Prospects for the Political Settlement of Ukraine Crisis
Brig Vinod Anand, Senior Fellow, VIF

(The following is the transcript of presentation made during an International Webinar on “Road to Peace: Prospects for the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis” organised by China Institute of International Studies, Beijing on 26 May 2023)

More the Russia-Ukraine conflict prolongs more misery it is going to cause to not only the parties involved in the conflict but also to other countries and people that are much away from the scene of the conflict. As has been reflected upon many times that the ongoing conflict has adversely impacted the availability and prices of food, fuel, energy, fertilisers; as also, it has impacted negatively the environment matters related to climate change. The conflict has created geopolitical tensions drawing away attention from many other diverse and pressing challenges being faced by the humanity. The conflict has also displaced population in Ukraine and resulted into large number of causalities both military and civilian. Infrastructure built over several years has been destroyed in Ukraine with many human lives lost.

There have been some efforts made to bring peace/ move towards some kind of settlement between both sides but there has been little progress made in this direction because of the irreconcilable differences. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his bilateral meeting with President Putin in Sept 2022 on the sidelines of SCO Summit in Uzbekistan had appealed to him to end the conflict saying that ‘today’s era is not of war’.

In March this year the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting in India, the Grouping had failed to come out with a Joint Statement because of divergences on the Ukraine conflict. India has been following an independent and balanced approach on the question of Russia-Ukraine conflict without condemning one side or the other. Thus instead of the Joint Statement of G20, a Chair’s Summary and Outcome Document was issued wherein India as the Chair emphasised upon ‘peaceful resolution of conflict through dialogue and diplomacy’ and ‘today’s era not being that of war’ among many other outcomes.

This month on the sidelines of G7 Summit (19-21May) PM Modi met President Zelensky (who had also been invited for the Summit) where he remarked that he did not consider ‘the current situation as an issue of politics or economy. I believe this is a matter of humanity, a matter of human values”. He also said that from the beginning it has been India’s firm belief that Ukraine conflict can be solved through dialogue and diplomacy and India was ready to contribute to that effect. Zelensky, on his part apprised Indian PM about his 10 Point Peace formula which he had first unveiled at G20 meeting in November last year in Indonesia and has been promoting the same since then.

However, G7 Summit came out with a separate document called G7 Leaders’ Statement on Ukraine wherein they affirmed solidarity with Ukraine, condemned actions of Russia and went in for imposition of more sanctions. They called for an unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops. It is also debatable as to whether imposing sanctions leads to any changes of behaviour on part of the sanctioned party. There was hardly any talk about moving towards a peaceful settlement of the Russia Ukraine conflict.

Further, speaking in early May, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in an interview with the Spanish newspaper had expressed skepticism about a negotiated deal between Russia and Ukraine. He had observes that “Unfortunately, I don’t think peace negotiations are possible at the moment”. It is worth mentioning that last year, the UN along with Turkey had taken initiative to broker a peace agreement between the two warring sides. However, due to rigid stance of both the sides there was no positive outcome.

UN chief Guterres further observed that “Both sides are convinced they can win…. Still, I don’t see Russia being willing to pull out of the territories it’s occupying at the moment and I think Ukraine is hoping to retake them,"

However, what is very clear is that this is not only a conflict between Ukraine and Russia but also between the US and European powers and Russia. The US and EU & NATO have come out in full support of Ukraine by providing military and defence hardware in addition to funding the war effort on various counts. From the beginning of war the US government has given out more than $75 billion in assistance to Ukraine, which includes humanitarian, financial, and military support, according to a German research report. A large portion of the aid has been utilised for providing military wherewithal, weapons systems, training, and intelligence. Such aid evidently helps Ukraine to continue with its military efforts towards regaining territories which it considers to be its own. The US has also announced delivery of F-16 jets to Ukraine through joint allied efforts to shore up Ukraine’s air power but delivery and training would take around 18 months which only indicates the intentions for a protracted war. Apparently, the US hopes that continuing war would stretch Russian military efforts which might lead to weakening of Putin’s regime. Regime change in Russia has been one of the major objectives of the US even though it is not expressed so in clear terms.

Much hope was placed on Ukraine’s victory in Battle of Bakhmut but such hopes have been belied as Russian forces seem to have gained the upper hand. This has also placed a question mark on Ukraine’s plans for counteroffensive. The ensuing stalemate or lack of a clear victory is unlikely to encourage the warring parties to come to some understanding and move towards peace.

In the US and the West there is hardly any reflection on the causes leading to the outbreak of this conflict. Russia’s apprehensions about NATO’s expansion and its security concerns have been regularly ignored. Russia cannot see itself as coming out as an underdog in this ongoing conflict. Thus there appears to be no silver lining in the resolution of this intractable issue.

Moreover, according to America’s Defense Intelligence Agency assessment document that is supposed to have been revealed to the ‘The Washington Post’ in April, “Negotiations to end the conflict are unlikely during 2023 in all considered scenarios”. The report surmises that, even if Ukraine recaptures significant portion of territory and inflicts unsustainable losses on Russian forces,” which is unlikely, it would not lead to peace talks. Therefore, it can easily be concluded that despite provision of massive amounts of weapons, munitions and other logistics efforts in the aid of Ukraine, the DIA is not confident of Ukraine’s capabilities to sustain its military campaign that might result in a positive outcome.

Thus the prospects of peace and then reaching a political settlement remain quite gloomy but then there is always some hope that there would be some flexibility shown by both sides based on the advantages of reaching a peaceful settlement rather than continuing with a disastrous conflict resulting in more misery.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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