Negotiations between Ukraine and Russia – how they are progressing and what they will lead to

Negotiations between the two belligerent countries, Russia and Ukraine, have switched to a videoconference format. They move hard.

Yesterday, Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Ruslan Stefanchuk said at a briefing:

“I know that negotiations are going on, they are not going as easily as each side would like, but there is a compromise for this. I am convinced that issues relating to the territorial integrity, sovereignty or independence of our country cannot enter the system of compromise. I know that all negotiators receive such instructions that this cannot be a matter of negotiations.

He clarified that the negotiators can discuss certain things, but on the condition that they “do not cross the designated red lines.” In the working groups, work continues even during technical breaks, “certain definitions are being clarified.”

Information about the course of the discussion and specific topics is still at a minimum. Nevertheless, some conclusions about the negotiation process can be drawn. The important thing is that it definitely moves. A lot of remarkable things can be gleaned from the comments around the negotiations about the ongoing discussion. Before the start of the fourth round, which took place via videoconference on Monday, March 14, adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted:

“Literally in a few minutes, negotiations with the Russian delegation will begin, the fourth round. We will try to convey to them, finally, the 19th day of the war is 19 days of the country’s great feat. Our positions remain unchanged: peace, an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of all Russian troops And only after that we can talk about some kind of neighborly relations and political settlements.”

The requirements of the Ukrainian side are well known to the Russian side, as well as their own conditions for Ukraine to cease hostilities: neutral status, “demilitarization” (reduction of the army and the rejection of strike weapons) and “denazification”, recognition of the Russian ownership of Crimea and the LDNR. Kyiv has repeatedly stated that it does not accept ultimatums.

Apparently, the parties want to save face, but at the same time it is important not to disrupt the negotiation process, which is developing against the backdrop of a full-scale war. It seems that, in addition to solving the problem with humanitarian corridors, there is still hope for other agreements. This is evidenced by cautiously optimistic statements by representatives of both sides regarding the fourth round of negotiations.

For example, Leonid Slutsky, head of the Russian State Duma committee on international affairs and a member of the Russian delegation to the talks with Ukraine, noted “substantial progress” without elaborating:

“According to my personal expectations, this progress can develop in the very next few days into a unified position of both delegations, into documents for signing … The signing of these documents will form the basis for reducing the degree of tension during the military operation and, of course, saving many people.”

And the adviser to the head of the Presidential Office, Mikhail Podolyak, noted that the process is “hard, but it goes on,” tweeting:

“The reason for the disagreement is that we have very different political systems. Ukraine is a free dialogue in society and an obligatory consensus. Russia is an ultimatum suppression of its own society.”

Meanwhile, on Monday evening, the parties took a “technical pause” until March 15. Podolyak explained to the publication “The country”:

“The technical pause has been taken … so that the technical and legal groups can work productively all night. The main comments, in fact, will probably be tomorrow.”

It should not be ruled out that the Ukrainian side simply does not want to take on those obligations that it cannot fulfill due to accusations of betraying national interests, causing dissatisfaction with the military, which can play politics. Reaching consensus on even a part of the requirements is not only difficult, but practically impossible. Here, one should take into account the mood in society: part of it is determined to fight until victory, considering it possible, given the stubborn resistance of Ukraine and the support of the West. This group may find support in parliament, through which the decisions reached within the framework of the agreement with Russia will have to be passed.

Undoubtedly, the authority of Vladimir Zelensky increased significantly during the war. But will it be enough to convince the public to accept unpopular agreements that may seem humiliating to some?

Political scientist Ruslan Bortnik is convinced that without the consent of the parliament, it will be difficult to confirm any agreements with the Russian side by law:

“The signal will be a meeting with the president of faction leaders, some political heavyweights to develop a common position. If the conditions are acceptable, politicians, and society with them, will accept them. Society is experiencing a patriotic upsurge, but subconsciously still waiting for peace.”

No doubt Zelenskiy hopes to trade concessions for the security guarantees he wants from Putin. This requires a meeting of the two heads of powers, and the Ukrainian delegation must “do everything to ensure that the meeting of the presidents takes place.” In his video message, Zelensky noted:

“This meeting, which, I am sure, people are waiting for. Our goal is for Ukraine to get the necessary result in this struggle, in this difficult negotiation work. Necessary for us, for peace and security. So that we have guarantees – normal, effective. Not like according to “Budapest” (the Budapest memorandum) and not like in our sky. But such that Ukrainians could say: this works, this is a guarantee.”

Political scientist Bortnik says:

“Zelensky believes that Putin makes all decisions on Ukraine personally. Perhaps Zelensky hopes to convince the Russian president in a personal conversation. Perhaps there are topics that he wants to discuss face to face and that he does not want to give to the negotiators for discussion. It is possible that such a meeting seems in the Presidential Office a sign of recognition of Zelensky’s equal negotiating status, the sovereign status of Ukraine. And this is another reason to seek its holding. In fact, such a meeting is possible when the presidents sign some final documents, when agreements are actually reached. How does this compare with hopes , apparently fed by Zelensky’s team, it’s hard to say to change Putin’s mind.”

The situation around the negotiation process is commented on by the Politika Strana telegram channel:

“In recent days, there have been more and more forecasts about the end of the war and the signing of peace agreements with Russia in the near future. Yermak Arestovich’s adviser said that no later than May, and maybe much earlier, Kyiv and Moscow would sign a peace treaty. In the most positive scenario, this will happen within a week or two, Arestovich believes. Otherwise (if Russia decides to throw new reserves into battle), losses at the front and sanctions from the West will force Moscow, by May at the latest, to come to an agreement with Kiev.”

Bellingcat journalist Hristo Grozev said yesterday that “there will be a shift” in the talks soon. He believes that Putin has two options: either negotiate with Zelensky now, abandoning the conditions set earlier, or continue to fight. Using, among other things, prohibited weapons. The journalist leans towards the former, describing, referring to his own sources, the “confusion of minds” in the Kremlin. He is confident that a tangible movement in the negotiation process will occur in the next two or three days.

Forecasts indicate that we can soon hope for some kind of breakthrough in the negotiations. The same is evidenced by the public comments of some representatives of the delegation from Ukraine. All this inspires optimism, but it is not yet entirely clear what is behind this – whether real progress, or whether it is just an element of information and psychological warfare, when the enemy is persuaded to compromise right now, because then it can only get worse.

The American media yesterday unanimously wrote that the White House is considering imposing a naval trade blockade of the Russian Federation. And this is also an element of pressure on the Russian Federation to push it to make concessions and conclude peace agreements. However, such pressure can be perceived by Russia as a declaration of war. With all the consequences…

The outcome of negotiations, as always in such cases, to a large extent depends on the situation at the front. If the losses of the Russian army are really so great, and the reserves are really exhausted, as they say, then this, no doubt, will incline Putin to compromises and to abandon some of the demands in the very near future. Telegram channel “Politics of the Country” writes:

If this is not entirely true, and the Kremlin has both the desire and the ability to throw new forces into the war, then Putin will not make serious concessions now.

In the meantime, yesterday evening, Tuesday, adviser to the head of the Office of the President Mikhail Podolyak confirmed that a pause had been taken in the negotiations until tomorrow:

“We are still working on logistics in groups. Tomorrow we will continue on the main negotiating platform. We will continue tomorrow. A very complex and viscous negotiation process. There are fundamental contradictions. But, of course, there is room for compromise. During the break, work in subgroups will continue…”.

When asked about shifts in the search for a compromise in the negotiations, he replied that he was not yet ready to discuss the specifics, writes “Strana”. And the press service of the Kremlin, according to the publication “News”, reported the opinion of the Russian President expressed during a telephone conversation with the head of the European Council Charles Michel:

“Vladimir Putin outlined his fundamental assessments of the ongoing negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian representatives to develop agreements taking into account well-known Russian requirements. At the same time, it was noted that Kyiv does not demonstrate a serious attitude towards finding mutually acceptable solutions.

That is, there is no confirmation from Moscow that the peace talks are going well, so the prospects for the current talks do not yet look very bright.

On the night of March 15-16, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote down a new appeal to Ukrainians. In it, he touched on the topic of negotiations with Russia:

“Meetings are ongoing. As I am informed, the positions in the talks sound more realistic. However, more time is needed.”

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