Yesterday’s statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his spokespeople in the Kremlin have again demonstrated very clearly how far away we are from a diplomacy-based resolution for the war in Ukraine. After the Russian leader’s conversation with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the Kremlin’s response to statements by U.S. President Joe Biden, this should be even more obvious now to those who believe that the war’s continuation is due only to Western nations’ unwillingness to back down, to enter peace negotiations with Kremlin leadership, or to force the administration in Kiev to do so.
The little that we heard yesterday from Moscow just confirmed that the Kremlin is holding tight to its previous position on ending the conflict in Ukraine. International law is no longer valid; the (purportedly) stronger party sets the terms; the aggressor is in the right; instigating a brutal war of extermination against a neighboring country is a legitimate means of pursuing one’s interests, whatever they may be. These are the terms on which Kremlin leadership is ready to enter negotiations: no Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territory, instead, the territory annexed so far — including the conditions under which the annexations took place—should be recognized, especially by the so-called West. In addition, Putin apparently wants to start negotiating with Biden, bypassing the Ukrainians.
Those who are saying that at least the Kremlin ruler is now open to talks are not lacking in cynicism. And they seem to believe international law can be handled relatively flexibly in international relations according to which actors are currently in conflict. However, there is no basis other than international law for negotiations between two parties at war that are both independent countries. And according to international law, the Russian president is in the wrong in every respect.
Putin knows that neither Kyiv nor anyone else is willing to negotiate with him about ending the war in Ukraine under his conditions. That also makes it easy for him to generously announce his openness to such talks. In fact, however, he wants to continue the war; anything else would be a defeat for him, which he may not survive politically. Because with this war, the Kremlin autocrat has backed himself into a corner from which there is no way out. Given the advances by Kyiv’s troops, the last chance from a Russian perspective to break the Ukrainian population with the war is to attack the country’s essential infrastructure, like electricity, heating, and water plants. But here, too, it is obvious that the better the Ukrainians are supported in protecting and defending themselves, the more this plan, as well, is doomed to fail.
With winter coming, several difficult months of war loom on the battlefields of Ukraine, during which Russian soldiers are likely to suffer the most, given their notoriously poor outfitting and supplies. It is quite conceivable that Moscow’s troops will grow weary of such strains and stresses for an already pointless endeavor and try, by whatever means, to withdraw from this war, which could provide a means for ending it. But this is nothing more than a hope that can hardly bear up against reality.