The possible contours of peace in the Ukraine


Indonesia, the latest major power to do so, proposed a new peace plan for Ukraine on 3 June at the Shangri-La Asian Security Forum in Singapore.

It suggested an immediate ceasefire on the current front line, followed by the implementation of a large demilitarised zone along this line, with the deployment of blue helmets. The fate of the oblasts wholly or partially occupied by Russia would then be decided by referendums conducted by UN observers.

If the Jakarta government has taken this initiative, it is because it feels that the time has come for a cessation of hostilities.

Strategically, neither of the two belligerents will be in a position in the foreseeable future to impose its vision on its adversary.

Neither is in a position to win the war. Russian ideologues friendly to the Kremlin, nostalgic for Catherine II’s “Nova Rossya“, can continue to dream of taking Odessa, but it won’t happen.

Ukraine has become an impregnable bastion, thanks to the bravery of its army and the high-tech equipment supplied by the West – more than nine out of ten Russian missiles are shot down in flight by the Ukrainian DCA.

In the absence of a decisive military victory, Ukraine will not succeed in imposing its ten-stage peace plan on Russia, as outlined by President Zelensky at the G20 summit in Bali on 15 November 2022. The plan contains four conditions, which are fair under international law but geopolitically unrealistic: recognition by Russia of its aggression, recovery of Crimea by Ukraine, trial of the war criminals, and public payment of reparations (the only one acceptable to Russia would be the discreet resumption of its rebates on gas delivered to the Ukrainians, as practised from 1992 to 2008). Only a desperate Putin would accept such conditions. 

But the Russian President is not desperate. His army has not retreated since its evacuation of Kherson in October 2022, his internal opposition has been reduced to nothing by imprisonment or exile, and his support from the rest of the world (the non-Western countries) is not waning, as the ministerial summit of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), held in Cape Town on 3 June in the presence of Sergei Lavrov, further demonstrated. 

Clearly, his blatant act of aggression, like his failure to take Kiev in a week, has cost Russia a lot – its prestige, its westernised elite, its juicy trade with the West, its profound cultural and political influence on the former Soviet republics – but Putin is not finished yet.

Like his country, he still has resources.

It is unreasonable to expect either a defeat for Ukraine (because of the scale of Western financial and military aid) or a defeat for Russia (because of the country’s strategic depth and its quasi-alliance with China).

Added to this is the weariness of the combatants on the ground. In Russia, the morale of those mobilised was not high. It had to turn to Chechens to replace Wagner’s mercenaries in Bakhmut. As for the Ukrainians, more and more of them are wondering whether dying for the Donbass and Crimea, both Russian-speaking and Russian-speaking regions, is really worth it.

It is in such a deadlocked situation that a realistic peace plan can emerge. The Indonesian initiative is a good one. It is urgent that the West add a policy of carrots to it, to spare the belligerents from going to extremes that would be deleterious, both for themselves and for the world.  

Real security guarantees will have to be given to Ukraine, because it remembers that the commitments to territorial integrity (in exchange for giving up its atomic weapons) given at the Budapest conference (December 1994) have not been kept. There also needs to be a big carrot of investment in infrastructure, shared between the EU and the USA. Ukraine needs to feel that in ten years it can become a new Poland.

The French President has rightly suggested that Russia should develop its own security architecture, if only to erase its obsidian complex. A gradual suspension of Western sanctions could be proposed, depending on Russia’s effective financial participation in Ukraine’s economic recovery.

The International Criminal Court is a fine invention, but it will never work with the major powers, whether Bush’s America or Putin’s Russia. The urgent thing now is to stop decimating the Ukrainian and Russian youth.

This article was first published in Le Figaro.

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