Russia Has Made Three Peace Proposals Since April and They Have Two Things in Common

Yuri Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP

Hungarian President Viktor Orban caused something of a stir Friday when he visited Moscow and paid a call on Russian President Vladimir Putin. The trip drew a lot of attention for two reasons. First, Orban is the newly installed president of the Council of the European Union, and that body broke relations with Russia after Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Diplomacy on behalf of the EU is the responsibility of the Vice-President, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. Second, Orban’s Friday trip immediately followed his Thursday visit to Kiev and a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

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The video is from an Orban tweet that says only, “Peace mission. Second stop: Moscow.”

This caused a minor crapstorm with Orban, who no one trusts to represent any interests other than Moscow’s and maybe Hungary’s if the moon is in the correct phase, being denounced and disavowed. 

In the joint press conference after the Putin-Orban discussions, nothing seems to have changed. Putin reiterated his maximalist demands, and Orban apparently discovered that there was very little common ground upon which to begin negotiations.

[PUTIN:  ]The conditions for this, as I have already said, are set out in my speech at the Foreign Ministry. We are talking about the complete withdrawal of all Ukrainian troops from the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics, from the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions. There are other conditions as well. But this is a subject for a fairly detailed consideration in the course of possible collaboration.

[ORBAN:] I have learned from experience that the positions of are very far from each other. It is necessary to make A lot of steps to get closer to the end of the war. However, we have taken the most important step – we have established contact. And I will continue to work in this direction.

Putin reiterated his insistence that any ceasefire be the, to coin a phrase, "final solution," to the Ukrainian problem, not a starting point for negotiations. Putin said, "There should not be a truce or a pause for the rearmament of the Kyiv regime. Moscow stands for a complete and final end to the conflict."

But something seems to be afoot. Orban’s trip was quickly followed by another volunteer to broker peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.

Caretaker Prime Minister Dimitar Glavchev and Russia-friendly President Rumen Radev will jointly represent Bulgaria at the NATO summit in Washington next month that is likely to discuss plans for further aid to Ukraine in its fight against the Kremlin's forces.

It makes no sense to try to take the lead in negotiations if things are as they seem, which is deadlocked.

Since April, Moscow has made three distinct offers for peace talks.

April

In April, there was a nebulous offer floated by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry “Pornstache” Peskov. He said the draft document from talks in Istanbul in March 2022 could be “the basis for starting negotiations.” However, such discussions would have to take into consideration unspecified “new realities.”

The terms in the so-called Istanbul Communique of May 2022 contained a bare-bones framework that both sides could agree to, but many issues, such as the status of territory occupied by Russian troops since 2014 and after the February 2022 invasion, were not settled. 

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The treaty envisioned in the communiqué would proclaim Ukraine as a permanently neutral, nonnuclear state. Ukraine would renounce any intention to join military alliances or allow foreign military bases or troops on its soil. The communiqué listed as possible guarantors the permanent members of the UN Security Council (including Russia) along with Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, Poland, and Turkey.

So, this was nowhere near the utterly ridiculous “oh, Ukraine had a peace deal in 2022 but Boris Johnson made them turn it down,” narrative whose source is, oddly enough, Vladimir Putin. Yet it continues to be parroted by a crap-ton of so-called “America First” folks. Two factors scuttled this line of peace talks. First, the discovery of widespread Russian war crimes made any negotiations with Russia by Zelensky difficult-to-impossible. 


BACKGROUND:

The Ukrainian Army Liberates Territory From Russian Invaders and Discovers Murdered Civilians – RedState

Shocking Evidence of Mass-Scale Russian War Crimes Raises the Stakes in Ukraine – RedState

Russian Torture Chamber Discovered in Liberated Ukraine Town as the Russian Army Continues to Do What It Is Good at Doing – RedState

Trump Weighs in on Ukraine, Calls Russian Actions 'Genocide' – RedState


Second, Ukraine could not get any of the guarantor nations to go along with the agreement because Russia demanded a veto over the actions taken by those guaranteeing Ukraine’s territorial integrity. 

I posted on the early negotiations as they were taking place.


BACKGROUND:

Russians and Ukrainians Say Peace Talks Show Progress but 'Getting to Yes' Seems Very Far Away – RedState

Proposed 'Fifteen Point Peace Plan' in Russia-Ukraine War Is a Total Defeat for Putin, but Zelensky Is Biding His Time – RedState


MAY

In May, Kremlin insiders dragged an alleged peace proposal in front of the international media. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin is ready to halt the war in Ukraine with a negotiated ceasefire that recognises the current battlefield lines, four Russian sources told Reuters, saying he is prepared to fight on if Kyiv and the West do not respond.

The clincher was Peskov's clarification. Yes, there could be a ceasefire, Peskov said; however, "there could be no question of handing back the four regions which were now permanently part of Russia according to its own constitution." So, any negotiations had to begin from the standpoint of Ukraine recognizing Russia's annexation of four oblasts.


BACKGROUND: The New Russian Peace Deal Shows Why Peace Between Russia and Ukraine Isn't Possible Yet – RedState


JUNE

On June 14, the day before the international Ukraine Peace Summit in Switzerland, Putin's statement fleshed out this proposal (see The New Russian Peace Deal Shows Why Peace Between Russia and Ukraine Isn't Possible Yet—RedState).

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The conditions are very simple. Ukrainian troops must be completely withdrawn from the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions. And I draw your attention to the fact that it is from the entire territory of these regions, within their administrative borders, which existed at the time of their entry into Ukraine. As soon as they declare in Kyiv that they are ready for such a decision and begin a real withdrawal of troops from these regions, and also officially announce the abandonment of their plans to join NATO - on our side, immediately, literally at the same minute, an order will follow to cease fire and begin negotiations. I repeat, we will do this immediately. Naturally, we will simultaneously guarantee the unhindered and safe withdrawal of Ukrainian units and formations. We would, of course, like to expect that such a decision on withdrawal of troops, on non-aligned status, and on the start of a dialog with Russia, on which Ukraine's future existence depends, will be taken in Kyiv independently, based on the current realities and guided by the genuine national interests of the Ukrainian people, and not by Western decree.

Putin's minions were trotted out to make sure we knew he was serious.

State news agency TASS quoted Russian foreign intelligence chief Sergei Naryshkin as saying on Monday that if Putin’s conditions were rejected, they would be replaced by new and tougher terms.

The fact is that Putin's ultimatum was a non-starter. Ukrainian public opinion is nearly unanimously against giving up any land lost to the Russian invasion, and most are opposed to relinquishing Donbas or Crimea. So, if negotiation terms are to conform with "current realities and guided by the genuine national interests," Putin's demands were out of touch with reality.

Shortly after the ultimatum, Putin gave a strange little self-pitying speech in which he said losing the war in Ukraine meant the end of Russia, and if that happened, he implied he'd nuke every m*****f***** on the planet and go down like a vodka-addled Samson.

“They [the West] say that they want to achieve the strategic defeat of Russia on the battlefield. What does this mean for Russia? For Russia, this means the end of its statehood. This means the end of the 1000-year history of the Russian state. I think this is clear to everyone. And then the question arises: why should we be afraid? Isn't it better for us to go to the end? This is elementary formal logic”

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Clevon Little looked on and smiled.

JULY

There was a low-level kerfuffle at the end of June when Trump's personal plane was spotted at Dulles International Airport parked next to a Russian airplane.

You can imagine the craziness that ensued.

As it turned out, the passenger on the Russian plane was Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev. Kolokoltsev is a Putin confidant who had a waiver from sanctions to attend a UN summit of police chiefs (UNCOPS-2024). Apparently, his real mission was to deliver another peace feeler. Several sources in Europe reported on the new terms.

  • Ukraine must withdraw from the administrative borders of Luhansk and Donetsk; this would require the Ukrainian Army to retreat.
  • Russia hands over the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station and the nearby town of Enerhodar.
  • The remainder of the line of contact would be frozen except along the Dnieper River. The control of the river would pass to Ukraine, and there would be a 100-kilometer "demilitarized zone." There aren't specifics about what that means, but it would seem to mean that Ukraine would have political control of this zone but would have to withdraw military units. 
  • The Ukrainian Army would be capped at 150,000 soldiers (other numbers are floating about), or less than half its current size.
  • Ukraine would be barred from joining NATO.
  • Russia would not interfere with Ukrainian efforts to join the EU.
  • All war-related sanctions on Russia would be lifted.
  • Negotiations would be held over the status of the annexed oblasts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, implying Russia's willingness to rescind the law annexing them.
  • This is the kicker. 

Crimea would become a 'specially demilitarised administrative territory with dual subordination to Ukraine and the Russian Federation'.

  • In return for joint custody, for lack of a better word, of Crimea, Ukraine would promise not to block Crimea's water supply.

This offer is inadequate and doesn't reflect the status quo of the war, but it at least provides a sane basis for talks. But is it real?

WHAT TO MAKE OF IT ALL?

The July trial balloon is definitely an outlier from any other offer made by Russia. Unlike the Istanbul Communique, it doesn't attempt to cap the Ukrainian military at some insanely low figure and forbid them to have some weaponry. There is no demand that the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian oblasts be recognized; in fact, it seems like the fate of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and even Crimea are bargaining chips.

There are two problems with the plan.

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First, Putin has done nothing to prepare the Russian people, particularly the Russian elites, for anything short of total victory. From his bombastic ultimatum in June to his joint press conference with Orban, Putin has been consistent in his demand that Ukraine not join NATO and that Russia's annexation of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and Crimea receive international recognition. His reference to the Istanbul Communique as a "basis" for discussions is always accompanied by the requirement to recognize "new realities."

Second, no one thinks that Putin will accept anything other than the obliteration of Ukraine as a nation. Any agreement that Putin signs that leaves even a Ukrainian rump state in existence is merely a pause before the next round of hostilities. There is no reason to think that any agreement by Russia will be honored.


Short list of the results of negotiations with Russia that it never respected: 

1. The Budapest Memorandum of 1994. Russia agreed to “respect independence, sovereignty, and the existing borders of Ukraine” as well as “refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine”. Breached by Russia invading Crimea in 2014. 

2. The Russian-Ukrainian Friendship Treaty of 1997. Russia agreed to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and “reaffirmed the inviolability of the borders” between the two countries. Russia breached it in 2014. 

3. The OSCE Istanbul Summit in 1999. Russia committed to withdrawing its troops from Moldova’s Transdniestrian region and Georgia until the end of 2002. That never happened. 

4. The 2008 Georgia ceasefire agreement following Russian aggression against the country. Russia agreed that “Russian military forces must withdraw to the lines prior to the start of hostilities”. That never happened. 

5. The Ilovaysk “Green Corridor” in August 2014 and other “humanitarian” death corridors. Russia pledged to let Ukrainian forces leave the encircled town of Ilovaysk in the east of Ukraine, but instead opened fire and killed 366 Ukrainian troops. In the following years, Russia attacked numerous humanitarian corridors in Syria. 

6. The “Minsk” agreements of 2014 and 2015. Russia agreed to cease the fire in the east of Ukraine. There had been 200 rounds of talks and 20 attempts to enforce a ceasefire, all of which the Russian side promptly violated. On February 24th, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

7. The 2022 Black Sea Grain Initiative. Russia pledged to “provide maximum assurances regarding a safe and secure environment for all vessels engaged in this initiative." It then hindered the initiative's operation for months before withdrawing unilaterally a year later. 

Above is only focused on deals made with Russia to address specific issues and conflicts. Not mentioning almost 400 international treaties that Russia has breached since 2014. 

There are no conclusions to be drawn here, except that no one can seriously use the words "Russia" and "negotiations" in the same phrase. Putin is a habitual liar who promised international leaders that he would not attack Ukraine days before his invasion in February 2022. 

Russia's tactic has remained consistent in its many wars over the last three decades: kill, grab, lie, and deny. 

Why would anyone genuinely believe that Russia in 2024 is any different from Russia in 1994, 1997, 1999, 2008, 2014, 2015, and 2022?

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On the other hand, Putin's ultimatum, even as a starting point for negotiations, was dead on arrival. The demand that land currently occupied by Ukraine, including one of its largest cities, be turned over to Russia before talks could begin is not a serious proposal. It is telling that China has not endorsed Russia's peace proposal and has invested zero political capital to push it. This statement is the fruit of Orban's trip to China following his Moscow sojourn.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called on world powers to help Russia and Ukraine resume direct dialogue during a meeting Monday with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

However, several Republican members of Congress and at least one senator have encouraged Ukraine to accept Russia's my-way-or-the-highway demand.

If Russia did offer to demilitarize Crimea, that would match some of the statements that have come out of Kiev. It would also reflect one of the realities of the war, which is that Crimea is not a strategic asset for Russia, but it is a drain of Russian resources. If the Black Sea Fleet can't use its Sevastopol homeport, its value, beyond nationalistic posturing, is very limited.

The real question for any Russian peace proposal is how well Putin and state-controlled media have prepared the groundwork for negotiations. Right now, nothing other than Putin's de facto surrender demand has been floated as a possibility. That means anything less than Russia walking away with a large chunk of Ukraine will be viewed as a failure in Russia, and I'm not sure Putin can survive a disastrous, losing war. A second-order question is why anyone would trust Russia not to use a ceasefire as the opportunity to rebuild for a second round of fighting. Everything in Russia's recent history indicates that it views international agreements as tactical. In fact, one might say the violation of treaties is baked into Russian politics. 

While the July "peace proposal" is interesting, there is no indication that it reflects the Kremlin's thinking. At best, it is a trial balloon to gauge Western and official Russian response. At worst, it is an information operation to try to portray Russia as reasonable. 

Any peace deal with Russia will have to reflect the realities on the battlefield. At present, we don't know what those ultimate realities will be, so talking about peace negotiations when neither side feels they must is sort of stupid. Putin's current demands may be serious to him, but no one else should consider them as such. No matter what a ceasefire or even a peace deal looks like, keep in mind that Putin's goal is the eradication of Ukraine as an independent state and that any agreement is a tactical ruse to lay the groundwork for that objective. Peace in Ukraine that is not enforced by Western arms and security guarantees is simply not possible so long as Putin is in power or possibly as long as the Russian Federation exists.

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