Only two months ago, the perspectives of the peace negotiations between Ukraine and Russia were intensely discussed in the media. It was believed that a ceasefire agreement would be signed in May already even if it was then clear that Moscow conceives the peace talks from the angle of military-political radicalism caused by the hope of cardinal improvement of its position on the battlefield. However, the hope that the hot phase of the war would end was high. But these hopes were dashed as the Russian army didn’t manage to achieve notable military results the last few weeks, while the human and material resources of Russia continue to be more severely exhausted. However, out of inertia, Moscow continues to put forward inacceptable peace conditions for Kyiv, making Ukraine not to expect to negotiate something else with Moscow than episodic humanitarian corridors and exchanges of prisoners. After the alignment of the Russian forces was redirected from Kyiv to Donbas, the time started to work against Russia, making the Kremlin to be more preoccupied with the scenario of an honorable end to the war.
Three options of peace and all bad...
Failing to conquer Ukraine by a blitzkrieg, Russia found itself before several options of developments. The withdrawal of the Russian troops behind the lines where these were on February 23 based on a ceasefire agreement, but without officially recognizing the defeat of the so-called special military operation in Ukraine is a highly importable variant. This option can be supported by the thesis that was already disseminated by the official Russian media – that the war is waged not against Ukraine, but against NATO, but on the territory of the neighboring country. The conditions of peace would consist in Ukraine accepting to put off the agreeing of a political status for Crimea and Donbas for an indefinite period of time, returning of all the prisoners and deported persons and, on the part of the Western community, renouncing or easing of the regime of sanctions – all together can be one of the ways out acceptable to Russia.
The escalation of the war with an attempt to engage the U.S. and NATO in direct talks is another option whose probability is relatively low today, but is far from zero. This scenario is the riskiest one for Moscow, but against the background of the launch of the NATO accession process by Sweden and Finland and the augmentation of the military assistance for Ukraine, the Kremlin can resort to it. An operation in Moldova or an attack against the infrastructure of the given supplies, for example on the territory of Poland, or particular demonstrative, but limited military actions against the Baltic countries or against Finland and Sweden are not fully excluded today. The goal of such escalation will not be a military victory, but an attempt to test the unity of the West or even to torpedo this unity. Also, this variant leads to the elimination of the necessity of negotiating exclusively with Kyiv, which is an extremely troubling interlocutor for Moscow. Surely, the further economic isolation of Russia, primarily from Europe, will be the main price paid for such an option. But the Kremlin will most probably not take the risk of doing this now.
The use of foreign policy procedures like those used by Trotsky while negotiating the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty of 1918 – “Neither war nor peace” – is another option for the Kremlin. This option can be used after the Russian army occupies the administrative borders of Donbas and implies the reduction of the intensity of hostilities up to their cessation, but without the official ending of the war. Today this option seems the most probable one.
Possible actions and effects for Moscow
Moscow needs an honorable peace not only owing to its incapacity to force Ukraine to accept the capitulation conditions, but also to the increasing probability that the Ukrainian army will push the Russian troops out of the occupied territories, at least some of them, using the weapons received from the West. Here Moscow should gain diplomatic ground and show that it is ready for such a ceasefire agreement and should secure at least the support of the French and German diplomatic services, which expressed their interest in a peace treaty at the cost of territorial concessions on the part of Ukraine. As experts said, for the sake of such an option, the Russian government, which is not burdened by international law or by moral and ethnic principles, or simply by elementary loyalty to the made promise, can use the Ukrainian war prisoners and deported civilians as a bargaining chip in negotiations.
In a move to persuade Ukraine to accept an armistice, the Russian diplomatic service started to accuse Kyiv of compromising the peace negotiations. The Kremlin surely realizes that the territories destroyed as a result of the war are economically devastated and witnessed a considerable outflow of people, these territories being an economic desert whose keeping and control will necessitate considerable effort and resources, with constant losses among the occupants. At the same time, the suffocating sanctions will not disappear and it will be hard to partially restore or to fully replace the already realized military potential. This way, Russia can try to put off the plan of full capitulation of Ukraine by banking also on serious difficulties that negatively influence the global economy.
A negative moment for the Russian authorities in case of a “neither war nor peace” scenario resides in the fact that it does not fully remove the problem of complete restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine from the agenda. What’s clear here is that even if Russia choses this option, this will not mean that Ukraine will abandon its objectives, while the exhaustion of the Russian army on the battlefield with unclear prospects that Ukraine will suffer a military defeat would mean that Moscow will be seriously weakened in other areas too and can simply lose control over other territories of the post-Soviet space where there are frozen conflicts and unrecognized states to whose appearance it contributed the previous decades. This means the long-term weakening of Russia will seriously raise the issue of its withdrawal from Moldova (Transnistria), Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabakh).
Reaction plans are needed for each action
In such conditions, the Republic of Moldova should say what reaction plans it has for any option of developments to which the Russian Federation will resort. The war in Ukraine created a profound crisis situation in a number of spheres of life of the Moldovan state. But this war generated also unexpected opportunities that should be used to the maximum. First of all, the actions should be stepped up in the process of European integration of the Republic of Moldova, with the EU summit of June 23-24 this year, which will consider granting the EU accession candidate status to our country, being the most relevant one.
The worsening of the economic situation should be counteracted by energetic measures of economic cooperation with our main partner Romania. On this dimension, it is important to fully profit from the joint meeting of the Parliaments of Romania and the Republic of Moldova that is to take place later this month and whose decisions should not consist in gestures of symbolism only, but should refer to the implementation of concrete large-scale economic cooperation projects and other types of projects. The war in Ukraine brought back the necessity of strengthening national solidity and union in the Romanian ethnic and cultural area, as a decisive factor for increasing the resilience of the Moldovan state before the possible military aggression from outside, into the focus of public attention in the Republic of Moldova. The stepping up of integration with Romania for the Republic of Moldova means separation from the Russian space, diminution of the logic of the Kremlin’s pretensions concerning the inclusion of our state in the sphere of preferential geopolitical influence of Moscow. Contrariwise, the neglecting and opposition to the inter-cooperation between Romania and the Republic of Moldova is equal to the disarmament of the Moldovan state before Moscow’s imperialist aspirations to restore the so-called “historical Russia”.
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.