War separately, negotiations separately. What is happening in the dialogue between Ukraine and Russia

  • Elizaveta Vocht, Sviatoslav Khomenko
  • The Air Force


Photo by Getty Images

Negotiations between Ukraine and Russia will not lead to peace: the negotiators do not even face such a task. The outcome of the war will be decided only on the battlefield. Then what are the parties negotiating and what are their tasks?

Both Kyiv and Moscow are aware that the outcome of the war will be determined primarily on the battlefield, say BBC sources close to the talks in Ukraine and Russia.

The meaning of the talks at the moment is to determine the basic rules that Ukraine and Russia will live by in the future, so that such wars do not happen again, namely – what documents will need to be discussed and signed after the guns fall silent.

The pace of dialogue between the negotiating groups and its overall degree also depend on the situation on the fronts.

The BBC spoke with sources related to the Russian and Ukrainian delegations and learned from them the details of the negotiation process.

What kind of “draft document” did Russia pass on to Ukraine?

The last “live” meeting between the Ukrainian and Russian negotiating groups took place almost a month ago in Istanbul, on March 29. It was then that the “Istanbul Communiqué” was announced.

An BBC spokesman close to the Russian delegation said the final communiqué was the result of a consensus. At the same time, BBC sources in Kyiv claim that “90%” of the text of this document was written by members of the Ukrainian delegation.

One way or another, formally the communiqué was an initiative of the Ukrainian side. And – again, from a formal point of view – Kyiv should receive a response to this proposal from Russia.

What is the “Istanbul Communiqué” about?

After talks in Istanbul on March 29, the Ukrainian side announced the draft agreement offered to Moscow. It provides, in particular, that:

  • negotiations on the status of Crimea and Sevastopol will last for 15 years, the parties are abandoning the military method of resolving this issue ;
  • the issue of the status and fate of the districts controlled by the so-called “people’s republics” has been raised in a separate item, which should be discussed by the presidents of Ukraine and Russia at a personal meeting;
  • Ukraine is ready to accept the non-aligned status of a nuclear-free country in the presence of documented clear and strict guarantees from a number of countries;
  • The previous paragraph stipulates that in the presence of security guarantees, foreign military bases and military contingents will not be stationed on the territory of Ukraine, and it itself will not join any military-political alliances.

After the talks, Moscow said that Russian troops intend to drastically reduce activity in Kiev and Chernihiv.

Soon there were really no Russian troops left in these areas. Kyiv said that the real reason for the withdrawal was Russia’s defeat in battles in these areas.

Last week, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov unexpectedly announced that “our draft document has been handed over to the Ukrainian side, which includes absolutely clear, elaborated wording. The ball is in their court, we are waiting for an answer.”

Kyiv reacted immediately. The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky stated that he not only did not see the proposals from Russia, but was convinced that they did not exist. “I’m sure they didn’t give us anything,” he said.

In fact, Mykhailo Podoliak, a member of the Ukrainian negotiating team and adviser to the president’s office, told the BBC that just two days after the talks in Istanbul, the parties began a lively online conversation: sharing comments and counter-proposals.

All these details were immediately considered by the profile subgroups that each party created during its negotiating team. Subgroups specialize in military, diplomatic, humanitarian and other issues.

Photo by Getty Images

Caption to the photo,

Formally, the Istanbul Communiqué is an initiative of the Ukrainian delegation

Some of the questions that arose during the discussion were answered, some of the issues raised – and hung in the air.

These words are generally confirmed by a source close to the Russian delegation.

According to him, it is unclear what Peskov meant by the Russian “draft document” that was allegedly handed over to Ukraine. Indeed, delegations exchanged draft potential arrangements “almost daily”.

But neither Russia nor Ukraine have put forward any radically new proposals compared to the “Istanbul Communiqué” that would allow us to talk about a fundamentally different document, says the BBC interlocutor.

According to a BBC source, the parties are currently focusing mainly on discussing a document on Ukraine’s security guarantees.

From the very beginning, another document was discussed in Istanbul, interlocutors in Kyiv and Moscow told the BBC.

This is probably what Volodymyr Zelensky said about him last week in an interview with Ukrainian media, saying that a peace treaty with Russia could consist of two different documents: one on security guarantees for Ukraine and the other on Kyiv’s relations with Moscow.

Russia classifies it as wanting to have one agreement that addresses all issues… For countries (potential guarantors), security guarantees for Ukraine are one thing and agreements with Russia are another. Russia wants everything to be in order. “One document, and people say, ‘Sorry, we saw what happened in Bucha.’

A BBC source close to the Ukrainian negotiating team says that at some point in the talks, there was a proposal to include “some humanitarian issues” in a separate agreement, “which would have a mirror image.”

Probably, this refers to the long-standing idea of Volodymyr Zelensky, according to which Russian schools, for example, could be opened in Ukraine, provided a similar number of Ukrainian schools are opened in Russia.

“But it has not developed,” – said the interlocutor of the BBC.

A BBC source close to the Russian negotiating team confirms that talks were held in Istanbul over a “treaty on mutual respect for cultures”, which would address, in particular, the language issue. But, according to the source, these discussions “hung”.

What are the parties arguing about now?

Photo by ASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP via Getty Images

Caption to the photo,

For Russia, in the case of signing an agreement on the protection of Ukraine, it is important to be able to block the potential use of military force, says a BBC source

The parties agreed not to disclose the essence of the differences they discussed in the security guarantee agreement, but some of them were already covered by the media.

Thus, in early April, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia would like to see Belarus among the guarantors of Ukraine’s security.

Kyiv interlocutors of the BBC say that Ukraine considers this proposal “white noise” and the creation of artificial information drives.

They say that it makes sense to discuss hypothetical guarantees from Belarus, if there is no final list of guarantor countries yet, and negotiations are underway with key ones – members of the UN Security Council. Therefore, the official response to Lavrov’s proposal was not even announced, said Mikhail Podoliak to the BBC.

According to the interlocutor of the BBC, close to the Russian delegation, this issue is really important for Russia. The “devils” are hiding in the details. Ukraine would like the guarantor countries to deploy troops immediately in the event of imminent danger. They want binding agreements, “he said.

In parallel with communication with Moscow, Kyiv is indeed continuing to negotiate with potential guarantor countries, but the Ukrainian side has not yet announced any significant successes in this field.

Statements by several countries that Ukraine sees as guarantors show that few are willing to “sign up” to defend Kyiv in the form of Article 5 of NATO’s charter (it stipulates that an attack on one NATO member is seen as an attack on the entire alliance).

For Russia, in the case of signing an agreement on the protection of Ukraine, it is important to be able to block the potential use of military force, says a source close to the Russian delegation. Whether or not it will have such an opportunity depends on how the guarantee agreement is written.

For example, the interlocutor thinks that if the guarantor countries can provide military assistance to Ukraine only as a result of consensus, ie the general consent of all participants, in Russia such a possibility will be by definition.

But Ukrainian sources in the BBC call the issue fundamental: Kyiv does not intend to sign any document that would allow Moscow to block the launch of a defense mechanism.

Another option is if such a decision requires the votes not of all the countries party to the agreement, but of the majority of them. In this case, the composition of the guarantors is of fundamental importance for both countries.

That is why Ukraine insists that the list of guarantors includes, for example, Poland, known as one of the most “anti-Russian” countries in Europe. And that is why Belarus is so important to Russia.

In any case, discussions on how the agreement will work continue. And, according to the interlocutors of the BBC, there is no clear-cut document that could be considered Moscow’s response to the “Istanbul Communiqué”.

Why then did Dmitry Peskov declare the existence of such a document? This is a media tactic aimed at the outside world, designed to create the impression of Ukraine’s inability to negotiate, said a member of the Ukrainian delegation Mykhailo Podoliak.

By the same tactic, he explains the accusations against Ukraine voiced in Moscow: its negotiators seem to be constantly deviating from their own fixed positions.

Within the framework of the discussion, we, of course, express our claims to each other. But we are very clear on the framework agreements. we can say one thing in some negotiations and another in others, we have everything in sync, “Podoliak said.

“It’s Russians dancing depending on how they feel in the domestic market, how people react there. Because they dropped some of the themes that sounded in the Istanbul Communiqué – they got aggression from the domestic market and started to move away from it.” he continues.

One of the Moscow interlocutors of the BBC, who is close to the talks, confirms that the results of the Istanbul meeting were ambiguously perceived even by Russia’s political leadership.

After the meeting in Istanbul and the statement of the head of the Russian delegation Vladimir Medinsky to the press about its results, he came under heavy criticism, says a BBC source.

He was attacked by everyone – from (the leading state TV channel “Russia” Vladimir) Solovyov, (director, active supporter of Russian power Nikita) Mikhalkov and others – to (Chechen leader Ramzan) Kadyrov. moment began to think that he really did something wrong, if they are allowed to bite him like that, “- said a source in the BBC.

Fears of the head of the delegation intensified even more, because after Medinsky’s return to Moscow, Putin did not receive him for several days, the BBC interlocutor continues. Medinsky does not have such access to the Russian president as the Ukrainian negotiators have to Zelensky.

“And then in two days grace came. Putin accepted him, talked and said that everything was right,” he added.

He admits that the problem of communication on the Russian side is not only in the quality of the negotiators themselves, but also in the lack of coordination. “Everyone learns about everything on TV. One was told one thing, another was told another, that’s how it all works,” said the BBC interlocutor.

Last week, Bloomberg reported, citing sources at the top of the Russian government, that in the weeks since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s contacts had narrowed to a very limited group of hardliners about Kyiv.

However, the Moscow interlocutor of the BBC, close to the talks, assures that in general Medinsky has the opportunity to discuss the details of the talks with Vladimir Putin.

Important decisions must be certified by the president, but in principle Medinsky himself “understands what will suit and what exactly will not suit” the Russian side.

How did the negotiations in Bucha and the sinking of Moscow affect the talks?

According to the BBC interlocutors, the success of the peace process now depends very much, in particular, on the emotions that both sides feel from the events on the battlefield.

For example, according to an BBC spokesman close to the Russian delegation, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mood was affected by the loss of the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship cruiser Moscow, which sank after being hit by Ukrainian missiles, according to Ukraine and Western experts.

“It was clear that this delayed the peace for at least a month. It was humiliating. How to sign a truce after such a slap?” – explains the Moscow source of the BBC mood of the Russian president.

In turn, the mood of the Ukrainian negotiators was strongly influenced by the announcement of the circumstances of the massacre in Bucha.

The “Istanbul Communiqué”, a source in the Ukrainian government reminds the BBC, was announced on March 29, and at that time Kyiv had only a rough idea of the scale of the tragedy in the town near the Ukrainian capital.

The first photos of dozens of bodies of civilians lying on the streets of Bucha appeared only on the evening of April 2, and they caused a break in the minds of Ukrainians.

Caption to the photo,

Photos from Bucha shocked the world

What kind of talks with the Russians can we talk about after Bucha? – asked the Ukrainian society at the time, the mood of which, of course, the Ukrainian authorities pay attention to. Moreover, Bucha also significantly influenced the position of official Kyiv.

Mykhailo Podoliak is convinced that if the Ukrainian authorities had comprehensive information about the events in Bucha at the time of the Istanbul talks, at least the preamble to the Istanbul Communiqué would have been tougher: Russian inhumane “methods of warfare” would have been mentioned.

“We understand that the Russians might not support him in this case,” Podoliak told the BBC, but Kyiv would have insisted on such a wording.

“Bucha influenced the Ukrainian delegation. Some people closed down,” said a BBC spokesman close to the Russian delegation. “Bucha was a significant negative factor in the talks. But after Moscow, it became very bad.”

What else threatens the negotiations?

Photo by Ukrainian Presidency / Getty images

Caption to the photo,

Zelensky directly said that in case Russian troops kill defenders of Mariupol hiding at the Azovstal plant, Kyiv will suspend talks

Now the Ukrainian side is sending signals to its Russian counterparts that if the Russian army continues to commit crimes against civilians, as has happened in the towns of Kyiv region, Ukraine will simply withdraw from the talks.

For example, President Volodymyr Zelensky explicitly stated that if Russian troops kill defenders of Mariupol at the Azovstal plant, Kyiv will suspend negotiations with Moscow.

The situation in Mariupol, which has been under siege for almost two months, has been put on a separate negotiating track.

Recently, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Vladimir Putin on the capture of this strategically important port on the Sea of Azov.

Kyiv was skeptical of the statement. “I think we will hear from them ten more times that Mariupol has been taken,” said Mykhailo Podoliak, an adviser to the head of the President’s office.

Negotiations on the future of the defenders of Mariupol and civilians hiding in underground buildings on the territory of the Azovstal plant are being held in a bilateral format, with the involvement of international mediators, and in the form of invitations by Ukrainian negotiators to Russia directly to Mariupol.

None of the formats of these negotiations yielded any noticeable results.

Another reason publicly voiced by the Ukrainian authorities to withdraw from the talks is to hold “referendums” on the creation of “people’s republics” or on joining Russia in the occupied territories of Kherson and Zaporizhia regions.

Contrary to Vladimir Putin’s statements in the initial phase of the war that Russia is not going to occupy the territory of Ukraine, now Russian flags are being raised in the occupied cities, de facto occupation administrations are being introduced, and ideas of creating a kind of “Tavria Province” are appearing in public. in the controlled territories.

Mikhail Podoliak says that in the Kherson region, Russians are dealing with “the most disgusting form of occupation”: when the local population simply hates the occupiers and they have huge staffing problems for the new “administrations”.

One of the indirect proofs of the problems facing Russians in Kherson is the shooting of local pro-Russian blogger and activist Valery Kuleshov last week.

Russia has not stated its intention to hold or facilitate any referendums in the occupied territories of Kherson and Zaporizhia, but Ukrainian and British intelligence have warned of the possibility of such a development.

The proclamation of the conditional “Kherson People’s Republic” would radically change the design of the currently discussed agreements of the “Istanbul Communiqué”. After all, in this case, the fate of the Kherson region would have to be made for a separate discussion at the level of presidents through a coma with Donbass.

At the same time, in a conversation with the BBC, Mykhailo Podoliak makes it clear that Ukraine is not talking about a complete and unconditional withdrawal from the negotiation process, even in the case of any of the “crisis” options. Negotiations on humanitarian issues – the exchange of prisoners or the creation of evacuation corridors – will continue in any case.

The interlocutor of the BBC in Moscow assesses the statements made from Kiev, even more restrained: “Emotions say a lot. Sooner or later negotiations will still occur.”

When will Putin and Zelensky meet?

At a meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday, Vladimir Putin said: Russia is not giving up negotiations and hopes that it will be able to reach an agreement with Ukraine “at the diplomatic level.”

But Moscow and Kiev sources in the BBC agree that no significant changes in the negotiation process before the end of the active phase of hostilities on the Eastern Front should be expected.

Military successes or defeats will directly affect the rhetoric of the parties at the negotiating table. According to Mykhailo Podoliak, each of the negotiators wants to have a stronger position and record his own victory in the next document agreed upon by Ukraine and Russia.

Recently, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed this opinion, openly stating that the war between Ukraine and Russia will end with the signing of an agreement, the parameters of which “will be determined by the stage of hostilities at which this agreement becomes a reality.”

“Now these are two separate processes. War is war, negotiations are negotiations. Delegations are not trying to achieve peace now. They are trying to agree on the content of the documents that will be signed if and when peace comes. The people who are negotiating do not know when that happens, “said a BBC spokesman close to the Russian delegation.

“The key to peace is now with the Russian side,” he continued.

Peace talks will intensify when Russia believes it has achieved military goals, the source said. But what exactly they are, it is difficult to say: the scenarios are constantly changing.

Last week, a statement from Rustam Minnekayev, deputy commander of Russia’s Central Military District, sparked a media sensation.

Such control would allow Russia to create a land corridor to Crimea and Transnistria, where, according to Minnekayev, “there are also facts of oppression of the Russian-speaking population.”

Senior officials, such as the Russian Defense Ministry and the Kremlin, have not commented on the statement, so it is unclear whether Minnekayev’s words should be taken as a new concept of war in Ukraine or simply as one general.

Earlier, the Russian Ministry of Defense said that it considered the goal of the second stage of the war to be the “liberation” of Donbass – that is, the complete capture of territories within the administrative boundaries of Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

However, Minnekayev’s speech was taken seriously in Kyiv.

“We have our own scenarios for defending Ukraine. And I want to remind you that many of the Kremlin’s plans have already been destroyed by the work of our army and people,” commented Andriy Yermak, head of the president’s office.

Issues such as Ukraine’s post-war borders have actually been put out of hand in the talks, says a BBC spokesman close to the Russian delegation: it is pointless to discuss this while the fighting continues.

Ukrainian negotiators say that the issue of their country’s territorial integrity (ie with Crimea and the whole of Donbass as part of Ukraine) is a clear “red line” that they will never cross.

The Istanbul Communiqué stipulates that the issue of the future of Donbass will be discussed at a personal meeting between the Presidents of Ukraine and Russia.

The BBC’s interlocutors say that a personal meeting of the presidents of the warring countries will be a sign of preparation for resolving the conflict.

“I don’t want to, but I have to meet with the President of Russia if we plan to resolve the issue of (Ukraine’s territorial integrity) through diplomacy,” Volodymyr Zelenskyi told a news conference in the Kyiv metro the other day.

Much less is known about Vladimir Putin’s position on meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who spoke with the Russian leader a few weeks ago, told the media his position: it is “not yet time” to talk to Zelensky

According to the Financial Times, Vladimir Putin is not interested in a diplomatic settlement of the conflict and is focused on military goals – first of all on capturing new territories.

According to the newspaper, the Russian president’s position was influenced, in particular, by Putin’s distorted views due to reports from the military command and reports from Russian state TV channels.

Mikhail Podoliak agrees that Putin’s meeting with Zelensky is unlikely at the moment: “I doubt that the Russian Federation is looking at reality objectively. I think they are so deeply rooted in their illusory world that it is probably they need some time to break this cocoon. ”

With the participation of Peter Kozlov

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