Putin And Zelensky, So Close — And Farther Away Than Ever From Negotiations
The Ukrainian and Russian presidents made separate visits to the frontline recently, in closer physical proximity than anytime since the war began. It was a sign that we should not expect negotiations anytime soon.
Volodymyr Zelensky and Vladimir Putin have probably not been literally as close to each other since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine. The two presidents made public Tuesday their respective visits to the war's front line.
While it was not a first for Zelensky, it was for Putin. And the event was staged enough to stand out. What is the message of Putin's visit, both in terms of the military situation and recent mentions of negotiations?
The two sides do not have the same agenda. The Ukrainian president is preparing his spring counteroffensive, announced well in advance to push for Western arms deliveries. Tanks have arrived, along with ex-Soviet planes delivered by Eastern European countries.
Leaks from Pentagon documents in recent days also revealed an attack date, April 30, which is probably unlikely after the leak, and expressed doubts about the ability of Ukraine to break through the heavily consolidated Russian defenses along the more than 1,000 kilometers of the front.
Nothing more than more war
As for Putin, his message is much more complex: by visiting the Kherson region in the south and then Luhansk in the north to meet with his military leaders, the Russian president is indicating that he does not intend to give up the annexed regions from last year, even if he does not fully control them.
This prerequisite is important because it is consistent with Moscow's attitude towards possible negotiations. Ready to negotiate, yes, but on the basis of effective territorial gains, which are non-negotiable.
Two days before Putin's visit, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner militia, which is known to have led most of the battles and suffered heavy losses in the Battle of Bakhmut, made a notable statement: he declared that it was "necessary to end the special military operation" and to proclaim that Russia had achieved its objectives. Prigozhin’s rhetoric suggests that Moscow could be satisfied with the conquered territories and could stop there.
That makes Kyiv look like an obstacle to peace.
Does this allow for negotiation? The answer is no. This is unacceptable for Ukraine, which does not intend to sacrifice an ounce of territory after all it has suffered for over a year now.
Game of fools
But this is the ambiguity of the evocations of negotiation and mediation issued in recent days by China, joined by Brazilian President Lula. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, was present in Brazil yesterday, where he praised diplomatic efforts.
The ambiguity lies in presenting a mediation offer at a time when Russia still controls the conquered territories, making Kyiv look like an obstacle to peace because it will not negotiate until it has tried to reverse the balance of power. In the eyes of southern countries, Ukraine will be the war instigator, with the West behind it.
The conclusion of this game of fools is that the war is not likely to end anytime soon, and those who speak of negotiations do not really have the elements that would make them possible. Zelensky and Putin on either side of the front line are probably announcing nothing more than more war to come in the coming weeks.
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