Russia has long been desperate to achieve at least some kind of negotiations with Ukraine. And in recent weeks this issue has been raised by various parties.
In general, Russia's position is surprisingly absurd. The aggressor country has invaded the sovereign territory of a neighboring state, occupied part of it, is killing civilians and destroying infrastructure on a daily basis – and yet it is asking for negotiations!
At the same time, the country-victim of aggression demonstrates successes on the fronts and presents its formula for peace, in which the main demands are set forth. The aggressor country calls these demands "inadequate" and accuses the other party of unwillingness to negotiate peace. Unfortunately, some world and opinion leaders are now increasingly bringing up the topic of the possibility of negotiations.
We examined in detail why we cannot negotiate with Russia back in the summer in the article Why shouldn't we agree to a ceasefire with Russia? Nothing has changed in Ukraine's position since then, except that it has liberated a large part of its territories. But let's go over everything in order.
Kherson was liberated on November 11
Another defeat for Putin on the fronts
After eight months of Russian occupation, the Ukrainian flag finally returned to Kherson. The entire Mykolaiv region has been liberated, except for the Kinburn Spit (as of November 18, there is still fighting for it).
This is an extremely important victory for the Ukrainian army – both in militarily and political regard. Since this is Putin's third major defeat in the war against Ukraine after Kyiv and the Kharkiv region, it will significantly affect further developments on both military and political fronts.
On Wednesday, November 9, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and General Sergei Surovikin, commander of the war against Ukraine, announced their “withdrawal” from Kherson. Putin himself is trying in every way to distance himself from yet another military defeat. Propaganda is trying its best not to link it personally with Putin, saying that “it was a difficult but necessary military decision” and that “the generals know what they are doing”.
Consequently, the Russian media present the actual escape from Kherson as yet another “goodwill gesture”. At the same time, the question of the possibility of negotiations is increasingly being raised, and Kyiv (as it was in the summer) is presented as a bloodthirsty regime that does not want any peace talks, but wants to continue fighting.
Why is Putin so desperate for negotiations?
Back on October 31 (while undercover Russian troops were gradually withdrawing from Kherson), Putin stated that Russia was ready to wait for peace talks with Ukraine and called it “goodwill”. He also complained that no one wanted to negotiate with him.
On November 8, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko assured that Russians no longer had “preconditions” for dialogue with Kyiv. Further, a representative of Putin’s diplomacy made a statement on November 9 in which she said that Moscow was ready for negotiations with Ukraine “taking into account the current realities”.
From the outside, it might seem that the Kremlin is really trying to make steps towards a peaceful settlement of the “conflict”. And that if we meet them halfway, the people’s suffering, deaths, and destruction can finally stop.
But when dealing with Russia, you should by no means surrender to the illusions its leadership is trying to create. For Putin, negotiations are not a step toward peace, but the only means by which he can stay afloat.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described Putin's attitude toward negotiations very concisely: “Putin is not tired of war, he just needs a pause,” he said in an interview with CNN.
Right now, Putin critically needs to gain time. In the event of negotiations and a temporary cease-fire, the Russian army could regroup and attack Ukraine again with renewed vigor. Russian opposition activist Leonid Gozman believes that the Russians can use the period of negotiations to prepare a “disaster” for Ukraine.
“If there is a cease-fire now, Putin can regroup, get new weapons, equip new troops and just go ahead with new forces,” Gozman said.
German MP and former Bundeswehr general staff officer Roderich Kiesewetter is of the same opinion: “Such a pause will allow the Russian Federation to reorganize and strengthen its army, mobilize and train more soldiers, and then launch a new offensive. Those who want to negotiate with Putin’s regime are effectively allowing Russia to continue its imperialist campaign in Ukraine”.
Why are there more voices in the West in favor of negotiations?
The Ukrainian news agency Liga.Net reported that following the visit of US presidential adviser Jake Sullivan to Kyiv and against the background of the liberation of Kherson, the Western media published a wave of articles about possible negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. Biden’s national security adviser publicly stated that the U.S. would help Ukraine and that negotiations without de-occupation were unacceptable.
However, the very next day The Washington Post reported that the U.S. urged Kyiv not to rule out the possibility of diplomacy in its rhetoric. And The Wall Street Journal wrote about Sullivan’s non-public contacts with Putin’s entourage – Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and aide to the Russian dictator Yuri Ushakov.
According to the WSJ, Sullivan suggested that Zelensky think about “realistic demands” for starting negotiations – for example, a revision of the Crimean issue. But Ukraine is not even theoretically considering such concessions, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba assured.
Some Western officials believe that neither side can achieve all military goals, NBC reports. In their opinion, the ideal time for negotiations is winter, when the fighting slows down.
The starting point for diplomacy could allegedly be the liberation of Kherson, La Repubblica wrote a few days before Moscow announced its withdrawal from the right bank of the Dnipro River.
As early as November 9, U.S. President Joe Biden said that after Kherson’s liberation, Russia and Ukraine would have time to “think about a compromise”. But a week later, Biden still supported Kyiv's position: the war will end when Russia withdraws its troops.
CNN reports that the Biden administration’s team was divided into two conditional camps on this issue: some believe that Ukraine should sit down at the negotiating table with Russia, while others believe that Kyiv should determine this.
The “camp” that advocates the start of negotiations seems to be guided by following considerations:
Russia “prepares” for negotiations in its own spirit
On November 15, the aggressor country was again “working” in this direction – the destruction of the Ukrainian energy infrastructure. Russian forces carried out another massive shelling of Ukrainian regions, which even exceeded the October 10 attack in scale. This time, Russia struck the entire territory of Ukraine with 96 cruise missiles, guided air missiles, as well as Shahed-136 and other strike drones. Ukrainian air defense shot down 77 missiles and 12 drones.
The shelling caused a critical situation in the energy system of Ukraine, about 10 million citizens were left without electricity. On the morning of November 16, most consumers managed to restore power supply, but emergency and rolling blackouts continue, and it will take up to a year to fully eliminate the consequences of the attack in some cases.
And all of this was happening right alongside the G20 summit. From the outside, the attack looked like a response to Zelensky’s powerful speech at the summit. Although, of course, the Russians had been preparing the attack long in advance – Ukrainian intelligence had previously warned that another massive shelling was possible just these days.
On November 17, there was another shelling, of a smaller scale – the Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia regions were affected, and several missiles were shot down over Kyiv. Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that the Russians now have a new target – Ukrainian gas production facilities.
That is, Russia continues to speak in its “language of terror”, constantly demonstrating: “We don't give a damn about your summits, resolutions and agreements”. And we, Ukrainians, have to sit at the same table with these terrorists and agree on something?
What do military say?
Many people were surprised by the “new” position of U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley. According to the NYT article, he believes that with the liberation of Kherson, Ukraine “will achieve a reasonable result”. Otherwise, the sides will strengthen in winter, and a prolonged trench war in the style of World War I will begin – with no significant advances, but with many casualties. “When there is an opportunity to negotiate, when peace can be achieved, take it. Seize the moment,” the general said.
General Ben Hodges, the former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, said in an interview with the Ukrainian outlet NV that he was surprised and upset by Milley’s position. Hodges sees not a single argument in favor of negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. On the contrary, he sees “zero real advantages for the AFU to stop now, when only bad expectations and forecasts remain for the Russian army”. He stressed that the Ukrainian army has already given irreversible momentum to the situation.
“Of course, if Western countries stop supplying weapons to Ukraine, then perhaps the story will be different. That’s why I don’t understand why adviser Sullivan is suggesting taking a step back today. I don’t know that, but I assume that disagreement on this issue is now present in the U.S. presidential administration, which is also normal, we are a democracy,” said the former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe.
Ukrainian military expert Oleh Zhdanov believes that Hodges' assessment largely corresponds to the objective reality on the fronts, while Milley's position reflects the phenomenon of political interference in military strategy, which to some extent is connected with the House of Representatives midterm elections in the USA.
Likewise, Turkish President Erdogan is trying his best to organize and mediate peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. But this would be another disaster for Ukraine.
“We have already done it once (agreed to peace talks – ed.) – in 2014-2015. We sat down at the negotiating table and “froze” the conflict. What did it lead to? To this huge bloody war (full-scale invasion – ed.), which has been going on for nine months already,” Oleh Zhdanov emphasizes.
Indeed, the scheme “so, let’s give Putin another piece of Ukraine, and then he will definitely calm down” perfectly “worked” at those times... But a few years later it led to the biggest and bloodiest war in Europe since World War II.
Today we give Moscow a part of Ukraine to calm it down, but tomorrow a part of what country? For example, tomorrow Russia, possessing a serious arsenal of nuclear weapons, will land on Alaska and seize it, claiming that it is “our native Russian land”. How will America behave? Use of nuclear weapons would definitely lead to the outbreak of World War III. But Russia has plenty more of these “native Russian lands”, so will we give them all up without a fight? Will we “freeze” the situation? No, that won’t work; this mistake must not be repeated in Ukraine.
Ukraine is firm in its position - and this is our strength
The official Kyiv has the same principled position: we do not need any kind of “freezing”.
“We cannot freeze anything. We are not a freezing chamber. We must liberate our territories regardless of the weather, regardless of the time of year. We cannot allow any stopping, because our people are there, we see how they suffer,” Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, said after the liberation of Kherson.
For his part, Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly stated that he is open to a conversation, but there can only be a dialogue when the occupiers leave the Ukrainian territories. According to Zelensky, there are five conditions under which negotiations with the Kremlin are possible:
In his speech at the G20 summit, Zelensky detailed this list, calling on the global community to “consolidate a key element of the postwar security architecture” in order to prevent a repeat of Russian aggression.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stresses that talk of allegedly being able to put pressure on Ukraine is meaningless; today it is Ukraine who is putting pressure and liberating its own territories:
“Talks that Ukraine will tolerate pressure or succumb to any nudging are meaningless. I generally advise everyone to leave this prehistoric perception of Ukraine as someone who is pressured and forced. Today Ukraine is pressuring and forcing. We are creating a new history together with those in the world who are standing side by side with us”, the minister said.
Finally, Valery Zaluzhny, Commander-in-Chief of the AFU, in a conversation with General Milley on November 14, made it clear that the Armed Forces of Ukraine would not accept any negotiations, agreements or compromise solutions:
“I assured (General Milley – ed.) that we will fight as long as we are strong enough. Our goal is to liberate all Ukrainian lands from Russian occupation. We will not stop on this path under any circumstances. The Ukrainian military will not accept any negotiations, agreements or compromise solutions. There is a single condition for negotiations: Russia must leave all the occupied territories,” Zaluzhny said.
As it has been the case throughout these nine months, the position of the Ukrainian authorities and the Commander-in-Chief is a reflection of the position of the majority of the Ukrainian people. To return to compromises for the sake of normal life is so far an irrelevant agenda for Ukrainians after the enormous price we have already paid and are paying every day.
And this is not about politics – this is the will of the Ukrainian people: we will not negotiate with a terrorist state that is killing our people and destroying our cities. And we hope that the West clearly understands that the authorities in Ukraine will not go against the will of the people.