The Financial Times wrote,
citing a Ukrainian official, that “Russia was shifting its position almost day by day” on the crucial issue of Ukraine’s demilitarization. According to some reports
, Russia demanded that Ukraine maintain no more than 50,000 troops, which would be synonymous with capitulation: stripped of military power, Ukraine would be defenseless against Russia in the future.Attempted agreement and the demise of Dmitri Kozak
At best, Putin intended to use the Istanbul talks to lure Kyiv into yet another variation of the Minsk agreements. As Reuters
reported later, days after the start of the war Putin rejected a deal ensuring Ukraine’s neutral status that his aide Dmitry Kozak had struck with Kyiv, as it did not reflect Putin’s appetite for annexing Ukrainian territories. Putin subsequently removed Kozak
from the Ukrainian policy team.The agreement
that was drafted in Moscow and handed to Ukraine in mid-April 2022, two weeks after the Istanbul talks, demanded not only “demilitarization and denazification,” but also “acknowledgement of the reality on the ground, including Russian jurisdiction of Crimea and independence of the Donbas republics.” To this day, these demands remain Russia’s only approach to negotiations with Ukraine.
Putin is not interested in bringing the war to an end also for domestic reasons, as that would shift public attention to the enormous cost that Russia has paid for the invasion, and, more importantly, because the war with Ukraine – as much as the struggle against the West – has long defined his rule and appears to be its primary purpose, as he sees it.
With the military balance at this stage of the war now tipping to his side, Putin will hardly compromise on his goal. He has no reason to negotiate. On the contrary, it is increasingly likely that after his reelection in March 2024 Putin will double down on his military efforts and try to conquer more Ukrainian territory.
As the two decades of his rule have shown, in foreign policy Putin is unwilling to stick to the status quo. As a shark will drown if it stops moving forward, Putin considers quiescence an existential threat. He simply cannot stop. In this regard, his ambitions go beyond Ukraine, and the argument that the Ukrainians are fighting not only for themselves but also “for Europe”
no longer sounds like an exaggeration.