Photo Credit NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/russia-ukraine-peace-talks-likely-nothing-peace-rcna25583
“In archaeology you uncover the unknown. In diplomacy you cover the known” Thomas Pickering
Looking at various ways diplomacy has been used in the Russia – Ukraine conflict , the above statement is the crème de la crème to describe them. While we all agree that failure of diplomacy by all stakeholders of this conflict led to the devastating war , there is more than enough evidence to say that diplomacy is not dead for good.
The grain deal which was mediated by the United Nations & Turkey is one such moment. The captured, condemned western soldiers of fortune who fought alongside the Ukranians were once rumored to have been shot in the prison. But suddenly they made an appearance on a tarmac in Saudi Arabia. This prisoner swap took everyone by surprise. No one saw it coming & not even in their wildest dreams anyone would have expected the Saudi government to pull this off. The nuclear dirty bomb scare was not just a hoax or a russe or may be it was . While the Russian media kept amplifying the story , there were a number of calls between the Russian defense minister & his counterparts in the USA, UK , Turkey. Ever since the story has slowly departed the news cycles. While death & mayhem is devastating Ukraine , there seems to be a diplomacy behind the scene at work. That surely gives us a sigh of relief & a hope that this war will come to an end sooner than later.
The idea of a possible peace negotiations between the warring parties at this point is pure hubris. But there are such indications to say that a Peace deal or at least a cease fire is being worked out behind doors. While this is largely a speculation, it would be better to wish for peace than seeing a continuation of this horrible war.
There is a well known factor for an end to any conflict. Every stakeholder should reach their crunch point. Once you reach that, the same focus, energy, enthusiasm for the continuation of the war dies down & eventually comes to an end.
Other than the warring parties namely Russia & Ukraine there are a number of stakeholders to the conflict. The European union, United states & the west are at a proxy war with Russia. Although no one in the global south overtly endorses the support for Russia’s war, we all know the silence is also a language. The eastern camp seems to be largely sympathetic or in solidarity with the Russians.
Winter is approaching & there are a number of crises looming. European industrial stability seems to be in chaos. Populations are unhappy & the war fatigue is slowly but steadily crawling in European societies. As a sign of this ,the Dutch government decision to make 91 waivers to Russian sanctions could be shown . The energy prices are through the roof. Fertilizer , food are at record high. Even the financial hubs like the United Kingdom are in dire economical-political situations. Ukrainian refugees who fled to Europe are an additional burden for all the host countries. With skyrocketed fertilizer prices, inflation & food crisis the countries in the African continent are at their worst time period of their history. A new wave of Europe bound refugees could not be ruled out. Europe is almost at its crunch point.
The United States has been a staunch supporter & virtually bankrolled the Ukrainian war efforts with armor, intelligence , finance & morale. Most importantly they have been giving Kiev a blanket diplomatic cover. The American economy is going through an upheaval of its own. The gasoline price, inflation & underperforming stock markets have become almost daily news. The midterm elections are underwayThis would be a litmus test for the Biden administration. By any chance they were to lose the house majority, president Biden’s legacy will be all but a forgone conclusion. It will tie his ability to push forward any agenda. The rightwingers & republican media are openly criticizing the Ukrainian government. China is solidifying its global influence & Taiwan’s fate is all but sealed. North Korea ballistic missile firing has become as common as muck.This part of the world is more serious & immediate concerns for the Americans given the proximity & the importance of trade routes. To be clear, Taiwan is much more of a strategic concern than Ukraine for the Americans. Has the United States reached its crunch point ? It is getting there.
How about the Warring parties? Russia surely has the capability & the resources to fight a prolonged war. Whether or not it has the stomach for it, it’s doubtful. While we will never know what President Putin meant by Denazification & Demilitarisation as his objectives of the Russian war, it gives them ample choices. Ample choices to create the narrative to suit the ground realities. Right now this could be the creation of Novurussia by annexing the four Ukrainian regions. While that will be up for debate, stopping the war at this point will not be a catastrophe for Russia., They have amassed newly trained troops, military gear has been produced at an unbelievable phase , having a solid foothold deep in the Ukrainian territory they could say we did what we planned for. They keep spreading the narrative of a large-scale winter offensive & a thrust from Belarus to capture Kiev. Basically Russia is saying they have matched rhetorics by the force. If push comes to shove those readily available troops will move in. But this would come at an immense cost of young lives which is not the interest of any rational leader. Russia is holding on to some critical Ukrainian targets that will otherwise plunge Ukraine into a power oblivion. Basically kind of a kill switch attack which is available but not executed.
Ukranians on the other hand seem to have lost their high speed counter offensive capability. Their critical infrastructure is being destroyed on a daily basis. The population is facing not only power shortages but also water & other essentials. Russian Kamikaze drones are hovering all over Ukraine unopposed. There is no answer for this menace as yet. If the rest of the infrastructure is destroyed,Ukraine will be thrown to a literal stone age. This would make any war effort against Russia an achilles heel. Nevertheless they showed their capacity by reversing the Russian gains in the east with a blitzkrieg offensive.
Rest of the world is already tired of the war & the rippling effects are making havoc in their respective societies. Besides it’s bad for business for all those nations & whe their patrons are busy funding wars, it is their investments that go elsewhere. It is right to say that those nations who are not directly or indirectly part of the war have reached the crunch point.
We could say that the warring parties & the stakeholders are almost at their crunch points. With this backdrop there are signs of diplomatic back channeling at play. Diplomacy is not a quick fix. It takes time, effort & patience.
The beginning of this whole cycle could be the President of Guinea-Bissau, Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Umaro Sissoco Embalo’s Trip to Moscow & onward to Kiev with an alleged message from Kremlin to the Ukrainian president. While Ukrainian media kept talking about this , Dimitri Peskov rejected the very idea which gives more reason to believe it was happening.
The Ukranian attack on the Black sea fleet resulted in an immediate Russian withdrawal from the Ukrainian grain deal. But within days Russia returned to the deal quoting a written guarantee from the Ukranains. At this stage Russia will trust Al nusra’s written guarantees over the government of Kiev. So this excuse is a laughing stock. Russians have historically shown no interest in the narrative rather they are more focused on the outcome. Until decades later, President Kennedy’s single handed diplomatic effort was hailed as the breakthrough to the Cuban missile crisis. But when the world got to know that the Americans had to withdraw their Jupiter missiles from Turkey which was surely a Russian victory , neither Kenedy nor Krushev was there to tell otherwise. So Russians must have got a sweet deal for them to come back to the grain deal. Probably this could be a part of an ongoing long diplomatic mission.
Russians accused the British of blowing up the Nord stream 2 pipeline. The evidence to this was presented to the Bristh Ambassaodr for Russia. This attack on gas infrastructure is reason enough to go to war with a state but Russia seems to be adopting a diplomatic path. We will not know who blew up the piepline. It will be debated for years , decades & probably centuries. Yet Russia seems to be using this to gain a diplomatic achievement. The British are great diplomats themselves & have extensively used it for their strategic advantage. How this will evolve will be seen in the near future.
While the big offensives are halted due to the muddy terrain, everyone seems to be trying to strengthen their forces. But most importantly to have an upperhand at any negotiations that could eventually take place. Ukrainian attacks on the black sea fleet , the daily Russian attacks on the Ukrainian infrastructure are such attempts to solidify their positions.
At the same time, diplomacy is taking place. President Putin’s as well as the white house press secretary press secretayrs’ call for peace , silence observed by some of the more hawkish leaders are all good signs. Let’s look at some of the media headlines that missed the spotlight under the Russian kamikaze drone saga.
The way out of the current situation in Ukraine has to be found through peace negotiations, US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said.
“What needs to happen is for the two sides to be able to sit down and negotiate and find a way out of this peacefully and diplomatically,” the official told ABC news.
On October 24, French President Emmanuel Macron asked Pope Francis to call on Russian President Vladimir Putin, Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill and U.S. President Joe Biden to “promote the peace process” in Ukraine.
As Ukrainian News Agency earlier reported, on October 25, the press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Peskov said that the Kremlin is not against connecting the United States and Pope Francis to the “Ukrainian settlement.”
Where could such a negotiating platform exist ? The German president is making a trip to China, Russia’s biggest ally. Although China seems to have its own benefits with the conflict , overall it is not its interest to see the war progressing either.
Looking at all these indications we could assume that the G20 summit in Indonesia could be a platform for such a showdown. The summit which will be held from the 16 to the 17 in Bali could possibly be used as the negotiation platform. G20 brings the core powers of the world together & it is an ideal place to have side meetings between all the key stakeholders. The possibility of a meeting between President Biden & President Putin is already ruled out. But it does not mean that shuttle diplomacy is ruled out. There are sensitive issues such as the fate of the American WNBA star Brittney Griner who is languishing in a Russian prison.
If such a successful deal happens , there will be a Christmas truce unfolding in the Russia Ukraine theater. While any such ceasefire or a temporary pause will not bring lasting peace for this devastating war, it will at least stop the bloodshed & give a chance for diplomacy to work. May the hotheads , warmongers , nationalists all take their seats & give the diplomats the stage.