Ukraine: can negotiations be fruitful right now?
After the latest announcements from the Ukrainian side that "the parties to negotiations have agreed on almost all the issues except for Crimea" or information that the Putin-Zelensky meeting "is not impossible", some have started to believe that some form of peace or ceasefire is around. Personally, I believe it is not true, and that's why: Whatever they say, the conditions on the table now would be humiliating for Russia as they would in substance mean more or less a return to the situation of 23.02.2022, and this time with security guarantees for Ukraine. It's not a secret that Zelensky had been in principle ready to discuss the neutral status of Ukraine in January-February, it was the Russian side that ignored his invitations for genuine talks. Anyway, the example of Sweden or Finland demonstrated that it is possible to be an EU member with strong armed forces while remaining neutral. So, for Putin, after the draconian sanctions, thousands of lives lost and destroyed international reputation, it will be almost impossible to sell this not even as a victory, but at least as an honorary draw. Hence Kadyrov's open disagreement with Medinsky and calls "to go until the end" are unsurprising, and there is strong anecdotal evidence that Putin remains strongly opposed to concluding a peace deal now. The situation may change only in three cases. Either one side should suffer a very grave defeat (akin to the one Azerbaijan had in the winter of 1993-94), which is unlikely given Russia's advantage in numbers and WMDs on one hand and growing Western support to Ukraine on the other; the "party of peace" within Russian elites should be able to neutralize Putin and his close circle hellbent on waging this war and put the blame for all this catastrophe on them, or major political perturbations in Russia bring to power a completely new group unconnected to the incumbent one and hence free from all its debts and burdens. But again, all these scenarios seem to be very unlikely as of now. And I'm sure that the major Western supporters of Ukraine understand that to agree on Putin's survival, let alone somehow forgo what's happening, is a recipe for a delayed death. Thus, Zelensky's statement that Ukraine ultimately relies on her armed forces, is completely rational and understandable.