Kiev Should Agree To The Ceasefire That President Xi Is Trying To Broker With Russia

Kiev Should Agree To The Ceasefire That President Xi Is Trying To Broker With Russia

By Andrew Korybko

So concerned is the US that Kiev might agree to the ceasefire that President Xi is trying to broker with Russia during next week’s trip that National Security Council spokesman Kirby reacted in panic by warning that this “would basically ratify Russia’s conquest.” There are credible reasons why Zelensky might defy his patron by tacitly recognizing the current ground realities despite its pressure not to, beginning with the debacle that the Battle for Artyomovsk/“Bakhmut” has turned out to be.

Can Diplomatic Lightning Strike Twice?

President Xi’s upcoming trip to Moscow from 20-22 March is explicitly predicated on brokering a ceasefire between Kiev and Russia as confirmed by Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang. CNN quoted him as saying that “China’s proposition boils down to one sentence, which is to urge peace and promote talks”, which comes shortly after Beijing brokered the game-changing IranianSaudi rapprochement. Hopes are thus high that China can replicate this success with Russia and Ukraine next week.

“Little Fissures” In US-Ukrainian Ties

So concerned is the US that Kiev might agree to the ceasefire that President Xi is trying to broker with Russia during next week’s trip that National Security Council spokesman Kirby reacted in panic by warning that this “would basically ratify Russia’s conquest.” There are credible reasons why Zelensky might defy his patron by tacitly recognizing the current ground realities despite its pressure not to, beginning with the debacle that the Battle for Artyomovsk/“Bakhmut” has turned out to be.

The Washington Post Finally Told The Full Truth About How Poorly Kiev’s Forces Are Faring”, which followed Politico warning that the aforementioned battle was one of the “little fissures” growing in their ties and preceded the New York Times predicting that it might have put Kiev’s counteroffensive at risk. Zelensky already defied the US’ reported advice from two months ago to abandon Artyomovsk/“Bakhmut” back then so there’s a precedent for him defying it on a ceasefire soon too.

The Clock Is Ticking For Kiev To Decide

He of course wishes that his side could conquer the entirety of Ukraine’s pre-2014 territory, but that’s impossible to do in full due to how deeply embedded Russian forces are in Crimea and increasingly difficult even in part due to how badly the Battle for Artyomovsk/”Bakhmut” is going. In the event of a forthcoming Russian breakthrough across the front lines, which could follow its forces’ capture of that aforesaid city, Zelensky already warned that Russia might then roll through the rest of Donbass.

With a view towards averting any further losses – and possibly giving his side time “to rebuild their forces, refit them, reman them, retain them so that they can then restart attacks at a time of their choosing” exactly as Kirby claimed Russia would do – Zelensky might thus agree to a ceasefire. It’s true that any lull in fighting regardless of the reason behind it, whether Kiev is sincere about restarting peace talks afterwards or is only temporarily buying time to rearm, would tacitly recognize Russia’s gains.

Nevertheless, it’s in Ukraine’s objective national interests at this pivotal point in the special operation to preemptively avert the worst-case scenario that Zelensky warned about during his latest exclusive CNN interview related to Russia rolling through the rest of Donbass after capturing Artyomovsk/“Bakhmut”. If Kiev’s counteroffensive is already kaput due to him wasting its capabilities on holding that city, then it’s best to accept its losses and possibly buy time instead of risk worsening them in the immediate future.

Russia’s Reasonable Reluctance For A Ceasefire

It takes two to tango, however, and Kremlin spokesman Peskov claimed as recently as this week that “We must achieve our goals. Now this is possible only by military means, as long as the Kiev authorities’ stance remains unchanged.” This signals on the surface that Russia isn’t ready for a ceasefire since it’s confident that it can break through Artyomovsk/“Bakhmut” in the coming future and then have a serious chance at soon thereafter rolling through the rest of Donbass exactly as Zelensky warned.

Moscow also felt like its previous so-called “goodwill gestures” around the north of the Ukrainian capital last spring as a quid pro quo for taking the ultimately failed peace talks at the time to their final stage and the one around Snake Island last summer prior to the grain deal were exploited by Kiev. As such, there isn’t much interest anymore in once again gambling that yet another “goodwill gesture” might finally be all that’s needed to politically resolve the conflict or at least some of its root causes.

Mutual Compromises On The Path To Peace

Just like Kiev would be tacitly recognizing Russia’s gains on the ground by agreeing to a ceasefire at this point in time, so too would Moscow be tacitly recognizing Kiev’s continued control over the rest of Russia’s four newly reunited regions behind the Line of Control (LOC). The first outcome contradicts Kiev’s maximalist objective of reconquering all of Ukraine’s pre-2014 territory, while the second contradicts Moscow’s minimum objective of asserting its writ over the entirety of its new regions.

The only conceivable way that the Kremlin would even hint at walking back that already minimum on-the-ground political objective after already publishing maps showing the full administrative borders of its four newly reunited regions as part of Russia is if Kiev did much more than just agree to a ceasefire. Zelensky would likely have to pull back his forces a certain distance from the LOC together with at least curtailing his imports of NATO-provided equipment for Russia to seriously consider this scenario.

Sensitive Optics Require Serious Intent

What the last two paragraphs prove is that Kiev and Moscow would thus both be making major political compromises in their own way if they agreed to a Chinese-brokered ceasefire, though doing so together with other mutual confidence-building measures could possibly revive the peace process. After all, neither side would tacitly contradict their political objectives (maximum in Kiev’s case and minimum in Moscow’s) just for the sake of buying time and thus raising doubts about their commitment.

Those respective objectives are very important for their domestic audiences, and not to mention their troops who are fighting on the front in pursuit of them, so tacitly signaling that a compromise has been made just for the sake of a ceasefire without anything else significant in return could harm their morale. That could in turn make it much more difficult to regain the momentum even if the only intent in agreeing to a Chinese-brokered ceasefire is to buy time to resume the conflict sometime later.

Each Side’s Objective Interests In A Ceasefire

For these reasons, each side should weigh the pros and cons of that scenario very closely, though agreeing to stop the conflict at this point would veritable be in both of their best interests. From Kiev’s side, its forces appear near the brink of collapse according to the Washington Post’s latest report, which extends credence to the New York Times’ spiritual follow-up claiming that this disastrous state of affairs brought about by the Battle for Artyomovsk/“Bakhmut” might have even ruined its counteroffensive.

As for Russia’s interests, any “goodwill gesture” by Zelensky in pulling his forces back a certain distance from the LOC and other military-related moves would of course be appreciated, but its primary interest rests in exacerbating the “little fissures” that Politico warned about in US-Ukrainian ties. If Zelensky expressed interest in defying the US by agreeing to a Chinese-brokered ceasefire, then Russia might agree too even without any military-related “goodwill gestures” from Kiev just for that reason alone.

To elaborate, Ukraine is considered among Western policymakers to be a cause that’s “too big to fail”, and they’ve already gone so far with supporting it that they can’t pull back at this point. What this means in the context of the present analysis is that they’ll still continue to bankroll its reconstruction and post-conflict rearmament even if Zelensky agrees to a ceasefire despite Kirby warning him not to. Kiev doesn’t have to worry about being dumped by the West like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya were.

In fact, it could actually stand to gain even more in the economic-financial sense by agreeing to any Chinese-brokered ceasefire since the People’s Republic could incentivize Kiev by dangling the carrot of significant post-conflict assistance through grants and extremely low-interest loans. Not only that, but Zelensky could lean on China to balance the West in this respect by getting those two to compete for the most optimal reconstruction deals, thus ensuring that Kiev always gets advantageous terms.

“Saving Face” & Securing The Ceasefire

The question of course is whether he could survive the punch in the gut to Ukrainian morale that tacitly recognizing Russia’s gains and thus by default abandoning Kiev’s maximalist objectives could amount to. Zelensky arguably could though due to the de facto dictatorship that he’s imposed since the latest phase of the conflict began over a year ago, especially if he framed any follow-up resumption of peace talks as having saved the rest of Donbass from being rolled over by Russia due to US-advised miscalculations.

Neither Kiev nor Moscow would have to abandon their respective political objectives in the soft power sense either since each could still officially retain their claims, though importantly without doing anything of tangible significance to advance them. While their societies would have mixed reactions upon realizing that this approach signifies that their leaders won’t seriously pursue those claims, it still doesn’t equate to a formal abandonment of them, thus enabling their leaders to “save face”.

China could even sweeten the deal by offering to deploy its own peacekeepers along the LOC per both sides’ approval to ensure that neither feels frisky enough to violate the ceasefire under any circumstances. Russia obviously wouldn’t risk putting Chinese peacekeepers in harm’s way since those two are unofficially in an entente amidst the impending trifurcation of International Relations, while Kiev would cut itself off from billions in aid while also abandoning any chance at semi-sovereignty.

Concluding Thoughts

The precedent established by Zelensky blatantly defying his US patron’s demands to abandon Artyomovsk/“Bakhmut” two months ago and thus wasting Kiev’s capabilities that could otherwise have gone towards its counteroffensive raises hopes that he’ll also blatantly defy them on a ceasefire too. Both sides have reasons related to their objective national interests in freezing the LOC and resuming peace talks as soon as possible, though that of course doesn’t mean that they’ll ultimately do so.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Voice of East.

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Categories: Geopolitics, International Affairs

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