Talking to Putin? Almost No Chance for the War to End

Despite ongoing efforts by Ukraine to organize new peace talks, German diplomats express deep skepticism about the possibility of ending the war with Russia anytime soon

by Sededin Dedovic
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Talking to Putin? Almost No Chance for the War to End
© Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images

After the peace conference in Switzerland, Ukraine is already preparing a new meeting. However, German diplomats do not believe that negotiations with Russia to end the war will be possible soon. Are negotiations to end the Russian war against Ukraine possible this year? Perhaps even before the US presidential elections in November and with Russian participation? Ukraine is currently working on organizing a new peace conference in a few months.

Saudi Arabia is increasingly mentioned in Western media as a possible location. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wants to maintain the momentum of his diplomatic offensive and has therefore announced "new concrete" steps for July.

Reportedly, this involves working groups for the Ukrainian peace plan, writes DW.

Diplomacy to keep dialogue open

The first high-level conference was held in Switzerland in mid-June. About 80 countries participated, Russia was not invited, and China was absent.

The debates were limited to topics such as free trade routes, nuclear safety, and prisoner exchanges. Diplomatic doors for future Russian participation were also opened. Peace in Ukraine requires "participation and dialogue between all parties," stated the final declaration.

Is there now a possibility for real peace negotiations in the third year of the war? DW discussed this with two important representatives of German diplomacy: Rüdiger von Fritsch, former ambassador to Moscow and former deputy head of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), and Christoph Heusgen, director of the Munich Security Conference (MSC) and former advisor to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Von Fritsch: "Putin has no interest in ending the war”

Both diplomats dampened hopes for quick negotiations with Russia. Because even before the conference in Switzerland, when Russian President Vladimir Putin presented his vision of a ceasefire, opposing views were evident.

Ukraine Peace Summit Held At Burgenstock Resort Near Lucerne© Sedat Suna / Getty Images

According to Moscow, the Ukrainian army should withdraw from four areas in the south and east that Russia annexed in 2022 and abandon its NATO aspirations.

Then the weapons would fall silent, Putin said. Former ambassador Rüdiger von Fritsch does not believe in this. Putin, he says, currently has no interest in ending this war if his aggression is ultimately rewarded. This would be the case, Fritsch believes, if his ideas were taken into account.

Substantively, Putin's offer is not serious at all, says MSC head Christoph Heusgen. In his opinion, the Russian president was more interested in "muddying" the Swiss conference and observing the reactions.

Heusgen: "Ukraine needs NATO membership"

In this context, both diplomats doubt that negotiations could be possible soon.

First of all, they believe, "Putin must recognize the legitimate government of Ukraine and President Zelensky as his interlocutor”. However, they say, that point has not yet been reached. At the end of May, the Russian president questioned Zelensky's legitimacy.

The reason for this was the formal end of his regular term. However, it is automatically extended according to Ukrainian law because elections cannot be held during martial law. Additionally, Russia should adhere to the UN Charter, says Heusgen.

The final communiqué of the Swiss conference also points to this. "The only chance for peace I see is if Ukraine regains a position of strength in this conflict," says the MSC head. Russia is far from the Ukrainian stance and a possible outcome, says Heusgen.

Therefore, he does not believe there will be a conference with Russian participation in the fall. Ukraine and its Western partners, he says, need endurance.

Von Fritsch: Putin fears rebellion

Heusgen says that he speaks what he believes many in the West do not want to hear: In the case of an agreement with Russia, Ukraine would need stronger security guarantees than before.

“In my opinion, an agreement with Russia can be bearable for Ukraine only if it is accompanied by NATO membership,” says Heusgen. Since 2008, Ukraine has had the guarantee that it will be able to join NATO, but it does not have candidate status.

Rüdiger von Fritsch also does not believe in quick diplomatic successes. The former ambassador to Moscow believes that Putin would be willing to engage in substantial negotiations only if his power within Russia were threatened.

"Vladimir Putin constantly needs to buy approval from the population at home; he rules his country with repression, propaganda, and constant bribery," von Fritsch said. He says that it is not just the Russian economy under pressure.

The Kremlin also fears a "black swan," that is, something unexpected, like an uprising, which could threaten his power. This diplomat cited as examples the protests of Soviet soldiers' mothers against the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s or the mass demonstrations of the Solidarity union led by Lech Walesa, which overthrew the communist system in Poland—also in the 1980s.

"Putin fears this," says von Fritsch. "And he must be brought to that point. When it comes to this, then he will be ready to talk," says Fritsch. The way to achieve this, in his opinion, is strengthening Ukraine and further sanctions against Russia, DW reports.

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