Dr. Salem AlKetbi is a UAE political analyst
The resolution of the Ukraine conflict may seem elusive at first glance, but its underlying dimensions are gradually becoming apparent. It becomes clear to observers that the issue extends beyond Russian obstinacy and Ukrainian resolve, as some might believe. A third party is actively working to advance its own objectives, which diverge significantly from the slogans espoused by Western leaders and officials.
One noteworthy signal that has come to my attention while monitoring these events is an article authored by the American columnist Ted Snider, published on The American Conservative website. In this piece, Snider highlights three separate negotiation attempts between Russia and Ukraine, during which both sides made reasonable concessions. Notably, one of these negotiations, held in Istanbul, came close to achieving a peaceful resolution between the conflicting parties. However, the US intervened, leading to the suspension of all three negotiation efforts.
The three rounds of negotiations, as mentioned by the author, commenced on February 25, 2022, approximately four days after the initiation of the military operation in Ukraine. During these talks, President Vladimir Zelenskyy expressed his willingness to forgo Ukraine’s pursuit of NATO membership. Additionally, he declared his openness to negotiations concerning the topics of neutrality and security assurances with Moscow. This concession marked the initial indication that both Russia and Ukraine could achieve their objectives and potentially bring an end to the conflict through diplomatic means.
At that time, Zelenskyy stated, “We are not afraid to talk to Russia. We are not afraid to say everything about security guarantees for our state. We are not afraid to talk about neutral status. We are not in NATO now … We need to talk about the end of this invasion. We need to talk about a ceasefire.” His adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, also said, “Ukraine wants peace and is ready for talks with Russia, including on neutral status regarding NATO.”
The writer highlights that despite Ukraine’s willingness to engage in discussions about neutrality and cessation of military operations, the US was unprepared for such dialogues.
The second round of negotiations was facilitated by former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who conducted intensive and swift talks with all parties with the approval of President Putin. Putin conveyed to him, “We can reach a ceasefire.,” but once again, the US and Western powers obstructed the prospects of a resolution. According to Bennett, Putin made “huge concessions,” which included relinquishing Russia’s demand for the “disarmament of Ukraine,” while Zelenskyy abandoned the idea of Ukraine joining NATO.
The third round of negotiations, as revealed by Snider, occurred in Istanbul in April 2022, resulting in a “tentatively agreed” settlement. During this process, Zelenskyy pledged not to pursue NATO membership, and Putin recently provided additional details about the Istanbul Agreement, stating, “We reached an agreement in Istanbul.” He underscored that the preliminary agreement was not merely verbal but was officially documented in a signed agreement by both parties. When queried about whether Zelenskyy was “open to a diplomatic solution,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price replied, “This is a war that is in many ways bigger than Russia, it’s bigger than Ukraine.”
If even a fraction of the information presented in this article holds true, the world confronts an exceptionally significant and potentially transformative situation. As a researcher, I contend that many nations across the globe, in their pursuit of neutrality, should not remain oblivious to the behind-the-scenes developments. It appears there is a firm Western, particularly American, stance committed to the strategic defeat of Russia.
The reality is that the West may now find itself in a quandary regarding how to navigate this crisis, especially with the forthcoming US developments.
With presidential elections on the horizon, the prospect of a substantial reduction in American support for Ukraine looms ever larger. This uncertainty is further compounded by uncertainties surrounding President Biden’s chances of securing a second term. The Western world’s bewilderment is evident in various discussions and perhaps even deliberate leaks. Notably, Stian Jenssen, Chief of Staff to the NATO Secretary-General, made a statement suggesting that Ukraine could potentially relinquish a portion of its territory in exchange for NATO membership and an end to the war, a statement for which he later issued an apology.
The underlying idea is that Ukraine currently faces an exceptionally challenging strategic predicament. Initially, the cost for ending the conflict was simply a commitment to refrain from pursuing NATO membership and, instead, relying on security assurances.
However, the dynamics have shifted, and the acceptable terms for Russia now involve retaining some or all of the Ukrainian territories it seized during the military operation.
The notion of altering the on-ground power balance through a Ukrainian counteroffensive has become much less feasible. There exists a degree of Russian skepticism, indicating that the idea of trading territory for NATO membership was not merely a fleeting mistake but a test balloon aimed at initiating negotiations with Russia, seeking a resolution that preserves the dignity of all parties involved.
In my perspective, the West wields influential cards for negotiation with Russia, including the potential to lift sanctions, a card that should not be underestimated. It appears this card may have been strategically placed for such a purpose.
The Western predicament now revolves around the reluctance to provide the Ukrainian army with its latest weapons, fueled by concerns that they could fall into Russian hands, potentially revealing sensitive technological secrets.
Nonetheless, a genuine battlefield challenge persists concerning the Ukrainian army’s inability to advance and secure any military victories, even at a tactical level. This challenge is particularly pronounced given that Western military aid no longer significantly bolsters Ukrainian combat capabilities. For instance, American F-16 fighters are not slated for delivery until 2024. Consequently, the announced American support now serves as an effort to sustain the momentum of Ukrainian fighting, even in the absence of tangible progress, in a bid to gain time for devising an appropriate exit strategy from this intricate situation.
The prevailing question at this juncture is whether the West will emerge from this conflict without tangible gains. The unequivocal answer is no. Indeed, the West has achieved notable success in terms of isolating Russia on the international stage and inflicting significant economic damage. These accomplishments have transpired within the context of diminishing Russia’s capacity to forge an alliance with China in the fierce global competition for leadership.
The conflict undeniably possesses strategic implications, and one of its dimensions pertains to the events unfolding in Ukraine. This clarifies why we initiated this article by addressing the shortcomings of the three negotiation rounds. The US has solidified Europe’s allegiance by fostering antagonism with Moscow, effectively marginalizing Russia from the global sphere of decision-making, and reducing its sway in the worldwide energy markets by diverting European supply markets away from it.