May 31, 2022
On May 19, in a government statement in the German Bundestag, Chancellor Scholz said, “We all share the same goal: Russia must not win this war. Ukraine must survive.” Putin first has to realize that he cannot break Ukraine’s defense before he would be willing to negotiate seriously about peace, he continued. “Emmanuel Macron is right to point out that the entry process is not a question of a few months or even years,” the Federal Chancellor added.
A week later, on their joint initiative, President Macron and Chancellor Scholz held a long telephone conversation with President Putin. Reiterating their position of principle, the leaders of France and Germany told Mr. Putin that any solution to the war must be negotiated between Moscow and Kyiv, with due respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. The three leaders also reviewed in detail the global food security concerns. Looking at the Elysée Palace[i] and the Kremlin[ii] readouts of the call, one can see no sign of progress.
And on May 23, Henry Kissinger addressed the World Economic Forum.[iii] He said:
“About eight years ago, when the idea of membership of Ukraine in NATO came up, I wrote an article in which I said that the ideal outcome would be if Ukraine could be constituted as a neutral kind of state, as a bridge between Russia and Europe. Rather than, it’s the front line of groupings within Europe. I think that opportunity is now- does not now exist in the same manner, but it could still be conceived as an ultimate objective.” [iv]
“Ideally, the dividing line should return the status quo ante,” he added. He did not elaborate on what he meant by “the status quo ante” but his remarks were widely interpreted as a suggestion that Ukraine had to give up some territory. Thus, he drew a sharp response from Kyiv.
And the next day, a Washington Post article said, “The ‘status quo ante’ mentioned by Kissinger, who was secretary of state to Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford, refers to restoring a situation in which Russia formally controlled Crimea and informally Ukraine’s two easternmost regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.”
Mr. Kissinger also said that Russia should not be driven into a permanent alliance with China.
After three months of the war in Ukraine, claims of victory and declarations of determination to win have started to lose their initial vigor. What is clear is that there would be no winners in this war. Publics across the globe are now becoming reconciled to the suffering and devastation in Europe.
On the one hand, news of the war still makes the headlines but not in the largest fonts as was the case earlier. And it seems that President Zelensky’s calls for military support and expressions of confidence are having a lesser impact. One is hearing more and more that it is up to Kyiv to decide when and how to end the war. On the other hand, concerns over energy and food security are being voiced with growing emphasis.[v]
On May 30, the EU, after four weeks of tough negotiations, agreed to end seaborne deliveries of Russian oil but not pipeline deliveries. Technical details will be worked out in the coming days
Many countries are now after an arrangement with Russia and Ukraine to allow for the export of nearly 25 million tons of Ukrainian grain before the country’s new harvest if there would be one.
During their May 28, telephone call with President Putin, President Macron and Chancellor Scholz reiterated their insistent request for a ceasefire and called upon President Putin to agree to direct dialogue with President Zelensky at the earliest possible opportunity. Two days later President Erdoğan also called for talks.
Energizing diplomacy must be the priority but a meeting between the two leaders can only yield results with adequate groundwork. And that requires having a fairly good understanding of the war aims of the two sides.
The problem is that Ukraine’s position that Russian forces should withdraw to their pre-war positions is a non-starter for President Putin. And despite the Western fine talk, unfortunately, there is no prospect of freeing all the Ukrainian territories now under Russian occupation by military means. Moreover, when exactly Mr. Putin would declare “mission accomplished” remains a question. This is why Western leaders still on speaking terms with President Putin are stepping in to secure a cessation of hostilities and discourage him from going beyond Donbas. Because for a multitude of reasons, a “no war no peace” situation is better than continuing the war.
At the World Economic Forum, Mr. Kissinger also addressed the China-US relationship. He said that the inherent adversarial aspect of this relationship can be mitigated and progressively eased by the diplomacy that both sides conduct, and it cannot be done unilaterally by one side. He added that the US should not by subterfuge or a gradual process, develop something of a two-China solution, and China should continue to exercise the patience that has been exercised up to now.
“Taiwan cannot be the core of the negotiations between China and the United States. For the core of the negotiations, it is important that the United States and China discuss principles that affect the adversarial relationship and permit at least some scope for cooperative efforts,” he said.
Overall, his comments at the Forum must have been music to some European ears.
As for Turkey, on May 30, President Erdoğan had phone calls with presidents Zelensky and Putin. Turkey’s Presidential Complex readout of the call with Mr. Zelensky reiterated Ankara’s readiness to help diplomatic talks between Russia and Ukraine and underlined the importance President Erdoğan attaches to the project of establishing a safe corridor for the exportation of Ukrainian agricultural products by sea. It also said that he looks favorably at joining the Control Center to be formed with the participation of the United Nations as well as the parties and hosting the center in Istanbul. [vi]
The readouts of the call by the Kremlin and the Presidential Complex revealed differences of emphasis in their public diplomacy.
The former, to show that all is going well between the two countries, chose to underline that the two presidents had a detailed exchange of views on issues of bilateral cooperation, primarily in trade and the economy, noting considerable growth in trade and mentioned a readiness to further promote mutually beneficial ties in energy, transport, and tourism.[vii]
The latter chose to underline Turkey’s readiness to bring together Russia, Ukraine, and the United Nations at a meeting in Istanbul, and to assume a role in a possible observation mechanism.[viii] It mentioned the need to confront the PKK/YPG in northern Syria as agreed in 2019, while the Kremlin readout only said that the presidents also reviewed a number of regional issues.