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No peace deal on the horizon in Russo-Ukrainian war

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Graphic: Timothy Alexander / African News Agency (ANA)

By David Monyae

THE Russo-Ukrainian war, which began on February 24 last year, when Russian forces invaded Ukraine, will reach its first anniversary in a few weeks. It seems the warring parties are not close to reaching a peace agreement that would bring the war to an end.

A few days back, Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov put paid to any possibility of peace negotiations when he said that a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine was not on the table.

The nearly 12 months of war has seen millions of Ukrainians taking refuge in European countries while more than six million were internally displaced from their homes. According to the UN, more than 6 000 civilians, including 1148 children, have lost their lives in the war.

Picture: REUTERS/Anna Kudriavtseva – Ukrainian servicemen prepare cannon shells before firing them towards positions of Russian troops, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine January 1, 2023.

The bombing of critical energy, health and transport infrastructure continues to cause untold human suffering. The war has disrupted critical global supply chains. This has triggered global inflation and food insecurity.

A peaceful settlement of the hostilities between the two neighbouring states is urgently needed to avert further harm. However, the prospects of peace are dim.

The Russo-Ukrainian conflict has been the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly and member states have voted on several resolutions. One of the first, which was condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine and asking Moscow to stop its invasion of its neighbour, elicited mixed responses from member states who either voted for, against or abstained from the resolution.

For example, while the US and its Western allies called for the out- right condemnation of Russia, countries such as South Africa and China elected to abstain from the resolution, insisting on dialogue to resolve the conflict.

The divisions within the international community, in terms of perceptions of the conflict, have had the effect of driving a wedge between Russia and Ukraine, thus making negotiations difficult.

At the bilateral level, the warring countries have held peace talks to bring the hostilities to a peaceful settlement but they have been met with limited success. The first of such talks occurred just a few days after the fighting began but ended with no solid agreements.

The second round of talks occurred on March 3 last year, with a view to opening humanitarian corridors to allow the evacuation of civilians into safety.

However, the negotiations broke down after Russia asked Ukraine to recognise Russia’s control of Crimea, acknowledge the independence of the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk and de-Nazify its government. Ukrainian negotiators found the terms unacceptable.

The third round of negotiations began on March 7, but ended inconclusively as one of the Ukrainian negotiators was shot, upon suspicions that they were a Russian spy.

The foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine met in Turkey for the fourth round of negotiations, with the intention of agreeing on a 24-hour ceasefire. However, the two ministers could not come to an agreement despite the mediation efforts of Turkey’s foreign minister.

The fifth round of talks between the two countries took place between March 14 and 21, in a bid to reach an agreement that could bring the war to an end.

A call was made that Russian President Vladmir Putin meet his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymir Zelensky, for talks.

However, that was deemed impossible since the negotiations were not close to reaching an agreement.

Since the end of March, there have not been any further negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. Parties from third countries such as Austria and France, and representatives of international organisations such as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, have met the leaders of Ukraine and Russia, with a view to exploring possible avenues for a peace deal. The efforts have not borne fruit.

Attempts to end the war are hindered by several factors.

First, it is the hardline stance both sides have adopted that has made reaching a peace agreement almost impossible. While Russia demands that Ukraine relinquishes regions such as Donetsk and Luhansk and accept Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, Ukraine demands the return of its territory and the punishment for war crimes. Such demands leave little room for finding a middle ground.

Second, the US and its allies’ fixation on blaming Russia for the war and their imposition of economic sanctions on Moscow is not helping matters. Their continued shipping of military aid to Ukraine is tantamount to stoking the fires of the war. The more the West supports Ukraine, the more Russia feels its existence is at risk should it lose the war.

Third, the war has once again exposed the weakness of international institutions such as the UN Security Council. The council has been found wanting and unable to act to prevent further bloodshed in Ukraine.

As things stand, a peace deal does not seem to be on the horizon.

Prof David Monyae is Associate Professor of International Relations and Political Science and Director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.