Berlin-based peace advocacy group Detente Now has released a negotiation proposal authored by Professor Dr. Peter Brandt, Professor Dr. Hajo Funke, General (ret.) Harald Kujat and Professor Dr. h. c. Horst Teltschik.
Legitimate self-defence and the quest for a just and lasting peace are not contradictory
Since the beginning of the Russian war of aggression on 24 February 2022, Ukraine has been waging a legitimate defensive war in which its survival as a state, its national independence and security are at stake. This statement is true regardless of the democratic and rule-of-law quality and constitutional reality, also regardless of the much more complicated antecedents and the equally more complicated global political context of the war.
However, the legitimacy of armed self-defence on the basis of Article 51 of the UN Charter does not release the government in Kiev and the states supporting it from the obligation – not least vis-à-vis their own people – to exercise reason, not to give in to the increase in violence and destruction and to politically promote the attainment of a just and lasting peace. Even during the war – and especially during it – the constant efforts to find a diplomatic solution must not diminish.
This applies just as much to those indirectly involved, including the Federal Republic of Germany, which is even particularly obliged by the peace imperative of the Constitution. Moreover, on 2 March 2022, a few days after the start of the Russian attack, the Federal Government agreed to a resolution introduced by Ukraine and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly calling for a “peaceful settlement of the conflict between the Russian Federation and Ukraine through political dialogue, negotiations, mediation and other peaceful means”. On 23 February 2023, another UN resolution called on member states and international organisations to “redouble their support for diplomatic efforts to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine”. This commitment also applies to the Ukrainian government, which continues to reject negotiations with Russia.
Ukraine has so far resisted the Russian war of aggression through the extensive support of the West. However, the decision on what expenditures must be made so that the war continues against all reason and despite the unachievability of the political goals must not be left to the Ukrainian government alone in the long run. The constant intensification of warfare has already led to a large number of fallen soldiers and killed Ukrainian civilians as well as to the extensive destruction of infrastructure. The longer the war lasts, the greater the Ukrainian losses and the destruction of the country will become, and the more difficult it will be to achieve a just and lasting negotiated peace that also provides security for the states that stand with Ukraine. There is already the threat of further escalation through foreseeable offensives by Russian forces, in the battle for Odessa and through the conflict that has broken out again over Ukrainian grain exports.
Since 4 June 2023, Ukrainian forces have been trying to break through the deeply staggered Russian defensive positions and block the land bridge between Russia and Crimea in order to cut off Russian forces from the logistical hub of Crimea. Ukrainian forces are suffering great losses of men and (Western) materiel in the fighting, without achieving any sweeping success so far.
If the offensive fails, it is to be expected that Ukraine will demand that Western soldiers follow Western weapons. Because even the planned Western arms deliveries cannot compensate for the enormous personnel losses of the Ukrainian armed forces. Russia, on the other hand, has not yet deployed the mass of its active combat troops. It can therefore be assumed that after further Ukrainian losses in counterattacks, Russia will move to secure the annexed territories and thus achieve the goal of the “special military operation”.
No one can win this war
It has been clear for some time that neither Russia nor Ukraine can win this war, because neither will achieve the political goals for which they are waging this war. Ukraine cannot defeat Russia militarily, even with Western support in the form of arms and ammunition supplies and the training of Ukrainian soldiers. Even the delivery of “miracle weapons”, which has been demanded by laymen time and again, is not the hoped-for “gamechanger” that could change the strategic situation in Ukraine’s favour. At the same time, however, there is an increasing risk of escalation to the “extreme”, a military conflict between NATO and Russia, with the real danger of a nuclear war limited to the European continent, although the USA and Russia want to avoid it.
This development should not be waited for. Because it would be in Ukraine’s interest above all to seek a ceasefire as soon as possible, which would open the door for peace negotiations. It is equally in the interest of the European states, which support Ukraine unconditionally but without a discernible strategy. Because due to the increasing attrition of the Ukrainian armed forces, the risk is growing that the war in Ukraine will escalate into a European war over Ukraine.
Ukraine is increasing this risk by increasingly launching attacks against Russia’s strategic infrastructure with Western support, such as against the Engels nuclear strategic base near Saratov on 26 December 2022 or the Kerch Bridge. Moreover, the West might feel compelled to prevent a crushing military defeat of Ukraine through its active intervention. There is a growing realisation that this is a real danger.
Is it possible to negotiate with Putin?
So far there is no evidence that the political goal of the “special military operation” is to conquer and occupy the whole of Ukraine and that Russia is planning to attack NATO states afterwards. Nor is there any evidence that Russia and the USA are making preparations for this eventuality. From a military point of view, however, one cannot completely rule out the possibility that Russian forces intend to conquer areas west of the Dnieper, because they have not yet destroyed the bridges over the river, although this would be of great advantage in the current constellation. Putin vigorously refutes that he is pursuing – as is often claimed – the imperialist goal of restoring the Soviet Union: “Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart, whoever wants it back has no brain.”
Putin was willing to negotiate with Ukraine and certainly still is – always on the condition that the other side – the American, Ukrainian and Western sides – also want to negotiate. Putin has made several positive statements in this regard. For example, on the occasion of the declaration on partial mobilisation on 21 September 2022: “This is what I would like to make public for the first time today. After the start of the special military operation, in particular after the Istanbul talks, Kiev representatives voiced quite a positive response to our proposals. […] But a peaceful settlement obviously did not suit the West, which is why, after certain compromises were coordinated, Kiev was actually ordered to wreck all these agreements.”
Also on 30 September 2022, in the declaration on the annexation of the four regions: “We call on the Kiev regime to immediately cease fire and all hostilities; to end the war it unleashed back in 2014 and return to the negotiating table. We are ready for this, as we have said more than once.”
On 17 June 2023, Putin told the African peace delegation: “We are open to constructive dialogue with all those who want peace, based on the principles of justice and taking into account the legitimate interests of the different sides. “ On this occasion, Putin demonstratively showed an initialled copy of the draft treaty of the Istanbul negotiations.
The “Welt” wrote in a detailed editorial on 23 June 2023 that the Russian media also spoke of negotiations; one can assume that this was done with the approval of the Kremlin. The African initiative had been widely picked up and favourably commented on by Russian news coverage on the occasion of the Russian-African summit. The state news agency RIA published a commentary deploring the previous failed peace initiatives. Editor-in-chief Margarita Simonjan, who had previously called for tougher action by the Russian army, advocated a ceasefire and a demilitarised zone secured by UN peacekeepers. It was right to stop the bloodshed now. Ukrainians should then vote themselves in referendums on which country they want to belong to. “Do we need territories that do not want to live with us? I am not sure about that. For some reason it seems to me that the president doesn’t need them either,” Simonjan said.
The war could have been prevented, had the West accepted a neutral status for Ukraine – which Selenkskij was initially quite willing to do – renounced NATO membership and enforced the Minsk II agreement for minority rights for the Russian-speaking population. The war could have ended in early April 2022 if the West had allowed the Istanbul negotiations to be concluded. It is now once again, and possibly for the last time, the responsibility of the “collective West” and especially the USA to set the course towards a ceasefire and peace negotiations.
A way out of danger must be found
Imperial rivalries, national arrogance and ignorance triggered the First World War, which has been called the primordial disaster of the 20th century. The Ukraine war must not become the primordial catastrophe of the 21st century! The increasing Europeanisation of the conflict threatens to slide into a major war between Russia and NATO, which neither side wants and, in view of the acute threat of nuclear catastrophe in such a case, cannot want. Therefore, it is urgently necessary to stop the escalation before it develops a momentum of its own that can no longer be politically controlled.
Now it is up to the European states and the European Union, whose global political weight is constantly being reduced in the war and by the war, to direct all their efforts towards the restoration of a stable peace on the continent and thus to prevent a major European war. Averting this requires the commitment of leading European politicians, namely the French President and the German Chancellor in a joint effort and in coordination with the US and Turkish Presidents, while there is still time and the “point of no return”, to which Jürgen Habermas has impressively referred, has not yet been passed.
Peace is possible – a way out of danger
Positions of the warring parties:
Negotiations only after the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory or after the liberation of all Russian-occupied territories.
Obligation of Russia to bear the costs of reconstruction.
Condemnation of the Russian leadership responsible for the attack.
NATO membership after the end of the war.
Security guarantees by states designated by Ukraine.
Consolidated neutrality of Ukraine – no NATO membership.
No stationing of American and other NATO troops on Ukrainian territory.
Recognition of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions as Russian territory.
Ceilings for the Ukrainian armed forces as a whole and for the armed forces services.
Arms control negotiations with the USA/NATO, in particular on verification mechanisms for NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defence System/BMDS in Poland and Romania.
Both warring parties have set preconditions for the start of negotiations after Ukraine’s withdrawal from the Istanbul agreements, and the Ukrainian president has even forbidden negotiations by decree. Both sides have also made demands for the results of the negotiations that cannot be realised in this way. Therefore, it would have to be achieved that all preconditions for the start of negotiations are first dropped.
The Chinese position paper offers a reasonable approach. It calls for to “resume peace talks […] resumption of negotiations”.
The USA has an important role to play in bringing about negotiations. The USA would have to press the Ukrainian president to negotiate. In addition, it (and NATO) must be prepared to engage in arms control negotiations, including confidence-building military measures.
Phase I – Ceasefire
1. The UN Security Council
- adopts, in accordance with Article 24(1) of the UN Charter, a timetable and schedule for a ceasefire and for negotiations to end the Ukrainian war and restore peace, consistent with the primary responsibility assigned to it by its members for the maintenance of international peace and security,
- decides on a general and comprehensive ceasefire between the warring parties, Russia and Ukraine, with effect from “Day X”. The ceasefire shall be without exception and without any limitation or special arrangement, irrespective of the deployment of the opposing armed forces and weapons systems, and shall be implemented in a general and comprehensive manner in a binding manner,
- entrusts a High Commissioner for Peace and Security in Ukraine with the political responsibility for the implementation of the timetable and schedule as well as all measures decided by the UN Security Council in this context,
- decides on the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter, tasked with observing and enforcing the ceasefire and the security and military measures agreed between the parties to the conflict.
2. The parties to the conflict cease all hostilities on the date determined by the UN Security Council (“Day X”).
3. No more weapons and ammunition will be supplied to Ukraine from that date. Russia will also cease supplying arms and ammunition to its forces in the territory occupied since 24 February 2022 and Crimea.
4. All irregular foreign forces, military advisors and intelligence personnel of both warring parties will be withdrawn from Ukrainian territory by Day X +10.
Phase II – Peace Negotiations
1. Peace negotiations shall begin on Day X +15 under the chairmanship of the UN Secretary-General and/or the UN High Commissioner for Peace and Security in Ukraine at UN Headquarters in Geneva.
2. Both parties to the conflict reaffirm their determination to conduct the negotiations with the firm intention of ending the war and seeking a lasting, peaceful settlement of all issues in dispute. They intend to take into account Russia’s letters to the United States and NATO of 17 December 2021, insofar as they are relevant to the bilateral negotiations, and Ukraine’s position paper for the negotiations of 29 March 2022, and to build on the results of the Istanbul negotiations.
3. Elements of a negotiated settlement:
a) The parties of the conflict
– do not consider each other as adversaries in the future and commit themselves to return to the principles of equal and indivisible security,
– commit themselves to renounce the threat and use of force,
– commit themselves not to take any preparatory measures to war against the other party,
– commit themselves to transparency in their military planning and exercises and to greater predictability in their military and political actions,
– accept the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force on Ukrainian territory in a zone 50 km wide to the Russian border, including the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya and Kherson within their administrative boundaries,
– commit themselves to resolve all disputes without the use of force through the mediation of the United Nations High Comissioner or if necessary, to be resolved by the guarantor states. The right of Ukraine to individual and collectice selfdefence under article 51 of the UN Charta is not affected.
– withdraws its armed forces on the territory of Ukraine to the status of 23 February 2022,
– withdraws its armed forces on its territory from zone of 50 km to the Ukrainian border, which have been deployed to this zone since 24 February 2022.
– withdraws its armed forces from a zone 50 km wide to the Russian border, including the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya and Kherson,
– declares permanent its status as a neutral state and does not join any military alliance, including the North Atlantic Alliance. Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and state independence are guaranteed by corresponding pledges of guarantor powers. The guarantee commitments do not apply to Crimea and Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya and Kherson within the former administrative borders,
– renounces the development, possession and deployment of nuclear weapons on its territory,
– will not allow the permanent or temporary deployment of the armed forces of a foreign power or its military infrastructure on its territory,
– will not permit exercises and manoeuvres by foreign armed forces on its territory,
– will implement the agreed ceilings for Ukrainian armed forces within two years.
d) The problems related to Crimea and Sevastopol will be negotiated bilaterally through diplomatic channels within 15 years and resolved by renouncing military force.
e) The future status of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya and Kherson regions will be mutually agreed in the negotiations. Russia will allow the refugees to return. If the negotiating partners fail to reach an agreement on this issue, the United Nations High Commissioner for Peace and Security in Ukraine will hold a referendum within two years of the peace treaty coming into force, in which the population will decide on the future status. Ukrainian citizens who were permanent residents of these regions on 31.12.2021 are eligible to participate. Russia and Ukraine undertake to recognise the result of the referendum and to implement it in their national legislation by the end of the year in which the referendum took place. For the population of regions that decide to remain in the Ukrainian state federation, the Ukrainian government will incorporate minority rights according to European standards into the constitution and implement them by the end of the year in which the referendum took place (in accordance with the Minsk II Agreement).
f) Garantee states, which are members of the European Union, will promote Ukraine´s membership by supporting rule of law and democratic reforms.
g) The reconstruction of the Ukrainian economy and infrastructure will be promoted through an international donor conference.
h) Both Parties will participate in and constructively support a Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in the CSCE format with the aim of establishing a European security and peace order. The conference will take place within one year of the entry into force of the Peace Treaty.
i) The Treaty will enter into force as soon as both Parties and five guarantor states have signed the Treaty and, to the extent necessary, the parliaments of these states have approved it, and Ukraine has codified its status as a neutral, independent and non-aligned state (without the goal of NATO membership) by amending its constitution.(19)
k) Any delays do not justify either breaking the ceasefire or withdrawing from the agreements reached so far.
Phase III – A European Security and Peace Order
In the long term, only a European security and peace order can guarantee Ukraine’s security and freedom, in which Ukraine and Russia have their place. A European security architecture in which Ukraine’s geostrategic position no longer plays a key role in the geopolitical rivalry of the United States and Russia. The way to achieve this is through a conference in the CSCE format that builds on the great progress made in the “Charter of Paris” and develops it further, taking into account the current security and strategic framework.