Russia’s Timing for Peace Has Long Passed

Russia has been deep in the Ukrainian war quagmire for a long time.  With the worsening economic situation, mounting political pressure, and abject military failure, Moscow desperately seeks an exit from its current crisis.  Once again, there are signs indicating this desperation.  Recently, the Russian government has expressed interest in starting a negotiation directly with the West. 

At the same time, Moscow also compared the current situation to the Cuban Missile Crisis, warning about the potential danger of escalation.  Foreign Minister Lavrov says Russia is “always ready to listen to our Western colleagues if they make another request to organize a conversation.”  Russians are even giving out signals saying the Vatican is interested in facilitating the bilateral talks between Moscow and Washington. 

Despite the question of sincerity, these signs all indicated that after more than eight months of combat, Russia seeks an exit.  However, compared to the previous effort, Moscow has lost the best timing in negotiating for peace.  Russia lacks understanding and trust for any future talks.  It also has no bargaining chips to conduct meaningful negotiations.  Russia’s geopolitical situation will remain the same even if peace is established.

It is essential to point out that Russia lacks a basic understanding of the current situation.  Russia still believes that a bilateral talk with the US or a multi-party negotiation with Europe is the way to peace.  The Kremlin spokesman has said that any talks with Ukraine should start with Washington, further indicating a lack of sincerity in hosting peace talks.  Yet, throughout the war, Ukraine has acted independently. Ukraine has recently rejected some Democrats’ proposals to initiate peace talks.  President Macron of France has stated that the negotiation is up to Ukraine to decide.

At the beginning of the war, Ukraine was willing to make substantial yields in exchange for peace and security guarantees.  Meanwhile, Putin’s envoy in Ukraine affairs has also hammered a deal with Ukraine to prevent mass-scale military action.  Yet, none of these attempts worked.  Russia stated that the country was only starting in Ukraine back in July, marking a potential escalation.  As for the Russian deal with Ukraine, Moscow’s greediness stood in the way as President Putin found the Kyiv government’s concession not far enough while wanting to get more from Ukraine.  Ultimately, the opportunity has slipped from the hands of Moscow. 

The takeover of Ukrainian territory has permanently shut the door for future talks.  Russia still had the door for negotiation open until the secession of East Ukraine.  The Kyiv government has vowed to defend those territories and clearly stated its unwillingness to peace talks with Russia.  Ukrainians even shut down any suggestion of peace talks.  Furthermore, Russia completely ignored its previous statement of no intention to expand in Ukraine.  This blatant lie has wiped out any last remaining credit for Moscow.

Meanwhile, Kremlin does not have sufficient bargaining chips for any peace talks.  Russia is in a much-weakened position compared to April or even June negotiation.  Russia has suffered significant losses in warfare.  Calling for mobilization further signaled Russia’s military incompetency.  The situation did not improve for Russia after the mobilization.  Russia had to make a critical retreat in East Ukraine; Ukrainians attacked the Crimean bridge and cut down transportation; Kherson is now facing Ukraine attacks, and Russia cannot effectively defend it.  Militarily, Russia has no advantage in delivering any favorable result. 

Kremin does not have the economic leverage it initially expected.  Sanctions have delivered a significant blow to Russians, and the banks also reported substantial losses in the year’s first half.  As Europe recovers from the initial shocks in the market and the natural gas price has gone down significantly, Russia’s energy leverage has become much less powerful.  As Europeans deepen their collaboration with Azerbaijan, the reliance on Russia will keep shrinking.  Central Asian countries have also discussed further cooperation with Europe in energy issues.  These moves could very well squeeze Russian oil and natural gas out of the market in the future. 

Since the mobilization, domestic dissatisfaction has grown, while some wishes to escalate the war further.  Many Russian politicians and nationalists have called for total mobilization, while some even suggested nuclear warfare.  However, some Russian elites are preparing for the ultimate defeat of Russia while domestic protest is on the rise.  Immediately after the mobilization was introduced, Russian anti-war groups called for national protests, while many Russians left their country for Central Asia countries to avoid military drafting. 

Even if, for some miracles, Russia wishes to initiate negotiations wholeheartedly and make substantial yields to rebuild peace, it will not change Russia’s dire political situation.  NATO has become more active since the war, and Moscow’s aggression pushed for more military expenditure for the Europeans.  The war has also permanently damaged Russia’s relationship with Ukraine.  Now the country will look towards the west more with no return.  To add on that, Finland and Sweden will still join NATO, thus putting NATO stone-throw away from St. Petersburg.  Russia’s strategic space has squeezed to almost none. 

Furthermore, the Russian aggression is a warning to all the former Soviet countries.  From Central Asia to the Caucasus, the traditional Russian allies started to seek more diverse foreign relations beyond Russia.  Putin’s war speech has signaled a significant threat to all the former Soviet countries.  As Moscow sends minority soldiers to the frontline, the image of Russia in these countries is further damaged.  Russia’s geopolitical environment has dramatically worsened because of the war.

Even though Russia does have the motivation to initiate real talks to seek peace, the current timing is the least ideal.  Russia destroyed the last opportunity for peace; it has no bargaining leverage.  While peace talks could happen and peace restored, Russia’s dire geopolitical situation remains the same, and there are simply no foreseeable departure methods for Russia to leave the predicament. 

Haoyu "Henry" Huang
Haoyu "Henry" Huang
Haoyu "Henry" Huang is an independent international affairs observer. He graduated with a Bachelors's degree from the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs in May 2020. He is from China and has previously lived and worked in the United States and Kazakhstan. He is currently based in Tanzania.