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SITUATION UPDATE 28 March, 2022 Back

Situation Update - Negotiations ongoing between Ukraine and Russia

Will Crouch

Summary

  • Negotiations continue between Ukraine and Russia; amid enduring conflict

Situation

Since the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, peace talks have been held on several occasions with largely limited degrees of success.

The first official round of negotiations took place on 28 February and yielded no substantive results. Subsequent efforts have also done little to end hostilities, though Russian and Ukrainian delegations have successfully negotiated several temporary ceasefires to create humanitarian corridors, facilitating the civilian evacuation attempts.

During a recent telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, President Vladmir Putin set out his six demands for Ukraine. They include

  • Ukrainian neutrality, a commitment to not join NATO,
  • disarmament,
  • protection for the Russian language,
  • "de-nazification",
  • the formal recognition of Crimea as part of Russia,
  • and independence for the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has spoken of an “algorithm” to reach a negotiated settlement with Russia which includes a face-to-face meeting with Putin, an agreement on the withdrawal of Russian troops to their pre-invasion positions, a multilateral security arrangement signed by guarantors and its ratification in the Ukrainian parliament, a referendum on neutrality and NATO membership, followed by a constitutional amendment to officialise Ukrainian neutrality.

Although Zelensky has signalled his favourability towards Ukrainian NATO membership, a goal enshrined into the constitution of Ukraine, he has since acknowledged that it is an unrealistic endeavour. Nonetheless, the inclusion by Zelensky of a referendum on neutrality and NATO membership is notable as Russia has previously used referendums of questionable legitimacy to enforce the annexation of Crimea and declare two entities in the Donbas region as independent. Therefore, it would be difficult for the Kremlin to deny Ukraine the prospect of holding a referendum and potentially harder for them to dispute the result.

Ukrainian negotiators are also believed to be working on a security guarantee that would potentially serve as an alternative to NATO, essentially consisting of an agreement among several countries, including nuclear powers, to defend Ukraine during an attack. Significantly, it has been suggested that Ukraine may seek to have Russia as a guarantor alongside the US or UK.

Although the Ukrainian government has signalled its willingness to negotiate with Russia on some of its demands, President Zelensky stated on 27 March that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity “are beyond doubt”. Such statements may shed light on why Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov alleged on 28 March that Ukraine has a history of attempting to “imitate” peace processes when they purportedly have little real interest in negotiating. Yet, Sergey Lavrov stated that Ukraine’s supposed methods of conducting false negotiations will not work and added that he “can see the chances for an agreement”.

Russian officials have, on other occasions, suggested that a breakthrough is possible. However, raising expectations ahead of negotiations may constitute a form of coercive diplomacy, used to raise expectations and shift blame onto the Ukrainian side if the talks fail to reach a substantive deal.

The Russian government has confirmed that negotiations will be held in the Turkish city of Istanbul tomorrow in a face-to-face format.