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Steps for Ending the Russia-Ukraine Conflict
 Source:Centre for Strategic Thinking  Views:1261 Updated:2022-03-18

The situation in Ukraine has been intensified. After a few rounds of talks between Russia and Ukraine, certain progress such as the creation of humanitarian corridors for evacuation of civilians has been made. Yet the two countries still haven’t managed to make a substantial progress toward ending the conflict and signing a comprehensive agreement.

Before the 4th round of negotiation, the media revealed a list of demands and conditions set by the two countries. Russia’s demands from Ukraine consisted of ceasing the current military operations, demilitarizing, not joining any blocs, acknowledging Crimea as the Russian territory, and recognizing Donetsk and Luhansk as independent sovereign states. In addition to these, two more conditions set by the Russian side – making the Russian language as Ukraine’s second official language, and denazification of Ukraine - were also found in certain media outlets.

On the side of Ukraine, it demanded a ceasefire with Russia and a withdrawal of Russian troops. Ukraine would compromise on the pursuit of NATO membership, if it gets security guarantee from the U.S. and NATO.

Apparently, both countries took ceasefire as the most crucial issue. Nevertheless, if they completely stick to their current demands and conditions, ceasefire will be hardly to achieve. Both sides need to make compromises and offer something more substantial in order to get what they wanted from the other.

Before reaching a final comprehensive agreement, they may need to go through a few steps. The first step should focus on how to jointly find a way to end the fighting on the ground now.

To achieve that, Russia needs to be firstly reminded that apart from traditional security, economic security has been a major concern of Ukraine as well over the years. Since the 1990s, a proportion of Ukrainians have been getting closer to the west, mainly because they believed that Ukraine can economically benefit from the close linkage with the west, and that the west may help the country get more developed and prosperous from various aspects, even though Ukraine hasn’t achieved what it expected so far due to a number of reasons.

Under these circumstances, completely denying Ukraine’s pursuit of the membership of any blocs/mechanisms such as the EU would be unacceptable for the Ukrainian authority and Ukrainian people. There is a necessity for Russia to take into account not disrupting Ukraine’s pursuit of bilateral or multilateral arrangements with other countries in the economic domain, which could be Russia-initiated economic mechanisms/forums/institutions or other countries-led ones. This might be hard for Russia to accept, yet in a long run, it would be conducive to a long-term peaceful relationship between Russia and Ukraine, and to Russia’s relations with its European neighbours, as well as to an enduring peace in the region. Peaceful coexistence should be set as the goal by both Russia and its European neighbours, and there is a need for them to make joint efforts to achieve that.

On the Ukrainian side, it obviously has a conflicting position on its pursuit of the NATO membership (if the information released by the relevant media is true). On the one hand, the Ukrainian authority declared its willingness to compromise on seeking the country's NATO membership; on the other hand, it set the condition of getting security guarantee from the U.S. and NATO for doing so. This seems to be a troublesome demand for both Russia and Ukraine. It would not be accepted by Russia. If Ukraine puts itself in Russia’s position, it wouldn’t accept this as well. There is a necessity for the Ukrainian officials and advisors to be more constructive toward problem-solving, and to be aware that Ukraine’s neutral position between Russia and NATO would serve the security interest of Russia and Ukraine as well as of the European region.

Therefore, in the first step, in order to reach a ceasefire agreement, the two countries will need to offer something more substantial to each other on the matters just discussed above. By agreeing on this, it is expected that no more people will be killed on the ground, and no more Ukrainians will have to escape from the fighting.

In the second step, the two countries may focus on demilitarization, withdrawal of Russian troops, and the settlement of Donetsk and Luhansk.

As for the status of the Donbas region, there is a fundamental conflict now between Russia and Ukraine - for strategic concerns as well as for the security in the Donbas region and the safety of the people living there, Russia wanted Donetsk and Luhansk to be recognized by Ukraine as independent sovereign states, while Ukraine aimed to regain sovereign and territorial control of this region eight years after Donetsk and Luhansk broke away from Ukraine.

To meet the demands of both Russia and Ukraine maximumly, an alternative solution would be to see whether the two countries can manage to reach a new consensus regarding the settlement of the Donbas region by taking into account the fundamentals they had reached previously in the Minsk Agreement.

As many analysts already indicated, the conflicting sequence in implementing the Minsk Agreement also played a part in resulting in the breaking down of the agreement. Even though the agreement was collapsed already, there was at least no fundamental conflict between Russia and Ukraine with regard to the status of the Donbas region in line with the Minsk Agreement, in which, Ukraine’s sovereign right over Donetsk and Luhansk would not be compromised under the condition that the two areas can be empowered by the Ukrainian constitution with a “special autonomous status”.

Ukraine as one of the parties, under the mediation of France and Germany, signed the Minsk Agreement. However, in the implementation process, a series of discrepancies had emerged between Russia and Ukraine, in particular with regard to which action should come first and which side should fulfil the obligation in the first place etc. The Ukrainian side demanded to take back control of its border firstly before holding an election in Donetsk and Luhansk respectively for authorising a “special status” to each of them through constitutional arrangement; while Russia wanted the elections in the Donbas region to take place first and to cement the “special status” of Donetsk and Luhansk into Ukraine’s constitution before withdrawing troops from this region.

Even though Russia and Ukraine had gone through a very hard time already in managing the implementation of the Minsk agreement. Now in order to end the current conflict completely, as well as to avoid the similar conflict from taking place in the future, the two may need to re-check the Minsk Agreement and adopt certain key points they had agreed before. Very crucially, both sides need to pay a special attention to the conundrums they had met in the implementation process of the previous agreement, and to prepare well of the details of the new agreement.

On demilitarization of Ukraine, given that completely demilitarization is unlikely to be met, the two countries need to agree on what level of demilitarization can be reached.

Generally, in the second step, if the two countries could manage to reach a consensus on a series of matters related to demilitarization, arrangement of the Donbas region, as well as the timing of withdrawing the Russian troops, there is a possibility for Ukraine to regain the control of its border.

In the third step, the two sides may negotiate other range of issues. On the Crimea issue, there will be no bargaining space with Russia very likely.

Overall, the issues presented in the first and second steps are assumed to be most significant for both sides at the moment,  and the proper handling of those issues will be very crucial for ending the current conflict as soon as possible.

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