How can the West bring Russia to the negotiating table?

6 mins read
Will Ukraine be Putin's Afghanistan?

As Russian President Vladimir Putin talks about ‘reclaiming’ Russian territory, compares himself to ‘Peter the Great’ and at the same time Russia advances near Severodonetsk, hopes for peace in the Ukrainian war are fading by the day.

How can the West bring Russia to the negotiating table? 1

But would a protracted war of attrition really benefit Russia? Probably not.

Amin Aghjeh, a PhD candidate in history at the University of Vienna, analyzes this in The National Interest.

Last week, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba suggested that only Ukraine’s successes on the battlefield could persuade Russia to come to the negotiating table.

Ukraine’s momentum on the southern and eastern fronts will certainly increase this possibility, but it remains to be seen whether Ukraine will make significant advances on the battlefield.

Ukrainian forces have higher morale than Russian forces. However, according to Kuleba, Russia has a 15-fold advantage over Ukraine in terms of artillery power.

Western countries will continue to supply arms to Ukraine, but they are struggling to meet Kiev’s demands.

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Even if Western countries could find a solution to finance the huge sums of money it would take to meet Ukraine’s demands, they are constrained by other strategic concerns.

Russia has enormous influence over Europe’s energy supply and winter is approaching. Moreover, inflation is rising. The West wants to avoid tensions.

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger warns that Russia will become an outpost of China in Europe.

French President Emmanuel Macron is trying to find a ‘way out’ for Russia through ‘diplomatic means’.

According to the analysis, the most likely scenario is that neither side will achieve its ultimate goals on the battlefield, leading to a protracted war of attrition.

However, a protracted war of attrition would hardly be in Russia’s interests.

Putin knows that Ukrainians are determined to defend their homeland and the West is determined not to let Ukraine fall.

The US announcement last week of a new one billion dollar military aid package and the visit of European leaders to Kiev reaffirmed this commitment.

Is it in Russia’s interest to take all these risks to seize a few Ukrainian cities?

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Is this the kind of legacy Putin wants to leave behind?

According to the analysis, Russia could instead try to include in the negotiations the preservation of cultural and linguistic ties between the two countries.

By continuing the war, Russia risks completely alienating the Ukrainian people, which could lead to generations of Ukrainians abandoning the Russian language.

Many Ukrainians – like many Russians – see the war only as ‘Putin’s war’.

Putin is deeply invested in this war and will not be willing to accept any deal that ‘could be considered a defeat’.

But a protracted war of attrition, in which several hundred Russian soldiers could die every day, riots could break out in Kherson, Melitopol and other Ukrainian cities, and sanctions could further strangle the Russian economy, cannot be considered a victory at home.

Since Russia’s main pretext for invading Ukraine in February was ‘NATO’s expansion into Ukraine’, negotiating a buffer status for Ukraine would provide the Russian regime with the opportunity to declare success at home.

There are also other mechanisms that could be used to put extra pressure on Russia to more seriously consider entering peace talks.

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British historian Niall Ferguson has pointed to a policy of appeasement towards China, whereby the US could pursue a move to end the war in Ukraine with ‘some Chinese pressure on Putin’.

Ferguson added that US-China pressure on Arab oil producers could be applied to seriously increase oil production.

Increased oil production would put significant pressure on Russia.

In the first 100 days of the war, Russia earned $64.5 billion in oil revenues and $97 billion from fossil fuel exports.

Russia could also be encouraged to enter negotiations if it receives a commitment to gradual sanctions relief following the implementation of a negotiated peace deal with Ukraine.

Another card that could be played by the West is NATO expansion into Sweden and Finland.

Russia has long opposed Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership and may be willing to make concessions to Ukraine if their prospects of joining NATO appear imminent.

Since Ukraine enjoys unwavering support from the West, a protracted war is unlikely to paralyze the country as Russia hopes.

Based on an article published by Washington/Sharq al-Awsat.

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