The idea of peaceful settlement and resolution of political-military conflicts ontologically leans upon the Kantian formula that “a state of peace must be established,” as it does not come naturally and the suspension of hostilities does not provide the security of peace, which usually requires appropriate strategic circumstances, much as political readiness and a will of the participants to compromise. Until the conflicting interests of the parties that gave rise to a conflict are harmonized, any third-party offers of negotiations will be mere speculation. In situations where the intensity of clashes reaches the proportions of military confrontation, the issue of negotiations becomes directly linked to the balance of material and political power of the warring parties. As well-known military theorist and author of The Strategy Аlexander Svechin remarked, military action is not an end in itself—it is rather conducted “to create prerequisites for peace to be concluded on certain terms.” Therefore, the most favorable condition for peace talks to commence is a situation where the warring parties come to realize that further implementation of their goals is possible only via compromise. In this sense, assessing the likelihood and content of negotiations should be coupled with an analysis of the real capabilities and intentions of the parties to defend their interests under the current conditions.
The Ukrainian crisis that has snowballed into an intense military-political conflict between Russia and the Western nations supporting Ukraine implies a clash of the political interests, whose significance is defined by the participants as vital and crucial, which sharply limits the likelihood of reaching any settlement. The conflict’s current stage of the conflict is characterized by negative dynamics and a high degree of tension in wolf-warrior activities. Accordingly, no prospects for a negotiated settlement can be discerned at the moment, and hypothetical talks (rather unlikely) that might begin under the current military and political circumstances could end either with the “freezing” of a military conflict or with a fictitious agreement that would be more favorable to the weaker side which needs time to regroup its forces.
In this context, the peace initiatives put forward are more of agitational than practical value, increasing the “diplomatic capital” of the initiator country. This pattern applies, above all, to those nations that are not directly involved in a conflict and position themselves as neutral. At present, several peace initiatives for the settlement of the Ukrainian conflict have been proposed in the period after February 24, 2022. A proviso is to be made straight off that the peace plans under review are mostly not presented in the form of separate structured documents, but can only be reconstructed analytically by systematizing certain statements of government officials and their comments. All of them were proposed by so-called neutral countries like China, Brazil, African states and Indonesia, that is by the countries that are not directly involved in the Ukrainian conflict and think of themselves as unbiased players.
Meanwhile, there is another ten-point “peace plan”, proposed by Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky, outlining the most preferable outcome for the Ukrainian side. This project, strictly speaking, cannot be called a peace plan, as it totally ignores Russian interests and excludes the possibility of any tradeoff. Rather, it is a structured declaration of Ukraine’s ultimatum position, which cannot become the basis for negotiations, much less for conflict resolution. It is indicative that European and American officials supported Zelensky’s plan, once again confirming their disinterest in resolving the fundamental contradictions.
A commonplace platitude says that “any war ends in peace.” Let us only add that the “peace formula” itself depends on how and at what balance of power any given military confrontation ends. As long as the warring parties are in a state of ongoing military and political conflict, the parameters of the negotiation setup are largely determined “on the battlefield.” Nevertheless, the proposed peace initiatives deserve attention, if only because a) they expand the range of alternatives for conflict resolution that can be considered by the participants in one way or another in the long run; b) they introduce the discourse of communication and compromise into a situation of high military and political tension.
China’s plan: an east wind is the only thing missing
On February 24, 2023, China proposed its peace plan, which is notable for its degree of detail, thoroughness and integrity. The only thing that remains unclear is the practical mechanism for achieving the declared targets. By and large, the proposed draft looks more like a presentation of Chinese principles for regulating international relations than a specific plan for resolving the Ukrainian conflict (although some points have applied relevance for sure). The 12-point plan contains both general conceptual provisions such as “respect for territorial integrity,” “overcoming the Cold War mentality,” and “reducing strategic risks” and more specific actions to achieve a ceasefire, resume peace talks, ensure safe humanitarian activities and the safety of nuclear plants, support the Black Sea Grain Initiative, and warrant the security of supply chains. Tellingly, paragraph 2 mentions that “The security of the region should not be ensured by strengthening and expanding military blocs. The legitimate security interests and concerns of all states should be taken into account as they deserve serious consideration.” Beijing thus links the origins of the current crisis to the expansion of the NATO military-political alliance and its infrastructure to Russia’s borders, which led to Russia’s de facto exclusion from the Euro-Atlantic security architecture. As for the cessation of hostilities, the statement harnesses a very calibrated and balanced language. China calls on “all countries to support Russia and Ukraine” on their way to establishing direct dialogue to reduce the degree of tension. Besides, China unequivocally confirms that it considers negotiations as the only instrument for resolving the Ukrainian crisis. Still, the proposed draft contains many vague and ambiguous formulations, offering more like a general sketch of the Chinese worldview as applied to the Ukrainian situation.
The U.S. and Europe were skeptical of the Chinese peace plan, doubting the country’s neutrality. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stated that there is only one peace plan for Ukraine – Zelensky’s plan. China’s plan is just a set of well-intentioned wishes. The U.S., too, was unenthusiastic about the Chinese proposals, as it continued to reproach China for supporting Russia. In turn, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, answering questions on the role of China in the negotiation process, pointed to the fact that China did not condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine. He also added that the Western allies are convinced: “the capabilities of the parties at the negotiating table will be determined by their achievements on the battlefield.” Obviously, it is difficult for the head of the Western alliance to comment on any prospects for a diplomatic resolution of the conflict when there is a sustained conviction in the “force of arms.” It should be noted that the American diplomat and international relations theorist Henry Kissinger highly appreciated the probable participation of China in the negotiation process. Thus, he noted that now as China has entered the negotiations, they will quickly reach a climax, maybe even before the year’s end. Another prominent scholar Stephen Walt also believes that Washington needs to cooperate with Beijing to jointly regulate the situation (a “great powers peace plan”), while being skeptical of the U.S. policy of supporting the Ukrainian combat capability.
It is also noteworthy that the Russian side, represented by the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and the official representative of the Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova, expressed interest in China’s proposals on the Ukrainian issue. Thus, following his talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Putin pointed out: “We believe that many provisions of the peace plan put forward by China are in line with the Russian approach and can be taken as a basis for a peaceful settlement when the West and Kiev are ready for it. Yet so far, we have not seen such readiness on their part.”
Brazilian “peace club”
In April 2023, Brazilian President Lula da Silva proposed for a group of countries (including China, India, Indonesia and a number of Latin American states, among others) that would jointly develop a plan for a peaceful resolution of the Ukrainian conflict. “When the economic crisis struck us in 2008, we quickly created a G20 in a desperate attempt to save the global economy. Now it is important to create another G20 to end the war and establish peace,” the Brazilian president remarked. No official document on the peace initiative has been prepared, but Lula da Silva’s statements allow us to reconstruct his proposals. First, the implication is that a negotiating group bringing together neutral intermediary countries—not involved in the conflict and not supplying weapons to the parties—should encourage the warring parties to start the process of harmonizing their positions. Second, Ukraine should give up its territorial claims (in particular, it should recognize Crimea’s reunification with Russia) and acknowledge the altered strategic realities, which could be the starting point for interaction between the parties. Third, it is necessary to stop the West’s support for the Ukrainian side, which leads to the conflict being “heated up.”
It is not surprising that the Brazilian proposals were strongly opposed in Washington, where they were characterized as “a repetition of Russian and Chinese propaganda with absolutely no attention paid to actual facts.” Moscow reacted favorably to the Brazilian president’s proposals, positively assessing any attempts to achieve a negotiated settlement. During his visit to Brazil in April 2023, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted: “We recognize that the approaches of Russia and Brazil to the events that are currently taking place are consonant. We are united by a common desire to assist in the formation of a fairer, truly democratic, polycentric world order, which would be based on the fundamental international principle of the sovereign equality of states.”
In the meantime, the Brazilian initiative was not followed up, nor was any intensification of diplomatic efforts in this direction noticed. This gives grounds to assume that the Brazilian president’s peace gesture had more of a political and ideological impact, building the image of the president as an influential peacemaker and asserting the country’s great-power ambitions.
Africa’s “sandpit” of ideas
In June 2023, President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa unexpectedly came forward with his peace plan. On June 16, a group of African representatives from South Africa, Senegal, Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Zambia, the Comoros and Egypt paid a special visit to Kiev and then to Russia, where they presented a ten-point draft plan for the settlement of the Ukrainian conflict. It should be noted that the promulgated proposals are not characterized by clarity and detail, representing a set of principles and good wishes on the need to establish peace as soon as possible.
The keynote of the initiative boils down to the early start of negotiations, cessation of hostilities, respect for sovereignty, exchange of prisoners and detainees, as well as the post-war restoration of territory. In the meantime, it appears that the main goal of the diplomatic mission was to draw the attention of the world community to the threats of disruption of supply chains and the risks of aggravation of the global food security problems in case of this conflict extension. One of the paragraphs says that part of the plan to achieve a negotiated settlement is ensuring uninterrupted supplies of grain and fertilizers to the foreign market. In particular, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa thus explained the African diplomatic engagement: “As African leaders, we are talking about it because we have come to the conclusion that this conflict, while not directly affecting Africa in the form of deaths or the destruction of our infrastructure, is still impacting the lives of many on our continent. We are talking about food security: fertilizer prices have gone up; grain and fuel prices have surged.”
The Russian side welcomed the African initiative, but expressed cautious concerns about the prospects for its implementation, in particular on the issue of a ceasefire by Ukraine and peace talks, which the Ukrainian side has forbidden itself to hold with Russia. Thus, at the Russia-Africa Summit, Mr. Putin noted: “[The African] initiative, in my opinion, can be used as a basis for some processes aimed at looking for peace, just like others – for example, the Chinese peace initiative.”
Indonesian motives for seeking the solution
Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue Asian Security Summit, Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto also proposed a possible solution to the conflict. His ideas are characterized by the extreme specificity and pedantry typical of military rhetoric. Thus, he called for an immediate ceasefire agreement “at the current positions of both sides.” Besides, it is further envisaged that a demilitarized zone is to be created by way of retreating 15 km from the current positions of the two sides. To maintain peace in the security zone established, the plan calls for the involvement of UN peacemakers. Moreover, the possibility of holding repeated referendums under the auspices of the UN to resolve the issue of ownership of the disputed territories is anticipated. Interestingly enough, the proposed peaceful settlement is not the official position of Indonesia. In particular, Indonesian President Joko Widodo noted that the peace plan outlined by the defense minister is his personal initiative and will be on the agenda at their next meeting. Earlier, the Indonesian president himself made efforts to mediate between Russia and Ukraine.
This proposal was immediately rejected by the Ukrainian side, which is not ready to recognize any territorial changes. For instance, Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexey Reznikov said that this plan matches Russia’s interests and cannot become the basis for a settlement.
Ukrainian gopak in place of tango
In November 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky shared his vision of peace at the G20 summit. Ten points were announced, which are less of a settlement plan and more like a presentation of a system of goals set by the Ukrainian side within the framework of this crisis. Or, as they were characterized by the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova, “this is neither a peace plan nor a plan per se. This is yet another American methodology for fomenting conflict in Europe.” Accordingly, the proclaimed principles can hardly become the basis for the negotiation process, even though they make it possible to reconstruct the Ukrainian side’s negotiation strategy.
The Ukrainian leader proposes to reinstate the territorial integrity of Ukraine (the territorial issue is “non-negotiable”, in his opinion), to effectuate “a withdrawal of Russian troops and armed formations” from the territory of Ukraine. It is assumed that Ukraine’s control over all parts of the state border should be restored, and further, it is necessary to achieve security guarantees for Kiev from Western allies in accordance with the Kiev Security Treaty proposed in September. It is noteworthy that the remaining points of the plan are formulated in such a way as to emphasize the link between the Ukrainian crisis and global political and economic processes. This emphasis is probably aimed at convincing international partners to continue providing material support to Kiev. Thus, the impact of the conflict on Ukraine’s ability to export grain is shown, which is fraught with the risk of exacerbating the global food security crisis. In addition, the Ukrainian leader accused Russia of destroying infrastructure, calling on allies to provide more assistance, including by imposing a price ceiling on Russian energy resources. Overall, the so-called “peace plan” is characterized by extreme bias and dogmatism, narrowing the space for possible compromise.
Apparently, this position is unanimously supported by Western allies and, moreover, was most likely formulated with their direct assistance. Thus, the head of EU diplomacy Josep Borrel openly stated that Zelensky’s plan is the only option discussed in the international arena. There are other plans – from China, Brazil, African countries – but all of them have been pushed back. None of them have been discussed [seriously] on a global scale, except for Zelensky’s plan.
There is some consensus among Western nations on the most desirable resolution of the conflict. However, some transformations in their positions are not excluded, as partly demonstrated by the international meeting in Jeddah in August 2023.
The Global South embarks upon the path of diplomacy
In August, it became known about the consultations held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with the participation of the U.S., the UK, the EU, Turkey, Brazil, India, China and South Africa on the settlement of the Ukrainian conflict. It is noteworthy that representatives of Ukraine attended the meeting, while Russia did not receive an invitation. It became known from open sources that during the event Saudi Arabia shared its own ideas on ways to settle the conflict. In particular, there were calls for a ceasefire, ensuring Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and holding peace talks mediated by the UN.
On the one hand, such a diplomatic maneuver looks like an attempt by the U.S. and its European allies to expand the anti-Russian coalition, while on the other hand, countries of the Global South are eager to contribute to the process of general brainstorming on options for solving the problem. Moreover, judging by the proposals that have appeared in open sources, they support the development of a balanced and mutually acceptable solution, which directly contradicts Zelensky’s plan. This is probably the reason why the initial agenda of discussing the 10 points of the Ukrainian plan ended up with “non-Western” nations offering their own vision of ending the conflict, which seems more moderate and less peremptory.
All the current draft plans for the settlement of the Ukrainian conflict proposed by third parties resemble good diplomatic exercises more than real proposals for resolving the underlying contradictions between the parties. The current problematic situation is characterized by practically irreconcilable antagonism of the parties’ interests, which are difficult to harmonize by external actors leveraging their weight. Theorists studying the options for ending military conflicts often point to a critical problem in the relations between the opposing sides – the lack of trust. The warring parties are adamant in their disbelief that the terms of a peace treaty will be fulfilled, which forces them to continue fighting. Under the current conditions, given Kiev’s formal refusal to negotiate with the Russian side, the West’s continued pumping of arms into Ukraine and the aggressive tone of its statements towards Moscow, the prospects for negotiations are hard to discern. In the meantime, the guns continue to rattle, and the voice of diplomats is hard to hear, especially from the far reaches…
From our partner RIAC