Russia and Ukraine had a 15-point framework for peace. It remains the best hope for a ceasefire, just settlement, and more peaceful geopolitical competition.
Originally published at Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF)Six months ago, Russia invaded Ukraine. The United States, NATO and the European Union (EU) wrapped themselves in the Ukrainian flag, shelled out billions for arms shipments, and imposed draconian sanctions intended to severely punish Russia for its aggression.
Since then, the people of Ukraine have been paying a price for this war that few of their supporters in the West can possibly imagine. Wars do not follow scripts, and Russia, Ukraine, the United States, NATO and the European Union have all encountered unexpected setbacks.
For those who say negotiations are impossible, we have only to look at the talks that took place during the first month after the Russian invasion, when Russia and Ukraine tentatively agreed to a fifteen-point peace plan in talks mediated by Turkey. Details still had to be worked out, but the framework and the political will were there.
Russia was ready to withdraw from all of Ukraine, except for Crimea and the self-declared republics in Donbas. Ukraine was ready to renounce future membership in NATO and adopt a position of neutrality between Russia and NATO.
The agreed framework provided for political transitions in Crimea and Donbas that both sides would accept and recognize, based on self-determination for the people of those regions. The future security of Ukraine was to be guaranteed by a group of other countries, but Ukraine would not host foreign military bases on its territory.
Such early success for a peace initiative was no surprise to conflict resolution specialists. The best chance for a negotiated peace settlement is generally during the first months of a war. Each month that a war rages on offers reduced chances for peace, as each side highlights the atrocities of the other, hostility becomes entrenched and positions harden.
The abandonment of that early peace initiative stands as one of the great tragedies of this conflict, and the full scale of that tragedy will only become clear over time as the war rages on and its dreadful consequences accumulate.
Ukrainian and Turkish sources have revealed that the U.K. and U.S. governments played decisive roles in torpedoing those early prospects for peace. During U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “surprise visit” to Kyiv on April 9th, he reportedly told Prime Minister Zelenskyy that the U.K. was “in it for the long run,” that it would not be party to any agreement between Russia and Ukraine, and that the “collective West” saw a chance to “press” Russia and was determined to make the most of it.
The same message was reiterated by U.S. Defense Secretary Austin, who followed Johnson to Kyiv on April 25th and made it clear that the U.S. and NATO were no longer just trying to help Ukraine defend itself but were now committed to using the war to “weaken” Russia. Turkish diplomats told retired British diplomat Craig Murray that these messages from the United States and United Kingdom killed their otherwise promising efforts to mediate a ceasefire and a diplomatic resolution.
Addressing the European Parliament on May 9, French President Emmanuel Macron declared, “We are not at war with Russia,” and that Europe’s duty was “to stand with Ukraine to achieve the cease-fire, then build peace.”
Meeting with President Biden at the White House on May 10, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi told reporters, “People… want to think about the possibility of bringing a cease-fire and starting again some credible negotiations. That’s the situation right now. I think that we have to think deeply about how to address this.”
After speaking by phone with President Putin on May 13, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tweeted that he told Putin, “There must be a cease-fire in Ukraine as quickly as possible.”
But American and British officials continued to pour cold water on talk of renewed peace negotiations. The policy shift in April appears to have involved a commitment by Zelenskyy that Ukraine, like the U.K. and U.S., was “in it for the long run” and would fight on, possibly for many years, in exchange for the promise of tens of billions of dollars worth of weapons shipments, military training, satellite intelligence and Western covert operations.
The Times asked serious unanswered questions about U.S. goals in Ukraine, and tried to reel back unrealistic expectations built up by three months of one-sided Western propaganda, not least from its own pages. The board acknowledged, “A decisive military victory for Ukraine over Russia, in which Ukraine regains all the territory Russia has seized since 2014, is not a realistic goal.… Unrealistic expectations could draw [the United States and NATO] ever deeper into a costly, drawn-out war.”
More recently, war hawk Henry Kissinger, of all people, publicly questioned the entire U.S. policy of reviving its Cold War with Russia and China and the absence of a clear purpose or endgame short of World War III. “We are at the edge of war with Russia and China on issues which we partly created, without any concept of how this is going to end or what it’s supposed to lead to,” Kissinger told The Wall Street Journal.
Far from aiming to deter Russia from dangerous or destabilizing actions, successive administrations of both parties have sought every means available to “overextend and unbalance” Russia, all the while misleading the American public into supporting an ever-escalating and unthinkably dangerous conflict between our two countries, which together possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.
The only realistic alternative to this endless slaughter is a return to peace talks to bring the fighting to an end, find reasonable political solutions to Ukraine’s political divisions, and seek a peaceful framework for the underlying geopolitical competition between the United States, Russia and China.
Campaigns to demonize, threaten and pressure our enemies can only serve to cement hostility and set the stage for war. People of good will can bridge even the most entrenched divisions and overcome existential dangers, as long as they are willing to talk — and listen — to their adversaries.
Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood on Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.