As Russia and U.S. Debate Ukraine, Ukraine Would Like a Say

KYIV, Ukraine – Peace negotiations are generally thought to involve two parties brought together by a mediator trying to unravel potential compromises, away from the wrath and destruction of the battlefield.

But the latest talks about the eight-year war in Ukraine are different. The conflict, and an openly threatened Russian invasion that the talks aim to prevent, is in Ukraine. Ukraine, however, will not be in two of the three negotiating sessions scheduled for this week.

Such a limited role for Ukraine in the talks has clearly puzzled 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 followed its own negotiating path with Moscow.

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

Those were set 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. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia later threatened to launch an invasion of Ukraine if talks on his proposals failed.

In effect, that made Ukraine a “hostage” to Russia, said Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, Ukraine’s former ambassador to the European Union.

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

One of Russia’s key demands is that NATO exclude any possibility of Ukraine being a member of the alliance (NATO has already rejected that demand) and stop all military cooperation with the country. Russia also insisted that the alliance halt all military activities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The talks got off to a rocky start on Sunday when a senior Russian official warned that the United States had a “lack of understanding” of the Kremlin’s security demands, and the United States expressed doubts whether Russia was “serious” about reducing escalation. . the crisis in Ukraine.

In statements reported by Russian news agencies, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov said he intended to negotiate “dynamically, without pauses”, to prevent the West from “stopping all this and burying it in endless discussions.”

In appearances on the network’s Sunday morning news shows, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the United States was “not trying to make concessions” under the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, eight years after to annex Crimea.

“It’s about seeing if, in the context of dialogue and diplomacy, there are things that both parties, all parties can do to reduce tensions,” he said on CNN. “We have done it in the past.”

The current threat to Ukraine follows eight years of low-level conflict. Russia intervened militarily in Ukraine in 2014, annexing the Crimean peninsula and fomenting separatist uprisings in two eastern provinces, resulting in the deaths of more than 13,000 people.

“The issues concern all of Europe, including Ukraine, but Putin suggests discussions between Russia and the United States,” Yelisieiev said. “Russia in this way made an announcement of a sphere of influence. ‘You leave us the former Soviet space and do what 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 the Kiev authorities, and Mr. Biden spoke by phone with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky a week ago.

“There are no decisions on Ukraine without Ukraine,” said Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, aware on Twitter last week, noting that he will also meet with NATO officials in Brussels. “Part of a broad diplomatic effort to deter further Russian aggression.”

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

The Ukrainian 10-point plan, which is sure to be highly contentious in Ukraine, begins with three confidence-building steps: a ceasefire, a prisoner exchange, and the opening of crossing points for civilians on the front line in the eastern Ukraine. war – then move on to political issues. The first point, the ceasefire, has already been implemented.

The political issues involve direct talks between Zelensky and Putin and a final point, No. 10, according to which the Ukrainian government would submit to Parliament laws that grant self-government to separatist areas and delegate some powers in these areas, according to Kommersant.

In the Russian interpretation, these laws would give their representatives in eastern Ukraine veto power over the foreign policy decisions of the central government, including Ukraine’s membership in NATO, which could sufficiently satisfy Russia’s request 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 veto power over future NATO membership. The proposal does not say anything about the aspiration to be a member of NATO written in the Constitution of Ukraine and has apparently stalled after the ceasefire, announced on December 22.

Like so many other diplomatic efforts to end the war, most analysts give this one little chance of success, but it could serve other purposes. Ukraine can do “nothing” in diplomacy except wait for the possible outbreak of violence, said Oleksandr Danylyuk, former secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council. “That is why Putin is doing this. His aim is to show that Ukraine cannot do anything. “

And the negotiating effort could have a lasting effect: Zelensky’s apparent willingness to negotiate autonomy for the separatist regions and any hint of acceptance of neutrality between the West and Russia could cause a firestorm in Ukrainian politics.

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

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

The threats became more focused in August after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, when senior Russian security officials publicly mocked Ukraine that it, too, may soon lose the United States as protector.

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

In December, Putin, speaking at a meeting of generals and security officials, said Moscow could resort to “technical-military” means if Western nations “continue with the obviously aggressive stance.”

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

“Europeans must also think about whether they want to prevent their continent from being the scene of a military confrontation,” Grushko said. “They have a choice. Either it takes seriously what is put on the table or it faces a technical-military alternative ”.

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

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

One newspaper favorably compared Moscow to a gangster character in a Russian film who, “raising his strong fist and looking his interlocutor in the eye, asks again politely: Where is your strength America?”

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