After three weeks of fierce fighting, both sides seem to understand that a prolonged conflict is not in the interest of either country. Here’s what a compromise could look like.
Ukrainian and Russian diplomats trying to broker a peace deal hope to find a quick and durable solution to the ongoing conflict that has killed hundreds of civilians and troops from both sides. The two countries have also given positive indications that they will reach a 15-point agreement soon.
Many analysts and high-ranking officials from the West and Russia expect that the draft peace agreement will likely address the implementation of a comprehensive ceasefire, the Ukrainian stance on NATO, as well as other thorny issues, like how and when Russian troops will withdraw from Ukrainian territory.
The optimism comes despite the Russian bombing of Ukrainian cities and the war of words between Moscow and Washington, which is backing Ukraine diplomatically and militarily. US President Joe Biden recently called Vladimir Putin “a war criminal” which the Kremlin termed “unacceptable and unforgivable.”
The recent bombing of a theatre sheltering hundreds of people in Mariupol, a strategic Black Sea port where Ukrainians have doggedly resisted against the superior Russian forces, could potentially sabotage the negotiations. The good news is “people are coming out alive” from the shelter, according to a former top Ukrainian official.
Another possible good sign is that for the first time since the beginning of the Russian attack on February 24, a serious exchange between the top national security advisers of Washington and Moscow took place on Wednesday, indicating that a diplomatic path to ending the conflict is also gaining ground.
However, some Western diplomats are still sceptical that Putin is willing to compromise with Ukraine. With his latest statement accusing Putin, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “pours cold water on hopes of a diplomatic solution,” the Financial Times reported.
If a peace deal happens, here is what it could look like:
According to sources familiar with the ongoing discussions and the developing peace plan, the most important part of the draft is related to Ukraine’s neutral military status.
The draft suggests that Ukraine will drop plans to be a part of NATO and will not host any foreign military bases and weaponry, accepting to be a neutral country like Sweden or Austria.
Despite being European states, neither Sweden nor Austria have joined NATO due to Russian objections, staying neutral since the beginning of the Cold War.
"Ukraine is offering an Austrian or Swedish version of a neutral, demilitarised state, but at the same time a state with its own army and navy," said Vladimir Medinsky, Russia's chief negotiator for peace talks.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also signalled that Russia could see it as a good offer for “a compromise." But Ukrainian top negotiator Mikhailo Podolyak rejected the idea that Kiev is offering a specific model based on Austria or Sweden. “The model can only be ‘Ukrainian,’” he said, referring to Kiev’s insistence on having “security guarantees” against any other Russian attack.
In exchange for giving up its NATO membership prospects and Western military support, Ukraine demands that some NATO states like the US, the UK and Türkiye provide “security guarantees” against Moscow, meaning that in the case of a Russian attack they would come to protect Kiev.
The draft includes “security guarantees,” according to sources briefed on the matter. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also confirmed that in regard to Ukraine’s “security guarantees” and its neutral status "there are absolutely specific formulations which in my view are close to agreement."
Russian military presence in Ukraine
Since February 24, Russia has taken over significant territories between southern and eastern Ukraine and also some areas in the north. In 2014, Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and it recognised the two separatist regions in the Donbass Oblast as independent states prior to its attack.
What does the draft peace deal say about all these Russian actions?
According to people familiar with the negotiations, the draft has no clear word on the Crimean annexation and the status of the separatist regions. But Podalyak offers “to compartmentalise” this issue, meaning it could be discussed in a different setting between Moscow and Kiev after a concrete ceasefire.
As for the Russian troops who attacked and held Ukrainian territories after February 24, the draft suggests that they will withdraw from those regions. But it’s not clear to what extent they will pull out because Moscow has extended the borders of the separatist regions to southern cities like Mariupol, under Ukrainian control, to link Crimea with pro-Russian eastern breakaway areas.
Podolyak insists that “the troops of the Russian Federation, in any case, are leaving the territory of Ukraine” referring to the areas that have been captured since February 24 in southern to northern and eastern Ukraine. As a result, the fight for Mariupol may be critical to shaping the final version of the peace deal.
Russian minority rights
The draft agreement also offers that Ukraine will respect and enshrine the Russian-speaking minority’s cultural sensitivities like their language rights, according to Lavrov.
In Ukraine, the only official language is Ukrainian, and Russian speakers complain that they are forced to speak Ukrainian, which makes them feel like second-class citizens.