The "Ukrainian Peace Formula," explained
President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers his remarks via video teleconference to the Halifax International Security Forum, 19 November 2022 (photo via Ukrainian Presidential Office)
For months, outside observers have been debating whether Ukraine should return to the negotiating table with Russia to end the war. Some have argued that the time is now--that there is no utility in dragging out the fighting any longer. Others have asserted that anything short of an undeniable victory over the Russians will only lead to renewed hostilities in the future. Few have discussed what would actually need to be negotiated if the two sides were to meet for dialogue meant to bring about a cessation of hostilities. In his speech to the Halifax International Security Forum on 19 November 2022, President Volodymyr Zelensky offered his view on what must be negotiated to end the war. In what he labeled the “Ukrainian Peace Formula,” Zelensky laid out ten issue areas that require resolution in order to secure a durable peace and to “make Russian aggression impossible.” What were those issue areas, and what should we make of this diplomatic signaling from Kyiv? It is worth remembering that negotiations have been a constant feature of the Russia-Ukraine War, albeit in various formats dealing with issues ranging from prisoner exchanges to grain shipments. Ceasefire negotiations began in late February, just days after the start of Russia’s invasion. At the time, the Ukraine side had just three core objectives for those talks: immediate ceasefire, an Armistice, and humanitarian corridors. After initial ceasefire deliberations broke down, the Ukrainian government signaled four core interests: (1) withdrawal of Russian forces: (2) restoration of Ukraine’s sovereign territory; (3) Russian war reparations; and (4) postwar security guarantees for Ukraine. Now, with its new peace formula, the Ukrainian government has expanded its negotiating objectives to ten areas of interest. So, why ten? One reason is because additional problem areas have surfaced during the war that need to be addressed. For example, a manmade disaster at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant was not a concern in March 2022, but it is now. Also, with this formula, the Ukrainian government is delivering its full set of interests, likely understanding that it will not achieve them all at the negotiating table. Finally, the long list is useful in helping the international community understand that Ukraine will not just accept a paper-thin ceasefire pledge--that if partners are going to push Ukrainians toward negotiations, they must support resolution of all the outstanding issues. With that in mind, we can look more closely at the ten issue areas of the “Ukrainian Peace Formula.” (1) Radiation & Nuclear Safety Since the start of the war, Russia has occupied the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and shelled other Ukrainian nuclear facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency has engaged in negotiations with both Russia and Ukraine to resolve these problems, but it has not been able to make headway on establishing demilitarized zones around the nuclear facilities, expelling Russian forces from the sites, or preventing attacks on power plants. Ukraine intends to achieve resolution on all those matters. (2) Food Security The Black Sea Grain Initiative represented a triumph for wartime mediation as the United Nations and Turkey successfully brought Ukraine and Russia to agreement on enabling shipment of grain, food stuffs, and fertilizer through the Black Sea. This effectively staved off a global food security crisis, but the Black Sea Grain Initiative is still just a stop gap measure that must be renewed every 120 days. Ukraine needs permanent provisions to ensure that its food and fertilizer exports can ship safely from its ports without requiring periodic negotiation with the Russians. (3) Energy Security In recent weeks, Russian forces have stepped up attacks against Ukrainian power stations and energy suppliers in a bid to weaponize the winter weather. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal stated that as a result of this bombing, Russia has deliberately disabled almost 50% of the country’s energy infrastructure. Ukraine must be able to guarantee that its people will have access to the power required to sustain their livelihoods, which is why this point is included in the peace formula. (4) Release of all war prisoners and deportees Prisoner-of-war exchanges and remains repatriations have been occurring with some regularity via Red Cross mediation, but President Zelensky has promised to bring every detainee home. While this could be manageable via direct negotiations, the more difficult issue to resolve is that of forcible deportations--that is, the Ukrainian men, women, and children who were transported from occupied areas to places throughout the Russian Federation under the guise of “evacuation.” According to Ukraine’s Ministry for Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Areas, those numbers could reach into the hundreds of thousands--the repatriation of which would necessitate a herculean negotiating effort. (5) “Implementation of the UN Charter and the restoration of our territorial integrity and world order” Simply put, this is a declaration of Ukraine’s intent to liberate the areas of its country occupied by Russian forces. Under an armistice framework, the Ukraine side was possibly amenable to settling upon returning to boundaries as they existed prior to 24 February 2022, but they have since declared their intent to restore their internationally-recognized borders of 1991 (meaning the return of all the Donbas region and the Crimean Peninsula). (6) Withdrawal of Russian troops and cessation of hostilities Although a troop withdrawal and cessation of hostilities may seem to go hand-in-hand, there are examples of ceasefires that did not mandate a withdrawal of forces. Such cases were fraught with issues, which is why the Ukrainian side has deliberately linked these two actions. To note, a negotiated cessation of hostilities should constitute a full end to fighting, pending a political-level settlement. (7) Restoration of justice through war tribunals and reparations The Ukrainian desire for reparations is consistent with any victim of aggression, but the push for war tribunals emerged following the revelation of mass graves and human rights violations in Bucha and surrounding areas in late March. That was a turning point in the war, compelling the Ukraine side to abandon ceasefire negotiations and focus fully on defeating Russia in the war. It also introduced Ukrainian calls for tribunals to prosecute Russian war crimes. Neither tribunals nor reparations will happen with Russian consent, and as a nuclear power, the Russians possess the ultimate trump card if anyone were to attempt compel them to accept it. Instead, the best bet is for the international community to seize and liquidate Russian assets to pay what the Kremlin will not, pursuant to the UN General Assembly Resolution that endorses such mechanisms. As for war crimes, the relevant international bodies can conduct fact-finding missions and UN member states could apply appropriate sanctions to individuals found in violation of international law, rules, and norms. (8) Countering ecocide Russia’s war against Ukraine has of course damaged the country’s natural environment, but there is a dearth of precedent for addressing ecocide in peace negotiations. As such, inclusion of this issue area as part of the Ukrainian Peace Formula is likely meant for diplomatic signaling. It is impractical to expect any meaningful agreements related to this from negotiations with Russia, but it highlights to the international community the depth of the negative effects that Russia’s invasion has had on Ukraine. (9) Security Guarantees for Ukraine The Ukrainian government understands that accession to NATO (and thus Article V alliance protection) is far off, but it needs security guarantees in the interim. The Zelensky administration published its proposal entitled the “Kyiv Security Compact” on 13 September 2022. As an indispensable interest stretching back to the original rounds of ceasefire negotiations, one should not expect the Ukraine side to accept a peace agreement that does not incorporate its designs for security guarantees. (10) “Confirmation of the war’s end” This represents the political settlement of the war. It would come when all the other issues are resolved and a diplomatic peace agreement is signed, and it would be the final, formal step. So, what should we make of all this? First, the formula that Zelensky presented is an important roadmap to peace for Ukraine. There are many arguments for why Ukraine should go to the negotiating table, but not enough substantive discourse on how to resolve the real issues. The “Ukrainian Peace Formula” should inform those debates. Second, the formula helps partners understand how they can contribute to the peace process. If foreign partners want the war to end, they can help by creating mechanisms for reparations, mediating detainee returns, working toward security guarantees, covering the costs for Ukraine’s environmental restoration, etc. In other words, any government seeking to support an end to the war can employ the Ukrainian Peace Formula as a menu of Ukrainian interests and find ways to provide for them. Finally, there are sticking points that will be nigh impossible to resolve through negotiations alone. Dialogue will not compel the Russians to leave Ukrainian territory, or to accept fundamental changes in the security architecture of the region. Thus, “talking while fighting” is the only way ahead for Ukraine to satisfy its core interests while advancing the country towards an eventual, negotiated peace.
Michael MacArthur Bosack is a seasoned international negotiator and the founder of the Parley Policy Initiative. He is the Special Adviser for Government Relations at the Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies. Michael is a former East-West Center Fellow, a military veteran, and the author of “Negotiate: A Primer for Practitioners.”