Ukraine Recap: is peace possible?

The Conversation’s weekly round-up of some of the best articles about the war in Ukraine.

Mar 31, 2022 - 16:54
Ukraine Recap: is peace possible?

It’s fair to say that things are not going well for Vladimir Putin and his war on Ukraine. Heavy losses of men and equipment and supply chain problems have forced an apparent change of plan. Instead of taking Kyiv and effectively ending resistance, Russia’s deputy defence minister, Alexander Fomin, said this week that the military would “drastically reduce” its operations around Ukraine’s capital and the north of the country and refocus on the Donbas region near the Russian border in the east.

This was, Fomin said, always the main aim of the “special military operation”, a declaration which was greeted with a large and understandable degree of scepticism. Meanwhile, Putin is said to be an increasingly isolated figure in the Kremlin.

When the Russian president was a mere deputy mayor in Saint Petersburg in the mid-1990s, a fellow councillor – a psychologist – was interested enough to draw up a psychological profile of the former KGB officer and concluded Putin was an inveterate risk-taker. Historian Paul Maddrell has traced Putin’s career since taking office and finds this assessment to be borne out in just about every move he has made. But maybe the invasion of Ukraine is one gamble too far for the Russian leader?

Read more: Vladimir Putin: risk-taker who is gambling his country's future

We’ve seen plenty of comparisons drawn between Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine and Hitler’s decision to invade Russia in 1941, which was, of course, the Nazi dictator’s undoing. Indeed, Putin as Hitler is a meme that has been doing the rounds a lot in recent weeks. David Mitchell, an expert in conflict resolution, believes that these analogies are ubiquitous and have often played a part in politics. They can even be useful in finding a peaceful solution, he believes.

Read more: 'Putin is Hitler': why we use analogies to talk about the Ukraine war, and how they can lead to peace

Talking about a resolution

Meanwhile, the two sides met this week in Istanbul for face-to-face negotiations, aiming – at the very least – to plot a path to a ceasefire. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is hosting the meetings and urged the two sides to work hard at coming to terms: “The world is waiting for good news, and good news from you,” he said.

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Turkey is ideally placed to host these talks. It has recent history with both Russia and the west and is an increasingly important regional player in its own right. Massimo D'Angelo, from Loughborough University’s Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance, believes that if Turkey can broker some sort of deal, it will enhance the country’s standing significantly on the international stage.

Read more: Ukraine war: Turkey's unique role in peace negotiations

Of course, to make any progress at all will involve a high degree of trust between the two sides. Psychologist Ken Rotenberg has examined the issue of trust during and following conflict and writes that the degree of bad faith between the two countries is such that is doesn’t augur well for an easy progression to a deal. What’s worse, he believes, the violence which Ukraine’s children are being forced to witness will stay with them as adults and could colour the relationship between the countries for a generation or more.

Read more: Ukraine: a peace deal will require mutual trust, which is very hard to imagine

But a clearer picture of what the two sides consider to be their starting point for talks is gradually emerging. Stefan Wolff, who has been following politics and security in the region for many years, has looked in some detail at the key points under discussion. Wolff fears that the two positions remain too far apart to allow much compromise and that, with the Russians calling up another 150,000 troops, this might be one way of biding time until it can negotiate from a position of greater strength.

Read more: Ukraine peace negotiations: how far are the two sides from a settlement that could stick?

A ‘bleeding ulcer’

Another international comparison doing the rounds this week is that of the Korean Peninsula. Given Russia’s purported pivot to the east to secure its gains in the Donbas region, there’s a school of thought that Ukraine could be divided a little like North and South Korea, with an uneasy, armed coexistence between the two.

Military strategist Frank Ledwidge believes this to be unlikely. Any attempt on Russia’s part to hold territory it has taken since the invasion at the end of February would be met with relentless guerilla war. And the Ukrainians are well armed and trained for this kind of conflict by the west. It would, he predicts, become like Napoleon’s war on the Spanish Peninsula in the early 19th century, a “bleeding ulcer” for Putin and Russia.

Read more: Ukraine will not be like Korea – dogged resistance will turn it into Putin's 'bleeding ulcer'

More worryingly, some of Putin’s senior advisers, including the former president and prime minister, Dmitriy Medvedev, have raised the grim spectre of Russia’s nuclear deterrent. There has been much speculation that the worse things go for Putin, the more likely he might be to use nuclear weaponry. Interestingly, Russia reviewed its policy on the use of its deterrent in 2020.

Christoph Bluth, whose research has a strong focus on nuclear diplomacy, writes that the key issue of “escalating to de-escalate” – using a limited nuclear response to turn the tide against a Russian defeat – remains a serious concern for the world.

Read more: Ukraine: Russia's 2020 policy allows for 'defensive' use of nuclear weapons

Away from the battlefield

There are few positives to take from this worrying and depressing episode in international affairs. One – if indeed you want to see it as such – is the way corporations have put their money where their consciences are and decided to stop doing business with, and in, Russia. Some of the biggest global brands have decided that the taint of continuing to support the Russian economy would be bad for them in the long term and that falling in with the west’s sanctions regime is the only thing they can do to help bring the violence to an end. Such a display of corporate responsibility is a welcome sight, writes Steve Kempster, an expert in business leadership.

Read more: Corporate sanctions against Russia indicate a new level of social responsibility

The war has also hastened the process whereby Ukraine and Moldova have synchronised their electricity grid with that of continental Europe in a move which business analysts Robert Cluley and Hafez Abdo believe is “a strategic political alignment not far from the level of joining the EU”.

Read more: Ukraine has made a major move towards integrating with Europe – by plugging into its electricity grid

On the downside, there will be hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions, who will experience significant trauma due to losing loved ones, being under fire, or being forced to flee and seek refuge elsewhere. Clinical psychologist Jennifer Wild discusses what we know about post-traumatic stress disorder and how the victims of this terrible conflict might find help.

Read more: Ukraine: PTSD may be a huge problem after the war – but thankfully science can help

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Chidi Igwe I was born in Nigeria and trained in Canada. With a Master of Arts in linguistics from the University of Regina, and PhD from Dalhousie University, I am currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Regina. I have taught French language and linguistics in various institutions, including the French Language Centre, Awka and Dalhousie University, Halifax. I am the author of Taking Back Nigeria from 419, published in 2007, and many scholarly articles in reputable academic journals. I am a passionate servant of the people.