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Towards a Ceasefire in the Ukraine War

In this piece, Pravin Jethwa suggests concrete steps for a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine. The requirements for ending the war will require Ukraine (both as the victim of Russian invasion and the militarily weaker party) to accept less-than-satisfactory political outcomes to the war.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia appears to have successfully achieved two immediate objectives in Russian foreign policy by invading Ukraine: first, he has effectively laid to rest the issue of NATO’s eastward push into that country. Ukraine will never join the Western military bloc, period.

And secondly, by risking a wider and potentially deadly conflict with the West, Putin has signalled that the defence of Russia’s vital geostrategic interests – with brute force, if necessary - will henceforth override what the Russian security establishment unanimously considers as self-serving Western diktats in world affairs.

So, with Putin emphatically having made his point through the barrel of the gun, how does the largest land war in Europe since 1945 come to an end?

The basis for a ceasefire is straightforward: Ukraine’s President Zelensky (a) will have to publicly disavow his country’s intention to enter the Western military bloc, and (b) proclaim Ukraine’s future geopolitical neutrality between the West and Russia.

Putin, of course, will have to deescalate not only by stopping his tanks but by verifiably withdrawing from all areas of Ukraine overrun by his armies since February 24.

Russia, moreover, will also have to acknowledge and guarantee Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent state through a diplomatic process – perhaps under regional auspices led by Turkey and/or Israel - that could commence after a ceasefire.

But, however this war ends, the larger issues of recasting the post-cold war European geopolitical and security order will demand attention.

Three bedrock principles should guide policymakers once the guns fall silent:

First, the United States, as the leading Western power, will have to drop its long-standing and almost obsessive quest to push the NATO alliance not only deeper into eastern Europe towards Russia, but, inexplicably, even further east into the Caucasus, to Georgia.

A formal U.S. renunciation of NATO’s enlargement agenda, in any event, will likely form a core demand of Russian diplomacy and negotiating position in any post-war settlement.

Second, in this regard, the Biden administration will have to grasp quickly that no Russian leadership, of whatever hue, will accede to such a strategic scenario of Russia being trapped by the Western alliance. It is, after all, precisely this veryfear of being encircled by NATO that served as Russia’s casus belli for its pre-emptive attack on Ukraine.

Third, looking beyond the current crisis to likely future geopolitical realignment in eastern Europe, any Russo-Ukrainian peace settlement must start from the recognition that spheres of influence, so hypocritically maligned by Western foreign policy elites, are a fact of life, and will remain so on the European continent for perhaps decades to come.

Thus, Ukraine – viewed by many in Russia as part and parcel of the Rus civilization – will broadly and inevitably remain within Russia’s sphere of influence to its west. Russian tanks, in any event, have decisively settled the issue.

Yet, openly conceding Ukraine to Russia’s geopolitical orbit cannot be an explicit or written outcome of any diplomatic process that follows the war.

More likely, in exchange for Russian troop withdrawals, the Ukrainian government will itself have to formally propose some form of neutrality as part of a peace settlement with Russia. Implicit in the outcome will be a recognition that Ukraine will not pursue policies that run counter to or impinge upon Russia’s vital geostrategic interests in the future.

These principles for guiding post-war diplomacy, however, would likely elicit varying degrees of challenge from all parties to the conflict.

Ukraine, first and foremost as the victim of Russian invasion, may understandably get tempted to stake out a maximum negotiating agenda by insisting on full Russian military withdrawals, including, however unrealistic, from the Donbas and Crimea regions.

Russian diplomacy, plodding and unimaginative at the best of times, may condition Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine to Western pullback of NATO’s additional military deployments to Poland and the Baltic states that have taken place since the start of the war on February 24.

And Western powers, collectively deluded by mass anti-Russian hysteria, appear unlikely to consider formally renouncing NATO’s eastward push towards Russia, despite this being the very policy that brought about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the first place.

Yet, as the war rages unabated with mounting destruction and civilian suffering in Ukraine, the outlines for a ceasefire are clearly discernible. It is therefore incumbent upon Zelensky to ignore Western pressures upon him to continue defying Russia, and to seize the initiative to propose an urgent and realistic program of negotiations with Putin.

The Russian political and military leadership, in turn, will need to grasp above all the moral imperatives for ending the Ukraine war.

{Pravin R. Jethwa is a private defence / security consultant in London. He previously served on an academic experts panel on arms control, crisis management and superpower relations at Kings College London}


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