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There May Be a Case for Very Cautious Optimism in Ukraine

There May Be a Case for Very Cautious Optimism in Ukraine

Wednesday, 6 April, 2022 - 08:00

Russian and Ukrainian delegations held their fourth round of meetings in Dolmabahçe Palace in İstanbul on 29 March.


At the end of that meeting on the shores of the Bosphorus, which lasted for four hours, both sides noted some progress and the need to receive instructions from patrons.


Informed sources said that during the process, the Russian side presented a text and Ukrainians rejected it. Then the Ukrainians presented their own text and now the Russian side is working on it.


Since then, hopes for a breakthrough and ceasefire have been higher. Personally, I am very cautiously optimistic.


How would a normal process run? After expert/technical level meetings, when they think the work is ripe enough, foreign ministers will meet. Finally, the leaders will put their seal on the agreement. It may seem simple enough but not really so.


At international conferences, negotiators may tentatively agree but need instructions. Both sides may think that they have agreed but having slept over it or received political instructions, it may turn out that their interpretation of what they had tentatively agreed were quite different. And the golden rule of negotiations is, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.


The most important thing in the meantime, is developments on the ground.


What has happened since Istanbul is that, fighting continues but at a relatively reduced scale. Russians have withdrawn from (or Ukrainians have regained control of) certain areas and especially around Kyiv. Fighting is now more on the eastern part and southern parts of the country. There are some evacuation of civilian operations from Mariupol.


Russia has beeen able to almost connect Donbas region to Crimea. It now has continuity between territories which constitute the hearth of the problem. Sea of Azov has become an internal sea for Russia.


Russia is also targeting Odessa and it seems that they may be trying to cut off Ukraine from the Black Sea and turn it into a landlocked state. Either so or aiming to get another negotiating chip.


What about the content? The issues which everyone is more or less familiar by now, could be grouped as “military security issues” and “political issues”. Some are easier to deal with and others much more complicated.


Russian position is that Ukraine will not be a NATO member. It will have neutral and non nuclear status. No foreign troops or weapons will be deployed on its territory.


Russian demands are not unattainable but Ukraine has required international guarantees, overseen by several countries as guarantors. Ukraine recalls the (non) effectiveness of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. At that time, Ukraine had become a party to the Non Proliferation Treaty (which meant giving up all claims to nuclear weapons on its territory and becoming a non nuclear state), in return for USA, UK and Russia guarantees for its territorial integrity and sovereignty. The ongoing war is the testament that it did not work.


As to neutrality, the most frequently referred case that may be applicable is Austria, whose neutral status stems from the 15 May 1955 agreement between Austria and Soviet Union, USA, UK, France. This agreement imposes limitations on all sorts of military equipment which Austria can possess and develop. Later on, the Austrian parliament adopted a law declaring the permanent neutrality of the country, committing not to become part of any military alliance or allow foreign deployments on its territories. This law has become part of the constitution.


If the case of Austria is applied to the present day, Ukraine may not join NATO, but may become a member of the European Union. In fact, President Zelensky appears to have in mind to extract whatever benefits he can out of this tragedy. In this regard, he has mentioned favorable terms for Ukraine’s entry into the Union. tIt is not likely that Ukraine will be offered a fast track membership, but may be granted some sort of consolation.


The territorial issues (Crimea and Donbas) are the most complicated. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 is illegal and no country recognizes it. Luhansk and Donetsk’s declarations of independence are recognized only by Russia and the Assad regime in Syria. Russia’s ultimate objective is, acceptance of these territories as its.


In terms of universal principles and international order; respect for territorial integrity of an independent and sovereign state, inviolability of borders and no changes to borders through the use of force are basics of international law. These principles have been flagrantly violated.


The civilian toll of the war is high, as thousands have perished. Around four million Ukranians have fled abroad and many are internally displaced. Civilian areas and infrastructure have been targeted. Mariupol is the most clear case of civilian destruction. According to estimates, the total cost of destroyed infrastructure is 500 to 800 billion dollars.


Will there be an international inquiry on alleged war crimes? Will Ukraine demand war reparations? Very difficult issues.


However this conflict may end, it will have lasting effects on the world order and international relations.


In that sense, energy and food security have been among the most alarming. Russia is the world’s second largest natural gas producer and the third largest oil producer. It provides around 40 percent of Europe’s gas.


Russia and Ukraine, together, account for about 30 percent of global wheat exports, 20-25 percent of corn exports and almost 80 percent of sunflower oil exports.


As a result of the war, prices of energy and food commodities have risen, economies are distrupted, people and governments stressed. Many countries are working on diversification of sources and resources. But they are not abundant and any new arrangement will take time to finalize and apply.


A note on Russia internal; the country is becoming more and more restrictive. Putin’s policy seems to be zero tolerance on opposition. Critical references to the war have been made criminal offence under law. Anti war protestors are countered by force and jailed. Aleksei Navalny, who is already in prison, has urged people to protest the war and is now sentenced to a further nine years on fraud charges.


In conclusion; the first thing we may hope for in Ukraine is a ceasefire agreement. I think in such a case, most delicate issues would more likely be left for later on and an eventual peace agreement would be some time away. The period in between would be ceasefire on a live bomb.


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