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Why Peace in Ukraine Remains Illusive

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed that Russia is hesitant to engage in substantive diplomacy in a recent interview, reiterating the US position that it takes two to tango. A closer examination of the chronology of negotiations, however, reveals a more nuanced viewpoint, with Russia and Ukraine expressing desire in ending the war even as diplomatic difficulties continue.

Contrary to popular belief, Russia has frequently participated in substantive diplomacy in an effort to find a peaceful solution. Within three days of the start of the war, Russia and Ukraine began negotiations in Belarus. This initial move showed Russia's readiness to consider diplomatic solutions. Additionally, Russia took part in talks mediated by Naftali Bennett, the former Israeli prime minister. These discussions had the potential to result in a ceasefire and a peaceful resolution.

Most crucially, during talks in Istanbul, a provisional agreement was agreed by Russia and Ukraine. The terms of this agreement called for Russia to return to its pre-war stance and for Ukraine to forgo applying for NATO membership in favour of a permanent neutrality clause in its constitution.

While Russia and Ukraine have demonstrated an interest in substantive engagement, the US has not. The US has been a major factor in holding up diplomatic progress, one with the argument that Russia needs to leave all occupied territories in eastern Ukraine. The US effectively halted the Belarus negotiations during the meetings because it believed the circumstances were improper for genuine dialogue.

The US also interfered with the Bennett-brokered negotiations, which had a good chance of leading to a truce. Turkish officials have claimed that the US was complicit in the failure of the talks because it wanted the conflict to continue.

The US State Department has recently made statements that have attempted to place the burden for NATO membership negotiations on Ukraine. The facts, however, do not support this story. Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, has expressed a willingness to give up on the country's pursuit of NATO membership, even as early as the second day of hostilities. Ukraine agreed, during various rounds of talks, not to apply for NATO membership.

The US, which made it clear that NATO expansion into Ukraine was never on the table, remained unwilling to negotiate Ukraine's accession to the alliance. Therefore, the State Department's attempts to place the responsibility for Ukraine's refusal to discuss NATO membership elsewhere are deceptive.

It is vital that all parties, including the US, prioritise genuine diplomacy and collaborate to find a solution that respects the interests and security concerns of both Russia and Ukraine if the war in Ukraine is to come to an end. The pain and devastation in the area can only be put an end to at that point.


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