Autumn – Time to Hold Talks on Ukraine?

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Sergiu CEBAN
The military-political and international context which we have by the end of August may become a factor in increasing pressure from the international community on Kyiv to resume negotiations with Moscow
Today, Kyiv will host the 3rd Crimea Platform summit, an international forum set up on the initiative of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The Prime Minister Dorin Recean, who will be accompanied by ministers Vladimir Bolea, Victor Parlicov and Andrei Spinu, as well as the State Secretary of the Foreign Ministry, Ruslan Bolbocean will represent Moldova at the summit this year. By the way, Maia Sandu met with Zelensky in Athens the other day and discussed Moldova-Ukrainianrelations, regional security and joint counteraction to Russia’s aggressive policy and hybrid influence. In addition, the issue of alternative routes for transporting Ukrainian grain and foodstuffs through Moldova due to Russia’s blocking of the Black Sea ports was raised. Therefore, it seems that the visit of the government delegation is related not so much to the Crimea Platform as to the need to quickly resolve all the organizational issues in order to make the transit potential of our country available as soon as possible. However, all these projects are firmly built in the military and political reality that is unfolding around the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation. As of today, the Ukrainian army continues offensive operations on the southern front in the direction of Melitopol and Berdyansk, while holding the defense near Kupyansk, where the Russian Armed Forces are trying to advance to the Oskol River. Apparently, the Russians want to regain control over one of the key railway hubs and create an operational and tactical threat to the Ukrainian Forces located in Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. The Ukrainian counteroffensive is progressing not as fast as Kyiv planned or allies expected. The Ukrainian Armed Forces are suffering heavy casualties and losing Western equipment. No longer expecting great results from the summer military campaign, the Western media is slowly preparing the public for a “spring counteroffensive”, when Ukraine will receive more weapons and the army will be replenished with new formations trained in NATO countries. But even before then, doubts may grow among Western partners about further financial support for Ukraine, if Ukrainian military operations fail on the front. There is a risk that the protracted nature of the war will change opinions in the West towards a more pronounced dissatisfaction with the high amounts of aid to Kyiv. For instance, it is still uncertain whether the Republican Party-controlled House of Representatives will agree to approve the additional $23 billion aid package requested from Congress by US President Joe Biden. In addition, statements that Ukraine will have to make territorial concessions for the sake of EU and NATO membership have become more frequent. It may be a sign of a growing fatigue within the political elites of allied countries, as well as a reluctance to boost spending on the conflict in Ukraine. We cannot rule out that on the eve of difficult elections in the United States, the United Kingdom and other European countries, Western capitals will try to change the layout of hostilities in order to turn the tide of war of attrition imposed by Moscow. Kyiv understands that in the autumn-winter off-season, when the fighting pace slows down, another window for international diplomacy will open and the parties will be pushed towards negotiations. It may explain some softening of Ukraine’s position, which, through the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, says that the order of points in Volodymyr Zelensky’s “peace formula” can be changed. It can mean that, in contrast to the previous strong position, at this stage the leadership of the neighboring country is theoretically ready to start negotiations without liberating all occupied regions. Thus, the military, political and international situation that has emerged by the end of August may become a factor for greater pressure on Kyiv from the foreign community to resume negotiations with Moscow. At the same time, international actors are at least considering as possible the option of temporary giving up part of Ukraine’s territories, and the recent statement by Stian Jenssen, Director of the Private Office of the NATO Secretary General. Most likely, Western institutions are actively looking for a form of ending the conflict and, not without the authorization from their superiors, are throwing in various ideas to probe the reactions in Kyiv and Moscow. This desire of the allies to find a ceasefire option is mainly dictated by the accumulated problems in global economy, as well as disbelief that Ukraine will be able to completely push Russian troops beyond its borders. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated that Ukraine is facing a difficult diplomatic autumn and a large number of tough international summits as the global community is increasingly inclined towards the need of negotiating an end to the conflict. Meanwhile, failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive highlighted the issue of the potential of the opposing sides and may have strengthened the Kremlin’s conviction that the war should continue for some time. It is therefore a big question whether Moscow is ready to take into account the opinion of the international community and agree to suspend the conflict. There are a variety of opinions in Moscow, including one that any suspension of hostilities with the fixing of the current front line is just a pause, after which a new escalation will inevitably follow. So, the Kremlin can expect to resolve the conflict only within the framework of a new European security structure, with a clear consolidation of Russia’s place and status in the global military and political landscape. For our government, the example of the situation in Ukraine can serve as an illustration of how international diplomacy can work and how it can “persuade” even the most obstinate. Of course, a long freezing would be more favorable for Chisinau so as to keep Russia behind the front line. In the meantime, Moldova could concentrate on European and other integration into Western institutions, occasionally visiting Kyiv to participate in the Crimea (or Zaporizhzhia, or Kherson) Platforms. But alas, the reality may turn out differently, and Moldova may also be pushed by the international community to settle relations with Moscow.