Monday

27th Jun 2022

Column

Beware a ceasefire in Ukraine

Listen to article

Ukrainian and Russian negotiators are meeting again, this time in Turkey.

They have met since early March, but with no tangible results. It is difficult to judge the potential for a deal. The Kremlin has made so many demands and changed its tone so frequently that anyone thinking it's a mere charade can be forgiven.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • 'If a ceasefire was agreed now, Russia would take de facto control of another large chunk of Ukraine'

By now it should be clear to everybody that the Kremlin is acting in bad faith.

There is no need to recount Russia's lies, deceptions and twists in its war against Ukraine since 2014. But, deals can be made with bad faith actors too. Indeed, they are often made with bad faith actors. They just have to be specific and measurable.

So what are the major problems of these negotiations? Typically, Ukraine's membership of Nato and territorial questions are seen as the main issues.

I don't agree.

My organisation Democracy Reporting International, has tracked the negotiation positions and it is clear that president Volodomyr Zelensky has opened up a wide space for compromise on all the contentious questions, except the two absurd Russian demands of "denazification" and demilitarisation.

The really difficult problem, it seems to me, will be the question of a ceasefire. Why? You may ask. Don't all sides want a ceasefire? Shouldn't we all rejoice if the guns go silent? Not necessarily.

The reason is simple: Russia has repeatedly frozen ceasefire lines into new de facto borders. And even if the guns are silent, the violence will continue. Russian forces would expand their wave of repression within the newly-controlled territories.

Time and again Russia has tried to turn ceasefire lines into de facto borders, be it in South-Ossetia, Abkhazia, or the Donbass.

If a ceasefire was agreed now, Russia would take de facto control of another large chunk of Ukraine.

Ceasefire, for a frozen-conflicts future

Anybody thinking they would withdraw, especially from the areas that form the land bridge between Russia and annexed Crimea, is delusional.

The risk is that Russia will try to divide the countries that have sanctioned it, with a ceasefire offer. It is easy to foresee that some actors in the EU will want to quickly end this conflict with some superficial resolution and go back to business.

This is what happened after Russia created the conflict around Donetsk and Luhansk in 2014. The unworkable Minsk agreement was signed and some in the EU, Germany in particular, continued on the disastrous path of expanding business with Putin.

We must avoid repeating that mistake. Europe's security outlook will be very fragile if Russia gets away with a further dismemberment of Ukraine, marking another milestone in its endless assaults on Europe's security. Millions of displaced Ukrainians could not return to their homes.

Therefore, the most important, central demand of all countries that have sanctioned Russia must be a full withdrawal of Russian troops to the situation of 22 February.

This is what the EU demanded in its 24 February Council conclusions, and it is what president Zelensky is asking for.

If the Ukrainians want a ceasefire, it should be supported of course. It is not for outsiders to 'fight to the last Ukrainian'.

But in that case the EU and others should expand their sanctions against Russia until its troops have left. They must also expand military assistance to Ukraine whatever happens in negotiations and in the event of a ceasefire.

These days Western diplomatic bigwigs talk about 'off-ramps' that should be built to allow Putin to walk down from his position.

They need not worry about that. Anybody who studies the negotiations can easily see that Zelensky has built many off-ramps already.

The best contribution that outsiders can provide to successful negotiations is massive military support to Ukraine and stricter sanctions. If Putin is still rational, which I think he is, he will make a deal if not making one becomes too costly. That is the simple arithmetic of these talks.

The negotiations may well go nowhere. They may only be a ruse to weaken international resolve to support Ukraine. Putin may have decided to make this another long, grinding, destructive war, as he has done in Chechnya and Syria.

But some things are different this time: the Ukrainian resistance is more damaging to the Russian army than resistance in previous conflicts and the sanctions imposed are much harder than before (even if they remain too soft).

So, a scenario of a negotiated solution is not completely unrealistic.

If it comes to that, it must not be allowed to become just the next milestone of Russia's destruction of international security.

The EU and its member states, in particular, need to show unity of purpose to insist on immediate Russian troop withdrawal. They also need to be ready to quickly deliver on anything else that Ukraine may need, such as tangible security guarantees.

Author bio

Michael Meyer-Resende is the executive director of Democracy Reporting International, a non-partisan NGO in Berlin that supports political participation.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

When did Ukraine really gain 'independence' — 1991 or 2013?

In November 2013, Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych chose not to sign an EU Association Agreement, favouring a closer relationship with Russia. By February 2014, Yanukovych was ordering Ukrainian Special Forces to fire on protestors, killing over 100 peaceful activists.

The Patriarch who's in lockstep with Putin

The doublespeak by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriach Kirill, on "the events taking place" is not just reprehensible – it could amount to an international crime, writes Stephen Minas.

Putin and the threat of a tactical nuclear attack

Nato could be in a position to experience nuclear deterrence in an entirely unexpected form, requiring skilled diplomacy and even a willingness for some compromise, however bitter, to avoid disaster.

Expect Czech EU presidency to downgrade V4 priorities

The Czech Republic is already in the throes of an extremely difficult period — several waves of Covid, high inflation, energy fears, an influx of Ukrainian refugees and a Prague corruption scandal. Now it has the EU presidency.

Column

China's support for Russia challenges Europe's Peace Order

China's soft support to Russia is deeply troubling for Europe. Here is the EU's biggest trading partner signalling that it is on the side of Russia, its aggression, and its challenge to the post-war international order.

Sturgeon's 2023 'referendum' gamble for Scotland

The independence campaign launch featured a new Scottish government report, comparing the UK's economic and social record with those of other European states — and arguing, unsurprisingly, that Scotland should be independent as a result.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  2. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  4. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBHow price increases affect construction workers
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic think tank examines influence of tech giants

Latest News

  1. Expect Czech EU presidency to downgrade V4 priorities
  2. Big polluters should have no role in planning EU energy policy
  3. G7, Nato, gas anxiety and Ukraine top This WEEK
  4. Death toll rising after thousands storm Spain's wall in Africa
  5. EU summit's uncertainty in the face of economic war
  6. Next winter's gas looms large at EU summer summit
  7. Ukraine becomes EU candidate after 120 days of war
  8. How to enhance EU cybersecurity

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us