Russian advances in the war in Ukraine

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By CAIO BUGIATO*

If the dynamics of the battlefield will set the tone for negotiations involving the end of the war, Vladimir Putin's government has a wide advantage

1.

The year 2024 has not brought good news for the Ukrainian armed forces, for Volodymyr Zelensky's government and for the West and NATO. According to Institute for the Study of War that year the Russians advanced around 800 km2 in the northeast and south of Ukraine. In the northeast, the Russian armed forces are advancing to completely take over the Donbass region and conquer the integrity of the separatist provinces Donetsk and Luhansk.

In addition to Donbass, another Russian target in the region is the city of Kharkiv, the country's second largest and an industrial and energy center. Taking the city would represent not only territorial loss, but also a decrease in Ukraine's industrial potential. To the south, the Russian objective is to take the integrity of the province of Zaporizhzhia, especially its capital with the same name. Zaporizhzhia is home to Europe's largest nuclear power plant. Russian generals are already talking about the conclusion of the first stage of the war: the liberation of Donbass and, we add, the conquest of a territorial strip – from the northeast to the south – that connects this region to Crimea, annexed in 2014.

On the side of the Ukrainian forces, there are large casualties of soldiers in the fighting, the government has adopted a stricter recruitment process and Western aid of 61 billion dollars from the USA, 50 billion dollars from the European Union and other European initiatives have not yet materialized. . President Volodymyr Zelensky even canceled his trips abroad, given the battles to contain Moscow's incursion, which reveals the moment of defensiveness. Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, on a two-day visit to Kiev, reiterated his government's support and announced an additional aid package worth 2 billion dollars.

2.

If the dynamics of the battlefield will set the tone for the negotiations involving the end of the war, the government of Vladimir Putin, re-elected in March 2024, has a wide advantage. Moscow had already spoken in this sense, at the beginning of the war, when demanding neutrality, denazification, denuclearization and demilitarization.

This means, first, that Ukraine adopts a geopolitically neutral status and does not join NATO; second, ban neo-Nazi groups, partly incorporated into the army, that harass the population of Donbass; third, abandon any nuclear weapons program; and fourth; Limit the size of your military. In 2023, Vladimir Putin declared his frustration with the West's sabotage in the rounds of peace negotiations that took place in Istanbul, Turkey. And he also warned that if Westerners really want an end to the conflict through negotiations, they need to stop supplying weapons to Ukraine.

Regarding territorial issues, if previously the Kremlin demanded the granting of a special status to the Donbass region, it now announces that negotiations must recognize the current battlefield lines, resulting from the new correlation of forces. The appointment of an economist as Russia's defense minister, Andrei Belousov, on May 13 could be a sign that Vladimir Putin's government is willing to engage in prolonged conflict.

Volodymyr Zelensky's government maintains as a basis for negotiations what it calls 10 points for peace, which can be summarized as follows. Russia must withdraw from the territory of the Zaporizhzhia NPP and it must be transferred to International Atomic Energy Agency and for the Ukrainians. Russia must restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea. Russia must withdraw all its troops and armed formations from Ukrainian territory and Ukrainian control over all borders with Russia must be restored.

It is necessary to organize an international conference to establish security conditions for Ukraine, with a view to forming a Kiev Security Pact (this document already exists and generally requests Western economic, political, military and diplomatic resources to strengthen Ukraine's defensive capacity). Kiev). A document confirming the end of the war must be signed by the parties. These are the Ukrainian conditions that should become the basis of reference for a peace conference organized by the Swiss government, which will take place in mid-June in the central region of the European country.

The Swiss intend to build “a common understanding among participating countries with the aim of achieving a comprehensive, fair and lasting peace in Ukraine”. And to this end, they held talks with countries from the G7 and the Global South, such as China, India, South Africa, Brazil, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia. Less with Russia. Moscow then classified the conference as useless and doomed to failure if it did not take Russian interests into account; and criticized the proposal as a Western scheme to seek international support from the Global South for Ukraine. The Kremlin also signaled again that it can enter into negotiations, but that these must respect Russian security interests and reflect new realities. That is, Europeans are not yet willing to understand the dynamics of the battlefield.

3.

If the Russians and Ukrainians come to the table, the resolution to war is seen as the arrangement that divided the Koreas in 1973. An armistice with a demilitarized zone that technically does not end the war, but establishes a (decades-long) truce through which the two sides continue to be in tension, with approaches and distances. However, a resolution seems to be heading in the direction of the Golan Heights. The territories taken are not returned, an armistice agreement establishes a territorial ceasefire line and international recognition of the new situation is suspended, so that the new borders are guaranteed by force.

China and Brazil take another position, somewhat in response to the Swiss conference. Beijing had already presented its own 12-point document, which set out general principles for ending the war but did not go into detail. At the time, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov considered the Chinese plan the most reasonable to date. It is worth noting that recently, in May 2024, Sergei Lavrov met with Xi Jinping in Beijing, as a sign of reciprocal support and shared opposition to the Western capitalist powers and NATO, which are carrying out the war in Ukraine.

Brazil, which had already offered to mediate and form a peace negotiation group, signed a pact with China for a political resolution of the conflict. Signed by the special advisor to the presidency of the republic, Celso Amorim, and the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, it brings together 6 points, which we reproduce in full:

1. The two sides call on all relevant actors to observe three principles for de-escalating the situation, namely: no expansion of the battlefield, no escalation of fighting and no inflammation of the situation by any party.

2. Both sides believe that dialogue and negotiation are the only viable solution to the crisis in Ukraine. All relevant actors must create conditions for the resumption of direct dialogue and promote de-escalation of the situation until a comprehensive ceasefire is reached. Brazil and China support an international peace conference held at an appropriate time, which is recognized by both Russia and Ukraine, with equal participation from all relevant parties, in addition to a fair discussion of all peace plans.

3. Efforts are needed to increase humanitarian assistance in relevant areas and prevent a larger-scale humanitarian crisis. Attacks on civilians or civilian installations must be avoided, and the civilian population, including women, children and prisoners of war, must be protected. Both parties support the exchange of prisoners of war between countries involved in the conflict.

4. The use of weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, must be rejected. All possible efforts must be made to prevent nuclear proliferation and avoid a nuclear crisis.

5. Attacks against nuclear power plants or other peaceful nuclear facilities must be rejected. All parties must comply with international law, including the Nuclear Safety Convention, and decisively prevent man-made nuclear accidents.

6. The division of the world into isolated political or economic groups should be avoided. The two sides call for new efforts to strengthen international cooperation in energy, currency, finance, trade, food security and critical infrastructure security, including oil and gas pipelines, submarine optical cables, electrical and power installations, as well as fiber optic networks, in order to protect the stability of global industrial and supply chains.

China and Brazil are not going to the European conference, considering Russian participation essential for peace negotiations. As seen, the Chinese and Brazilians support the convening of an international meeting that is recognized by Russia and Ukraine, in which all parties can participate equally and discuss all peace solutions. This attitude was criticized by Volodymyr Zelensky's government, which accused China and Brazil of being on the aggressor's side.

Volodymyr Zelensky only has the ability to photograph the conflict, which for him began in 2022. He is unable to see, or does not want to, that the film called by some the New Cold War is more complex and long-lasting, shows Western imperialism and reveals a possible transition of world order.

* Caio Bugiato is a professor of Political Science and International Relations at UFRRJ and in the Postgraduate Program in International Relations at UFABC.


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