When is the precise time to discuss peace in Ukraine?

The war in Ukraine has seen many twists and turns over the past 27 months. The first yr was largely defined by the Russian army's high-profile missteps, from tankless tanks stranded on the side of the road to the redeployment of Russian soldiers to Donbass after a failed try to take Kyiv. Then got here Ukraine's swift counteroffensive in Kharkiv in September 2022. By November 2022, the Ukrainians were so high on the list that U.S. intelligence picked up rumors that Russian generals were discussing deploying tactical nuclear warheads.

Since then, nonetheless, the situation for Ukrainians has continued to deteriorate. The capture of Kherson in November 2022 was the high point of Ukrainian progress. Since then, the battlefield situation has slowly recovered to Russia's advantage. Moscow has regained more territory previously two months than Ukraine did during its entire counteroffensive last yr. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is frustrated with Russia's current operations in Kharkiv, which has prompted Washington to loosen up its ban on the usage of US weapons to attack targets inside Russia.

All this results in the inevitable query: when should Ukraine shift its strategy from total military victory to sufficient peace?

The worst kept secret of the war

For many, even talking about the opportunity of a diplomatic agreement with Russia is blasphemy. Russia is, in spite of everything, the aggressor, invading a sovereign neighbor and committing countless atrocities. Its president, Vladimir Putin, is needed by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. Ukraine is the victim, the logic goes, and forcing it to sit down down on the table with its tormentor leaves a bitter aftertaste.

All of this may increasingly be true to some extent. But international politics is just not an ethical contest – it is usually an unpleasant, hard-fought exchange of blows between states by which the perfect is never attainable.

So far, Zelensky has insisted that Ukraine won’t negotiate with Russia until the country withdraws its troops from every inch of Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, which has been under Russian occupation for greater than a decade. Zelensky's 10-point peace plan, which calls for an entire withdrawal of Russian troops, Russian compensation for war damage and the prosecution of Russian soldiers for war crimes, is effectively a give up document for Moscow. Zelensky will reiterate those terms this month when dozens of nations gather in Switzerland for a so-called peace summit.

But this plan, while desirable, is just not credible. Given the present state of war and Putin's willingness to sacrifice Russia's future to defend the roughly 20 percent of Ukrainian territory his forces currently occupy, Zelensky's position is nothing wanting delusional. This is one among the worst-kept secrets in diplomacy, and behind the scenes the Biden administration probably recognizes this too.

It is, in fact, highly unlikely that the White House would openly state this obvious fact. First, it might cause extreme tensions between Washington and Kyiv at a time when either side are working to carry Ukraine's defense lines. Second, the US would embarrass Zelensky by essentially calling his peace proposal a pointless exercise. And the impact on morale throughout the Ukrainian army may very well be significant – who would risk their life for a draw?

What will it take?

But none of those considerations outweigh the facts on and off the battlefield – and whether we prefer it or not, those facts now favor Russia. Although Russia's losses are high – the British Ministry of Defense estimates that 465,000 Russians have been killed or wounded up to now – the Russian government is preparing for a war that might last years. Putin is steadily sending soldiers to war – about 30,000 Russians join the ranks every month – and offering lucrative bonuses and perks to entice more young men to hitch. Despite severe U.S. and European Union sanctions, Russia has managed to divert its crude oil east (mainly to China and India), funneling tens of billions of dollars into the treasury. The Russian economy is supporting the war effort, just because the war is supporting the Russian economy.

None of that is to say that Zelensky should raise the white flag. Nothing is inevitable in war; the side that makes territorial gains this week could pull out next week. The $61 billion in recent U.S. aid to Ukraine is just just coming to light, and Ukrainians will need to see if the most recent tranche allows them to make up lost ground. Any diplomatic agreement can even depend upon Putin – if the Russian president refuses to truly compromise, there won’t be much left for Ukraine to discuss.

But it’s gone time for observers of this war and the US politicians involved in it to desert their illusions of total military victory. Like most wars in history, this one will end through a diplomatic process that neither side might be particularly keen on. The only query is how exhausted Ukraine and Russia could have to be to finally start serious negotiations.

Daniel DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities and a foreign affairs columnist for the Chicago Tribune. ©2024 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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