As Russia’s war against Ukraine persists, officials in Ukraine, Russia, and beyond have differing visions of how hostilities should end. Ukraine has consistently made its position clear that no peace negotiations with Russia are possible before the complete restoration of Ukrainian territorial integrity, that is, a return to Ukraine’s 1991 internationally recognized borders. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy laid down that marker when he first outlined his 10-point Peace Formula in November 2022. In contrast, Russia has repeatedly stated that negotiations are only possible with the consideration of so-called “new realities” – that is, Russia’s illegal purported annexation of four Ukrainian southeast regions and Crimea. The two visions would appear to be irreconcilable.
Formally, the majority of the international community expressed their commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity with 143 votes at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Oct. 12, 2022, and through continued support in European regional organizations and recent rounds of high-level talks. In parallel, however, some officials in Western capitals doubt – publicly or privately – that ending the war is possible without Ukraine conceding part of its territory. In mid-August 2023, a senior NATO official, Stian Jenssen, chief of staff to the NATO Secretary General, stated that a potential ending to the war would require Ukraine to give up its territory in exchange for NATO membership, though he later backtracked, saying the statement was a mistake and was only meant to represent one of many “possible future scenarios.”
This was followed by a broader discussion on how Ukraine’s allies envision the end of the war. Journalists report that many Western officials believe that Ukraine’s allies, including the United States, cannot leave it up to Ukraine to define the war’s end goals, since “Ukraine’s maximalist aims, they fear, guarantee an endless war.” These whispering officials, hiding in the diplomatic undergrowth, seem to think that the solution to the conundrum is to offer Ukraine benefits in exchange for accepting a loss of territory and Russia’s plunder of Ukraine’s resources – NATO or EU membership, for example, or military and economic aid guarantees.
Of course, while some “realist” analysts press for such accommodations, none of the diplomats are willing to say this outright. They understand that it is not Ukraine’s “maximalist aims” provoking a possible endless war, but Russia’s undeniable and terrifying imperialistic greed, and they know that such concessions hold not only a potential public outcry but also dangerous ramifications for the global rules-based order constructed so carefully since World War II. [Continue reading…]