike

    February 5, 2023 at 11:10 am

    Putin can not be trusted. Negotiations might be possible with more reasonable Russian Politicians, not with Putin!

  27. Serhio

    February 6, 2023 at 10:20 am

    Donald Link
    ” Example, the Chechens. They still remember Grozny and periodically demonstrate that by violent means.”

    A bad example. It is the Chechen units that are the sharpest tip of Putin’s spear today. You’re right about one thing: Chechens have a very good memory. They remember how the West tried to use them as a tool to strike at Russia, just as Ukrainians are being used now.

  28. Serhio

    February 6, 2023 at 10:48 am


    “I think a fair resolution would be for Russia to withdraw from Crimea and all territory West of the Donets River, which would become the new border. A 60 day ceasefire for Ukranian loyalists to move West over the Donets and Russian-sympathizers to move East.”

    SSo that the Ukrainian Nazis would slaughter all the remaining civilians? With the connivance of Western countries that will turn a blind eye to this, just as they have not noticed the murders and tortures of Russians in the Donbas for 8 years? The Russians are going to destroy this cannibal reserve and they will do it. Without negotiations. Up to the western border.

  29. from Russia with love

    February 6, 2023 at 11:07 am

    Minsk agreements? these are the agreements that were concluded between the LDNR and Ukraine through the mediation of France, Germany and Russia? the very agreements on which Ukraine has not fulfilled a single point in 8 years? the same agreements about which Merkel and Aland said that neither Ukraine nor Western guarantors were going to comply with them? those agreements about which Merkel said that they were needed to buy time for arming Ukraine and preparing Ukraine for a war against Russia? funny ? something doesn’t look like Russia attacked Ukraine, it’s more like the West has been preparing Ukraine for war for 8 years but received a preemptive strike.
    “Would anyone reading this negotiate with me if I was your next door neighbor, and decided to take YOUR land and property, and used armed force to do it?”
    excellent allegory, but I will offer you another.
    your neighbor’s house was seized by a bandit (Ukrainian junta that seized Ukraine in 2014). your neighbor had to run. these bandits are armed and supported by the chief of police (USA), essentially the same bandit. these bandits are constantly shouting at you that they will kill you. and these armed bandits gathered in your neighbor’s yard and started throwing Molotov cocktails into your yard. how did you write? “And if no lawful authority was around, or if that lawful authority would not act in your protection, it comes down to 1) submit or 2) fight.” Russia fulfills point 2.
    By the way, there are very serious doubts about who is the occupier in Ukraine and who is the liberator. this is your puppet regime that led to Vlas in 2014 as a result of a coup d’etat, you need to demolish monuments, rename cities and streets to prove that this is Ukraine. if you need to rename cities and demolish monuments to maintain statehood, then you are definitely building your country not on your own land. ?
    would you fight as long as you can hold a weapon? Donbass has been fighting for 8 years as it should be for real men. the east of ukraine will free ukraine from the western neo-fascist infection.?

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