For some reason, everyone is talking about peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine – opinion

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Two news items that caused a great deal of concerned discussion. On May 26, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Chinese special envoy for peace talks with Russia and Ukraine allegedly insisted on talks with European diplomats where "Russia should keep only those parts of its 'small neighbor,' which it currently occupies." The next day, in an interview with TASS, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Mikhail Galuzin formulated Russian peace conditions that sounded more like an ultimatum. Both news items are related not only to the topic of peace talks more broadly, but also to the "peace tour" of Chinese special envoy Li Hui. He was meeting with Russian FM Lavrov the day of the Galuzin’s statement, so the ultimatum was most likely a direct result of that meeting.

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This statement was propaganda, but explicitly made in the context of the negotiating process. From this point of view, it can be perceived as a change in Russia’s stated war goals. I remind you what demands (specifically demands, not proposals) were made by the Russian Deputy Minister: "To achieve a comprehensive, fair and strong peace, Ukraine must return to a neutral non-block status, fixed in the Declaration of its state sovereignty of 1990, give up joining NATO and the EU. New territorial realities that have arisen as a result of the realization of the peoples' right to self-determination should be recognized" (in this case, it is clearly a matter of Ukraine recognizing the Russian annexation of the occupied Ukrainian territories - V.F.). The Deputy Head of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also spoke about the "de-Nazification and demilitarization" of Ukraine and noted that "settlement is possible only on the condition of the cessation of hostilities by the Armed Forces of Ukraine."

Russia no longer dreams of taking Kyiv

Nothing is new. We've heard it all before last year. But now,  It's only trying to hold onto what it "grabbed" in 2014 and last year. As for denazification and demilitarization, the failure of these tasks was even recognized by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Russian PMC Wagner, which is fighting against Ukraine as part of the Russian war effort. So now Russians have other priorities. However, the Kremlin still wants to bargain, forgetting that it's not the end of February 2022, but May 2023. Instead, they should think about restraining the Ukrainian offensive and protecting their border regions from anti-Putin partisans.

Ukrainian officials immediately responded to the demands of the Russian MFA. The head of the presidential office, Andriy Yermak, noted that no negotiations with the Russians are possible today. Yermak's advisor, Mykhailo Podolyak, presented Ukraine's counter-conditions to the Russians, requiring Russia to:

• Withdraw its troops from the sovereign territory of Ukraine;

• Acknowledge that the USSR has collapsed and post-Soviet countries have full sovereignty;

• Hand over war criminals and perpetrators;

• Establish a demilitarized zone on their territory;

• Reduce offensive weapons;

• Agree to hold an International Conference on organizing control over Russia's nuclear arsenal;

• Agree to the legal fixation of the program of reparations payments from Russia;

• Surrender arrested Russian assets in other countries to Ukraine.

You could say that they exchanged "courtesies." But the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory, punishment of Russian military criminals, and compensation by Russia for all losses caused to Ukraine by Russian aggression are our official demands are all fixed in President Zelensky's "peace formula." All serious experts mention the demilitarization of border areas as one of the conditions for a peaceful agreement. These conditions for peace will inevitably have to be considered at future peace talks. The Ukrainian position was conveyed to the Chinese special representative when he visited Kyiv. This may have caused the Russian Foreign Ministry's reaction. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba denied The Wall Street Journal's information about the position of the Chinese special representative. According to him, he contacted European partners and has yet to receive confirmation of this information. The minister added that Ukraine will continue to dialogue with China while observing three basic principles: "First - exclusive mutual respect for territorial integrity. Second - we will not consider any initiatives that involve any legal or factual territorial concessions of Ukraine. And third - no freezing of the conflict."

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So, how can we explain the article in The Wall Street Journal? The most likely explanation is that, during the meetings of the Chinese special representative with European colleagues, they probably discussed various options for a peaceful resolution of the current war between Russia and Ukraine, including the scenario of "freezing the conflict." The Chinese special representative was not so much insisting on this position as he was asking his European colleagues about their attitude towards this idea. There is also a conspiratorial explanation here that, supposedly, both Americans and some European diplomats wanted to discredit the intermediary mission of the Chinese special representative in this way. But pay attention to what is considered “discreditable” - Russia's continued occupation of part of Ukrainian territory. This is precisely what is unacceptable. This has also been noted in Russia, judging by some publications in their telegram channels.

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The main consequences of the discussion surrounding the Wall Street Journal article are Ukraine's negative assessment of it and the categorical non-acceptance by Ukraine and our European partners of ​​allowing Russia's occupation to continue through a peace treaty. And one more critical conclusion - at the moment, there are no real peaceful negotiations to end the war between Russia and Ukraine. There is only an information and political stir surrounding this topic. This is caused by the Chinese special envoy’s shuttle diplomacy. But, China is only beginning to probe the political options around as complex a problem as a peaceful settlement of the war between Russia and Ukraine. Actual peace negotiations will start only when the results of the next counteroffensive are made clear.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine