Politics Russia-Ukraine Vijay Prashad

The West Must Stop Blocking Negotiations Between Ukraine and Russia

Ukrainians have been paying a terrible price for the failure of ensuring sensible and reasonable negotiations from 2014 to February 2022 – which could have prevented the invasion by Russia in the first place, and once the war started, could have led to the end of this war.
President Joe Biden attends a working session on Ukraine with G7 leaders, Monday, June 27, 2022, at Schloss Elmau in Krün, Germany. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

By Vijay Prashad / Globetrotter

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. This war has been horrendous, though it does not compare with the terrible destruction wrought by the US bombardment of Iraq (“shock and awe”) in 2003. In the Gomel region of Belarus that borders Ukraine, Russian and Ukrainian diplomats met on February 28 to begin negotiations toward a ceasefire. These talks fell apart. Then, in early March, the two sides met again in Belarus to hold a second and third round of talks. On March 10, the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia met in Antalya, Turkey, and finally, at the end of March, senior officials from Ukraine and Russia met in Istanbul, Turkey, thanks to the initiative of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. On March 29, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said, “We are pleased to see that the rapprochement between the parties has increased at every stage. Consensus and common understanding were reached on some issues.” By April, an agreement regarding a tentative interim deal was reached between Russia and Ukraine, according to an article in Foreign Affairs.

In early April, Russian forces began to withdraw from Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv Oblast, which meant that Russia halted military operations around Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. The United States and the United Kingdom claimed that this withdrawal was a consequence of military failure, while the Russians said it was due to the interim deal. It is impossible to ascertain, with the available facts, which of these two views was correct.

Before the deal could go forward, then-UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in Kyiv on April 9. A Ukrainian media outlet – Ukrainska Pravda – reported that Johnson carried two messages to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky: first, that Russian President Vladimir Putin “should be pressured, not negotiated with,” and second, that even if Ukraine signed agreements with the Kremlin, the West was not ready to do so. According to Ukrainska Pravda, soon after Johnson’s visit, “the bilateral negotiation process was paused.” A few weeks later, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited Kyiv, and following the trip, Austin spoke at a news conference at an undisclosed location in Poland and said, “We want to see Russia weakened.” There is no direct evidence that Johnson, Blinken, and Austin directly pressured Zelensky to withdraw from the interim negotiations, but there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to suggest that this was the case.

The lack of willingness to allow Ukraine to negotiate with Russia predates these visits and was summarized in a March 10, 2022, article in the Washington Post where senior officials in US President Joe Biden’s administration stated that the current US strategy “is to ensure that the economic costs for Russia are severe and sustainable, as well as to continue supporting Ukraine militarily in its effort to inflict as many defeats on Russia as possible.”

Long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, since 2014, the United States has – through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative of the US Department of Defense – spent more than $19 billion in providing training and equipment to the Ukrainian military ($17.6 billion since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022). The total annual budget of the United Nations for 2022 is $3.12 billion, far less than the amount spent by the US on Ukraine today. The arming of Ukraine, the statements about weakening Russia by senior officials of the US government, and the refusal to initiate any kind of arms control negotiations prolong a war that is ugly and unnecessary.

UKRAINE IS NOT IN IOWA

Ukraine and Russia are neighbors. You cannot change the geographical location of Ukraine and move it to Iowa in the United States. This means that Ukraine and Russia have to come to an agreement and find a solution to end the conflict between them. In 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky won by a landslide (73%) in the Ukrainian presidential election against Petro Poroshenko, the preferred candidate of the West. “We will not be able to avoid negotiations between Russia and Ukraine,” Zelensky said on a TV panel, “Pravo Na Vladu,” TSN news service reported, before he became president. In December 2019, Zelensky and Putin met in Paris, alongside then-Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and France’s President Emmanuel Macron (known as the “Normandy Four”). This initiative was driven by Macron and Merkel. As early as 2019, France’s President Emmanuel Macron argued that it was time for Europe to “rethink… our relationship with Russia” because “pushing Russia away from Europe is a profound strategic error.”

In March 2020, Zelensky said that he and Putin could work out an agreement within a year based on the Minsk II agreements of February 2015. “There are points in Minsk. If we move them around a bit, then what bad can that lead to? As soon as there are no people with weapons, the shooting will stop. That’s important,” Zelensky told the Guardian. In a December 2019 press conference, Putin said, “there is nothing more important than the Minsk Agreements.” At this point, Putin said that all he expected was that the Donbas region would be given special status in the Ukrainian constitution, and during the time of the expected Ukraine-Russia April 2020 meeting, the troops on both sides would have pulled back and agreed to “disengagement along the entire contact line.”

ROLE OF MACRON

It was clear to Macron by 2020 that the point of the negotiations was about more than just Minsk and Ukraine; it was about the creation of a “new security architecture” that did not isolate Russia – and was also not subservient to Washington. Macron developed these points in February 2021 in two directions and spoke about them during his interview with the Atlantic Council (a US think tank). First, he said that NATO has “pushed our borders as far as possible to the eastern side,” but NATO’s expansion has “not succeeded in reducing the conflicts and threats there.” NATO’s eastward expansion, he made clear, was not going to increase Europe’s security. Second, Macron said that the US unilateral withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019 – and Russia’s mirroring that – leaves Europe unprotected “against these Russian missiles.” He further said, “As a European, I want to open a discussion between the European Union and Russia.” Such a discussion would pioneer a post-Cold War understanding of security, which would leave the United States out of the conversation with Russia. None of these proposals from Macron could advance, not only because of hesitancy in Russia but also principally because they were not seen favorably by Washington.

Confusion existed about whether US President Joe Biden would be welcomed into the Normandy Four. In late 2020, Zelensky said he wanted Biden at the table, but a year later it became clear that Russia was not interested in having the United States be part of the Normandy Four. Putin said that the Normandy Four was “self-sufficient.” Biden, meanwhile, chose to intensify threats and sanctions against Russia based on the claims of Kremlin interference in the United States 2016 and 2018 elections. By December 2021, there was no proper reciprocal dialogue between Biden and Putin. Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinistö that there was a “need to immediately launch negotiations with the United States and NATO” on security guarantees. In a video call between Biden and Putin on December 7, 2021, the Kremlin told the US president that “Russia is seriously interested in obtaining reliable, legally fixed guarantees that rule out NATO expansion eastward and the deployment of offensive strike weapons systems in states adjacent to Russia.” No such guarantee was forthcoming from Washington. The talks fizzled out.

The record shows that Washington rejected Macron’s initiatives as well as entreaties from Putin and Zelensky to resolve issues through diplomatic dialogue. Up to four days before the Russian invasion, Macron continued his efforts to prevent an escalation of the conflict. By then, the appetite in Moscow for negotiations had dwindled, and Putin rejected Macron’s efforts.

An independent European foreign policy was simply not possible (as Macron had suggested and as the former leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev had proposed in 1989 while talking about his vision for a “common European home” that would stretch from northern Asia to Europe). Nor was an agreement with Russia feasible if it meant that Russian concerns were to be taken seriously by the West.

Ukrainians have been paying a terrible price for the failure of ensuring sensible and reasonable negotiations from 2014 to February 2022 – which could have prevented the invasion by Russia in the first place, and once the war started, could have led to the end of this war. All wars end in negotiations, but these negotiations to end wars should be permitted to restart.


Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

* indicates required
Vijay Prashad
Vijay Prashad

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

17 comments

  1. Very good journalist piece and full of truisms.
    This war could have been avoided if Zelensky and his NATO mates had kept their noses out of Eastern powers and which threatened Russian security.
    We would have peace, grain supplies and no energy worries that this devilish NATO/EU block that has made western citizens suffer.
    We know who is to blame and it is NATO/EU madness in wanting to get Ukraine into NATO.

  2. The West simply is maintaining the old Imperialistic view that Winston Churchill held about WW2 when he said: “If it were not for the damn yanks we could have kept this thing going another 10 years or more”.

    This insane agenda is manifested today in the US and its Fascist Corporate overlords who care only about money and nothing more.

    1. @EWC

      You seem confused.

      Putin conquered 5 Ukrainian provinces and made them part of Russia, while the US is heading an international effort to allow Ukraine to maintain its democratic independence against a despot’s colonial efforts.

      How does that translate West imperialism?

      1. obtuse dga—20 years of US imperialism in ukraine funding and training nazis—you have been defeated—your immoral rules no longer matter…you isolated from the civilized world—your nazism, stupidity is disgusting

    2. That was Lt Colonel *Mad Jack* Churchill, not Winston. They were completely unrelated,. Colonel Jack routinely carried his longbow, claymore and Scots warpipes into battle, and had an eccentric sense of humor, of which that quote is an example!

  3. I am sad that even Vijay keeps on about the “invasion”. Russia waited 8 years trying to work peacefully with Ukraine. By February this year,the buildup of troops and attack son the Donbass escalated and Russia’s entry was NOT unjustified and certainly NOT unprovoked. Months of goading by the USA went on first.
    Russia kept for 8 months to its SMO, the water, electricity, internet, petrol, food, all services continued for the population. Events staged by Ukraine to claim there were atrocious massacres by Russian troops (like “Bucha”)were hyped by all the Western press with no investigations. every report in the West was from Ukrainian sources, unverified. The changes recently cannot possible be considered unjustified, as the forces, money, weapons in this “country 404” which cannot be considered anything but the site of a proxy war by the West on Russia,make it a real war of hatred on a country so many seem to have decided to destroy, largely out of ignorance and envy.

  4. Thanks for all of your efforts. Tragically, the US has no intention of allowing negotiations to move forward. Clearly, the intent is to crush Russia at the expense of Ukraine.

  5. From the get go, the Russian position was territorial concessions and control over Ukrainian relationships – economic and military – with Europe and the US, a position they still hold today.

    On what basis, than, should negotiation proceed?

    1. dga lies as usual—there can now be no negotiation w immoral american liars—-you have sealed your own humiliation

  6. Macron’s role in trying to get the west to negotiate is emphasized here, and it should be. When all is said and done, if we survive the present impasse, everyone will point out how foolish and corrupt was the Ukrainian War, and we will blame the many neo-cons who obviously planned and facilitated the war, but all who found reason to be silent, or to adhere to the latest talking points in favor of more military support will be forgotten.

  7. Excellent summary. Sadly, when it comes to international confrontation, Biden seems far more aggressive than his immediate predecessors.
    We now have a situation where the international evils of the Trump administration (the Abrahamic Accords, the Afghan government-free peace talks with the Taliban, the economic war with China, the targeted assassination of an Iranian leader, the continued abasement of Cuba for daring to do what Ukraine did) continue, along with more belligerent posturing in all portions of the world.
    It is clear that the US has no intention of allowing any nation or group of nations anywhere to threaten its hegemony – no matter the cost in treasure or lives.

  8. USA ensures full Russian victory—the “brutal mechanical americans” Gramsci violate international law—and instead attempt to impose their immoral “rules based order”. no longer will these imposed imperialist norms be accepted. outside of the immoral angloshere and some western EU nations no nartiuon sanctions Russia or China—-the decayed “west” cannot compete, culturally morally or economically….the US has no economy—it exists only through theft and Neo-colonialism—the desperation in USA merely reflects incompetence—the empire is near collapse

  9. The US/GB/Israeli military industries and intelligence agencies lurk behind the failure of diplomacy in Ukraine and eastern Europe; still living in the 20th century these industries/agencies continue their attacks like rabid animals out to bite and infect anyone in their deranged paths, mouths foaming stumbling about in mad stupor. The planet is multipolar, imperialism no longer exists no matter how hard rabid colonialists/imperialists stumble about try to attack and bite it.

  10. Mr. Prashad seems to have elevated misdirection to an art-form.

    The verbose and irrelevant litany of who met whom when. The sly suggestion that Russia’s withdrawal from the Chernihiv region was due to anything but the stinging losses it received as its attempt to kill the Ukrainian government had failed and the vapid suggestion that this must have been the result of ‘negotiations’ instead of what it later turned out to be (strategic regrouping and reinforcement of Russia’s forces in Donbas).

    The isinuating invitation to join in the ‘post hic, ergo propter hic’ logical fallacy when mentioning the visit of Mr. Johnson (as reported in ‘Ukrainian Pravda’).

    The total non-sequitur that since Ukraine and Russia are neighbours and hence must reach a modus vivendo to the idea that this means that Russia ought to be free to slice chunks off Ukraine’s territory, deny the Ukraine its right to exist and squarely aim at obliterating it as a state to somehow suggest that negotiations on this basis are in order.

    The faux handwringing about the “terrible price the Ukrainians have been paying for the failure of ensuring sensible and reasonable negotiations from 2014 to February 2022 – which could have prevented the invasion by Russia in the first place” and the insincere lament that “All wars end in negotiations, but these negotiations to end wars should be permitted to restart.”.

    The upshot of Mr. Prasad’s reasoning can be summarised as follows: had Ukraine joined NATO before 2014 (which NATO blocked in order not to upset Russia), it would not have lost the Ukraine and would not have been invaded in 2022 with massive casualties and would not have had its power grid bombed to rubble right at the onset of winter.

    Negotiations to stop the war? Absolutely fine. How about Russia withdraws unconditionally from all Ukrainian soil altogether (including the Crimea, Luhansk and Donetst), admits that none of its concerns under international law even remotely justify denying ex-soviet states their sovereignty and right at self-determination, and commits itself never again to blockade Ukrainian ships in the the Black Sea? Deal?

    1. golo—your lies amuse as does your misrepresentation of international law—which Russia fully complies w in ukraine and USA routinely violates—your nazi immorality is disgusting

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: