Russia has shown itself willing to negotiate in recent weeks, but refuses to give up occupied territories. Talks with Putin are not an option for Ukraine. In the West, there is disagreement about negotiation strategies.

In the Ukraine war, the demand for negotiations is quite toxic – not only for the warring parties, but also for other states. The Ukrainian leadership has ruled out negotiations with Putin by decree. The content is understandable, but not a skilful position, because it gave the hesitant Western states the impression that Ukraine would close itself off from negotiations – because Putin’s departure from power is not to be expected in the foreseeable future.

In addition, Ukraine is demanding the withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukrainian territory before the start of negotiations. But what should then be negotiated other than the terms of Russia’s surrender and the demand for Russian war reparations?

Gerhard Mangott is a professor of political science with a special focus on international relations and security in the post-Soviet space. He teaches at the Institute for Political Science in Innsbruck and is a lecturer at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna

The Russian leadership, including Putin himself, have repeatedly stated in recent weeks that they are ready to negotiate with Ukraine. At the same time, however, it is emphasized that Russia will not give up any occupied territory, especially since it has annexed the conquered territories. What should then be negotiated at all? The Russian dictated peace to be imposed on Ukraine?

It should also be noted that Russia’s repeated rhetorical offers of negotiations are probably also intended to suggest to Westerners that the country is ready for negotiations, but that Ukraine does not want to.

It is probably correct to say that both warring parties are currently not prepared to conduct serious negotiations that are worthy of the name. Both still expect successes on the battlefield, with which their own position should be strengthened in later negotiations. This applies in particular, but not only, to the Ukrainian side, which has made considerable gains in territory over the past two months and pushed back the Russian troops.

A war can only be ended in two ways: Either one of the warring parties asserts itself militarily and imposes the surrender conditions on the other side. Or both sides fight until they are militarily exhausted and believe they have no more prospects on the battlefield. In Ukraine, we are still a long way from either scenario.

Many Western politicians say, at least publicly, that it is up to Ukraine to decide if and when to start negotiations on what. That is initially correct, because Ukraine must be granted freedom of action. But on closer inspection, this position is not very convincing.

Those states that are supplying military aid to Ukraine should also know what war goals the Ukrainian leadership is pursuing and then decide whether they want to help achieve them with the help of further arms supplies.

Western states also inform Ukraine privately about the war aims they support. But the West is anything but united. There are the Eastern European states and Britain, which share Ukraine’s maximalist goal – to drive Russian troops out of Ukraine completely – including Crimea. Others, especially some Western European countries, have reservations. Some of them fear that the pursuit of maximalist war aims could lead to a military escalation; maybe even a nuclear escalation. They are therefore pushing for less far-reaching war aims.

But what are less far-reaching Ukrainian war aims? Renunciation of own territory occupied by Russia before and after February 24? A return to the status quo ante, i.e. Russian troops retreating to the front lines before the war began? There is a heated argument about this in the background. Moral, political and legal considerations and concerns play a major role here.

It will stay that way for the foreseeable future: neither Ukraine nor Russia want to negotiate. Plus: The West is not unanimously convinced which negotiating concessions should be demanded from which warring party.

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