Contributed by Joe Montero
As people who know anything about what is really going on in Ukraine have predicted, western backed President Volodymyr Zelensky find himself in the situation where he has little alternative but to find a way out of an exceedingly position.
Contrary to the media hype about winning on the battlefield, the reality is the opposite. Instead of the insistence that there has been a halt to a Russian intention to take the whole of Ukraine, the strategy is based on a ring of protection around the self-declared independent regions Luhansk and Donetsk, a buffer along its border the border and Belarus in the north, plus the other Russian speaking majority in the south. This is clear in the map below.
Map form Aljazeera of the situation on 12 March 2022
The secondary aspect of the Russians has been to soften the other side up just enough to be them to the negotiating table.
It is impossible to deny that both objectives, the protection of the Russian speaking regions and getting Kyiv to the negotiation have been broadly successful. Whatever the official narrative in the west. These are the basic facts on the ground.
Zelensky has had to deal with reality. The balance of forces is that his side is not winning, and his and his backers wish for overwhelming and direct western military involvement has not materialised. These are the circumstances that have forced Zelensky into making concessions.
“Ukraine is prepared to discuss adopting a neutral status as part of a peace deal with Russia, but it would have to be guaranteed by third parties and put to a referendum,” Zelensky said on Sunday.
Volodymyr Zelensky finds himself in a difficult position
There has been a lot of fiction about the of Mariupol. There has been a fierce battle for control of the city. The west has censored two important points. This has a predominantly ethnic Russian population and is within the Donbas region. Refugees escaping the fighting went to Russia willingly. Refugees were not force marched into Russia, as some media reports have accused. Being ethnic Russians, they would have fared far worse in the east.
The battle for Mariupol involved tens of thousands of the pro-Nazi Azov Battalion, fortified in the centre of the city and determined stand to hold on. They lost.
The loss of Mariupol and movement towards Odessa, another ethnic Russian majority city and region, in the south, are major blows for Kyiv.
Zelensky has already conceded that Ukraine will not be part of NATO. He has not yet agreed to the independence of those regions where the population have voted for it. The problem he has is that this has already become the practical reality. Recognising this, Zelensky is now talking about some form of autonomy, while remaining within Ukraine. He is playing for his backers, and there is still a good chance of a further shift, if the peace talks continue without outside interference.
The real sticking point is a refusal to concede to de-Nazification. Zelensky relies on the political support of the Azov aligned political party Svoboda and other like-minded forces to maintain his presidency. Azov, now substantially integrated into the National Guard and armed forces is the spear head of Kyiv in the battlefield. He has little authority except through them.
Zelensky also faces disgruntlement from his own side over the failure of a western full-scale invasion to materialise. The voice of those who feel abandoned is getting louder, and this must affect morale.
Whatever the circumstances that have put the peace talks at the centre of Ukraine’s crisis, this is the most positive development of the last month. If enough had listened to Russia’s call for a move on the same three points years ago, the use of guns could have been avoided. As it is, there is a return to the three calls, and their acceptance can lead to silencing the guns.
Kyiv is insisting that future negotiation to be brokered by third parties acceptable to Kyiv and Russia. There is nothing wrong with this. Kyiv is calling for recognition and sovereignty of its territory. There is nothing wrong with this either. The only stipulation necessary to get agreement on this, is to respect the wishes of the regions that don’t want to be part of Ukraine.
The main danger is the United States backed by its allies does not favour the success of these talks, continually downgrade their importance, and continue to send arms into the battlefield, including into the hands of AZOV.
Australia’s Morrison government goes along with this and seeks to find ways to get more involved.
International pressure to allow and support the peace talks is the most important need today.