Excluded from high-level talks, Ukraine tries other diplomatic channels


KYIV, Ukraine – Peace negotiations are widely believed to involve two parties brought together by a mediator trying to find possible compromises, away from the wrath and destruction of the battlefield.

But talks that begin Monday in Geneva over the eight-year war in Ukraine are different. The conflict – and an openly threatened Russian invasion that the talks aim to prevent – is unfolding in Ukraine. But Ukraine will be absent from two of the three negotiating sessions scheduled for this week.

Ukraine’s limited role in the talks clearly pissed off the Kiev government. Fearing that the talks will yield little or nothing, and with President Biden’s declaration that the United States will not intervene militarily if Russia invades, Ukraine has quietly pursued its own course of negotiation with Moscow.

The latest threat of invasion began last month, when Russia rallied more than 100,000 troops along its borders with Ukraine and demanded sweeping concessions – and, for Western analysts, impossible – United States and NATO on European security issues.

These were spelled out in two draft treaties proposed by Moscow on which the Kiev government – because it is not a member of the alliance – has no say. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin subsequently threatened to launch an invasion of Ukraine if talks over his proposals failed.

Indeed, it made Ukraine “hostage” to Russia, said Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, former Ukrainian ambassador to the European Union.

Moscow’s sidelining of Ukraine and its demand for direct talks with the United States and NATO was intentional, Yelisieiev said.

One of Russia’s main demands is that NATO exclude any possibility of Ukraine joining the alliance – NATO has already rejected this request – and stop all military cooperation with the country. Russia also insisted that the alliance end all military activities throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

“The problems concern all of Europe, including Ukraine, but Putin suggests talks between Russia and the United States,” Yelisieiev said. “Russia has thus announced a sphere of influence. “You leave us the old Soviet space and do whatever you want elsewhere. “

A Ukrainian delegation will participate in the third of three rounds of talks, scheduled for Thursday in Vienna under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The United States has said it is coordinating closely with authorities in Kiev, and Biden spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a week ago.

“No decisions on Ukraine without Ukraine” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, job on Twitter last week, noting that he will also meet with NATO officials in Brussels. “As part of a broad diplomatic effort to deter further Russian aggression. “

The current threat follows eight years of low-intensity conflict. Russia intervened militarily in Ukraine in 2014, annexing the Crimean peninsula and instigating separatist uprisings in two eastern provinces, killing around 13,000 people.

Given the stakes for Ukraine, the Zelensky government has decided not to rely entirely on the negotiations led by the United States. Zelensky announced at the end of December a separate Ukrainian diplomatic initiative with Russia, details of which were later published in the Russian newspaper Kommersant.

Ukraine’s 10-point plan, which is sure to be very controversial in Ukraine, begins with three confidence-building measures: a ceasefire, an exchange of prisoners and the opening of crossings for civilians on the front line in eastern Ukraine. war – then turns to political questions. The first point, the ceasefire, has already been implemented.

The political issues involve direct talks between Mr Zelensky and Mr Putin and a final point, # 10, under which the Ukrainian government would submit laws to Parliament granting autonomy to the separatist zones and delegating certain powers to these zones. , according to Kommersant.

In the Russian interpretation, these laws would grant its proxies in eastern Ukraine a veto over central government foreign policy decisions, including Ukraine’s membership in NATO, potentially satisfying sufficiently the demand of Russia to prevent a catastrophic war in Ukraine.

Western diplomats say the proposed laws leave room for interpretation and that Zelensky is unlikely to grant Moscow a veto over future NATO membership. The proposal says nothing about the aspiration for NATO membership enshrined in the Ukrainian constitution and appears to have stalled after the ceasefire announced on December 22.

Like so many other diplomatic efforts to end the war, this one is unlikely to be successful by most analysts, but it could serve other purposes. Ukraine can do “nothing” in matters of diplomacy except wait for a possible explosion of violence, declared Oleksandr Danylyuk, former secretary of the Ukrainian Security Council. “That’s why Putin is doing this. It is his aim to show that Ukraine cannot do anything.

And the negotiating effort could have a lasting effect: Mr. Zelensky’s apparent willingness to negotiate on the autonomy of the separatist regions and any allusion to accepting neutrality between the West and Russia could cause a storm of conflict. fire in Ukrainian politics.

To date, none of the diplomatic talks with Russia, whether with the United States or Ukraine, have slowed the tide of worrying statements from Russian officials that diplomats and analysts fear they may be. used to justify military action or to prepare the Russian population for war.

In July, Mr Putin published an article claiming that Russia and Ukraine are essentially the same country, with a common history and culture, suggesting a reason for unification.

Threats became more focused in August after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, when senior Russian security officials publicly taunted Ukraine, telling it that it too could soon lose the United States as a protector.

“The country is on the verge of collapse and the White House at some point will not even remember its supporters in Kiev,” Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, told Izvestia newspaper shortly after. the fall of Kabul.

In December, Mr. Putin, addressing a gathering of generals and security officials, said Moscow could resort to “military and technical” means if Western countries “continue to take a clearly aggressive stance.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko more explicitly linked the threat of Russian military force to a breakdown in talks.

“Europeans must also ask themselves whether they want to avoid making their continent the scene of a military confrontation,” said Mr Grushko. “They have a choice. Either you take what is on the table seriously, or you face a military-technical alternative. “

Echoing US claims used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Russian Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu claimed without providing any evidence that Moscow had intelligence showing that US mercenaries had introduced a ” unidentified chemical component ”in Ukraine.

Pro-Kremlin commentators have applauded the Kremlin’s firm stance as a Russian nationalist triumph.

One newspaper likened Moscow favorably to a gangster character in a Russian film who, “raising his big fist and looking into his interlocutor’s eyes, again gently asks: Where is your strength, America?” “

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