“Vladimir Medinsky and Leonid Slutsky were not ready to negotiate. These were administrative personnel with practically no influence in Russia. They came, they read some ultimatums, and that was it,” Mihailo Podoliak told AFP
When negotiations took place in the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it took Ukrainians less than an hour to realize that the Kremlin was simply pretending to negotiate. Since then, the belief has only been strengthened.
It should be said that Russia effectively sent comparatists to discuss the most serious conflict in Europe since 1945: Vladimir Medinsky, a former culture minister with a reputation tarnished by a plagiarism scandal, and Leonid Slutsky, a nationalist MP who has been accused of sexual harassment.
“These people were not ready to negotiate. These were administrative personnel with practically no influence in Russia. They came, they read some ultimatums, and that was all,” Mykhailo Podoliak, one of the advisers to the Ukrainian presidency, who was among the negotiators at the time, told AFP.
Almost two years after the failure of those talks held in February and March 2022, the probability of new conversations is almost nil.
Especially after, following Russia’s September 2022 annexation of four Ukrainian regions plus Crimea, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree prohibiting any negotiation while Vladimir Putin remains in power.
“Putin is an unrepentant liar who promised world leaders he would not attack Ukraine a few days before he invaded there,” Ukraine’s head of diplomacy Dmytro Kuleba recently said on social media.
While the Americans and the majority of Europeans support the choice of Kiev, voices are beginning to be heard that negotiations are necessary, mainly due to the failure of the major Ukrainian counter-offensive over the summer which seems, to some, to indicate that this war will not be decided on the battlefield.
It is added to this the growing opposition of US Republicans to continuing aid to Ukraine; because of its cost, a year before the US presidential election.
The Kremlin thus takes advantage to try to appear as a reasonable belligerent, declaring himself open to negotiations as well as victories in the military field.
“Russia has never rejected peace talks with Ukraine,” Vladimir Putin said to the G20 leaders in November. “We have to think in such a way that we will put an end to this tragedy,” said the Russian president, who continues to deny that he attacked Ukraine.
According to Nigel Gould-Davies, the former British ambassador to Belarus, this rhetoric and the Kremlin’s intentions are two very different things.
Asked by AFP, he believes, like the Ukrainian authorities, that Russia will first of all try to take advantage of long and difficult talks to rebuild its decimated army. Moreover, with a few months before Russia’s presidential election scheduled for March 2024, two years after the invasion, “Putin has nothing to lose by saying he wants peace,” said Nigel Gould-Davies. .
“We will defeat you”
However, the terms set publicly by the Russians to end the war are unacceptable for Kiev: a “demilitarized” Ukraine, which renounces its goal of joining the European Union and NATO and recognizes as Russian the territories occupied by Moscow.
THE Andrei Kozyrev, Russian former foreign minister who now lives in the USestimates that the Kremlin wants to show that it “believes, at the right time, in a compromise, in order to better engage in war afterwards”.
For him, the only way to achieve peace is to give Ukraine “the most powerful weapons possible in order to be able to defeat the invader as soon as possible.”
For Mihailos Podoliak, who were among the negotiators at the beginning of the conflict, even if the Russian and Ukrainian delegations find themselves around the same table, they will have nothing more to say.
“They have their military argument: ‘we will continue to attack you’. And we have as an argument: ‘we will defeat you'”.
“These are not negotiation positions,” he says himself. “We’ve passed the point of no return.”
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