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Ukraine crisis, a proposal for settlement (2022)

Ukraine crisis, a proposal for settlement

The recent events in the Ukraine-Russia war have culminated in the recapture of Kherson by Kiev’s army and the retreat of Moscow’s soldiers on the eastern bank of the Dnieper River. Particularly, the latter has led analysts and commentators to express opinions on the future of the conflict, especially with the approach of the winter season and its effects on the battlefield.

Although a solution does not seem foreseeable in the immediate future and the negotiations between the parties seem to be at a stalemate, acknowledging that no solution will be perfect or make everyone happy, a few considerations could be made about a possible long-term solution.

While the priority will be the end of the armed conflict and bloodshed between the parties, it would be a diplomatic mistake to expect a final settlement. The positions of the parties are too far from each other, both in their standings and their aims. It would be wiser and more effective instead to rely on a road map approach, applying the negotiating scheme used for the Oslo Accords: reach an accord on anything that can be agreed upon, leaving to future negotiations whatever requires more diplomatic work and efforts.

Examples of what can be agreed upon in the immediate future are the end of hostilities in terms of a ceasefire and the exchange of war prisoners, the return to the integrity of the Ukrainian territory, and the retreat of Russian soldiers. Something else that can be postponed to a later stage is the final settlement. Elements to be considered include both parties' strategic needs for defensible borders, the return of refugees, the reconstruction of war-affected areas, and the protection of both parties' cultural heritage, as well as securing a special status for minorities through the principle of variable geometry.Once these elements have been settled, the road map can then be implemented.

This road map should be based on a long-term plan for the future of the Donbass. One option to consider is holding a referendum on the independence of the Donbass republics ten years after the signing of the agreement between Russia and Ukraine.In this circumstance, and in order to avoid an implicit competition between the parties to create population superiority toward the referendum, the parties should be prevented from encouraging explicitly and implicitly the transfer and relocation of population.

Should the population of these republics vote for independence, this would take place five years after the referendum. A clause that should be observed in the event of independence concerns the future of these republics: they should not be allowed to join the Russian Federation for a period of ten years. In these same ten years, Ukraine should be forbidden from engaging in talks for the joining of NATO and be granted 1) monetary compensation for the resources it loses and 2) territorial compensation through territorial exchange.

Throughout this timeframe, the resources of Donbass should be used exclusively for the development of the region itself.

The supervision of this road map should be based on the mechanism for the peaceful settlement of disputes, with rules and recourse to an ad hoc arbitral tribunal as first instance and the International Court of Justice as appeal instance. France for Ukraine, China for Russia, and Turkey as an independent umpire should be the guarantors of this road map. Considering the past attrition between Russia, the UK, and the USA, these two countries should not be involved. The chief negotiator for this mechanism should be the United Nations Secretary General.

Another element to consider is the supervision of the borders, which should be patrolled by Russian and Ukrainian military teams. This would create a system of checks and balances, discouraging rule violations and attempts to escalate violence and tensions.Any investigations should then be conducted by military representatives of France, China, and Turkey, with the participation of Ukrainian and Russian representatives, to make sure the positions of the parties are properly heard and understood.

The implementation of a UN peacekeeping mission would not be appropriate as it would mean being under the control of the United Nations Security Council, where political hostilities among some of the permanent members (specifically, Russia, the UK, and the USA) could be detrimental to the good result that is intended to reach.

No system can work without funds; to this end, a fund, managed by the guarantors set forth above, should be established for the reconstruction of the areas affected by the war. Russia should contribute to this fund a fixed percentage of the proceeds from its commodity trades.

The difficult part of any attempts to find a solution is the accountability for the situations on the field: the starting of the war, the situation that evolved since 2014, the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, the commission of war-related crimes, and so on. These aspects are probably the most intricate, and as such, they should be left for a future stage.

In conclusion, the guiding principles for defusing the situation should be the avoidance of humiliation for any of the parties and the preservation of their reputations. The aftermath of World War One, and the mistakes made in humiliating Germany, should teach an important lesson about what steps to avoid in the future. Other principles to consider are Russia's strategic importance in Ukrainian territory, keeping in mind the strategic importance of this territory in the Soviet Union's attempts to stop the Nazi Germany invasion during World War Two. Similarly, Ukraine's independence in deciding and pursuing its own interests must be preserved. 

To read analytical articles, go to: Articles - Center for International Relations and International Security (ciris.info)