London, 1st May 2022 – Russia is testing the West allies on a possible lift of sanctions. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said yesterday talks on the matter were ongoing with Ukraine, but Zelensky dismissed that. “It is for all our partners, together with Ukraine, to decide what decisions should be taken on sanctions, and when”, he said quoted by Reuters.
Whether Lavrov’s claim is true or not, the Kremlin is de facto waving sanctions to virtually reopen the negotiating table.
Are Zelensky, Biden, Scholz, von der Leyen, Macron, Morawiecki, the Nordics and more widely NATO allies, ready to relief sanctions or part of them in change of Russian army withdrawal?
Specifically, does Kyiv want a full withdrawal from the Donbas region and get Crimea back fighting a long war, or is he foreseeing a compromise?
If the latter, a gradual schedule of relief of some sanctions could be negotiated in change of total withdrawal of Russia or parts of the pro-Russian Donbass and Crimea being left under a pro-Russian administration, like for instance some autonomous regions in other European countries.
This would mean replacing the whole Ukraine as ‘buffer state’ (like Putin asks) with Donbass and Crimea as ‘buffer regions’. That could be the way forward as the Kremlin wants to protect its totalitarian regime by not sharing borders with a democracy because the ‘virus’ of libertarian ideas and western values could easily ‘infect’ Russian people and media through common roots and languages.
Further to that, Zelensky said yes to Ukraine’s neutrality as requested by the Kremlin, but Ukraine’s demilitarisation will expose the country to future threats from Russia. Therefore negotiations would limit their scope to Kyiv neutrality, non entering NATO and territorial concessions.
Is that still on the table? It’s very difficult at present to understand what is actually on the table and even if there’s anything on the table, because Putin and Lavrov on their side could wave a request of sanctions lift and when obtained could gather new forces for a second phase of the war.
In order for talks to be restored, Russia must enforce a ceasefire. This is the first step for any talks to restart.
But negotiating teams also hide negotiation strategies and requests to be put on the table for obvious reasons.
What is vital to the all of us, citizens of the European continent, is that whatever Western allies’ choices are, whatever the choice of our single country is, this must be decided in our Parliaments trough a democratic process.
This is the way to make collective decisions on how long this war would be lasting, what and how many weapons we send and what the goal is: whether to push back Putin’s regime and sustain Zelensky‘s fight to liberate the whole Ukrainian national territory included Donbass and Crimea restoring the pre 2014 borders, or to support a compromise in order to reach a peace agreement ending the conflict sooner.
If Western plan is the former (Ukraine to conquer back its whole regions) the war will last several years for sure. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin suggested that this is Washington’s choice by setting monthly meetings with allies on Ukraine war progress.
The problem is that sanctions are there to be a deterrent. A tough economic measure to discourage the war and force Putin to compromise. If Lavrov now is playing the negotiating card of sanctions, US/EU/NATO should show availability to talk of possible lifting, previous Russian ceasefire obviously. This regardless of the possible (likely) bad faith on Russian side.
So this is what from Monday onward we have to look for: the fact of substance and coherence, the move the West and Ukraine would make in relation to negotiations, because peace depends also on our side, not only on Putin’s.
If we, conversely, maintain that peace and the end of the conflict only depend on Russian Federation, we put the West in a powerless position and facilitate the perception of our countries as unable to have a common diplomacy to enforce international law through peace.