Irish Times view on Ukraine peace talks

Western powers may have to consider if they are willing to accept being part of a settlement

An anti-tank obstacle and Ukraine national flags outside a store in the center of Odesa on Thursday. Photograph: Nathan Laine/Bloomberg

It remains unclear whether talks between Ukraine and Russia represent more than an attempt to buy time for the latter's stalled military push. However, there have been a few signs of hope: agreement on limited humanitarian corridors, though not for benighted Mariupol, and a few signals from negotiators that the shape of a broader agreement may be emerging.

Direct contacts with Vladimir Putin, however, have not been productive, a French spokesman describing Emmanuel Macron's and Olaf Scholz's meeting last week as "disappointing with Putin's insincerity: He is determined to continue the war".

The public outline a few days ago by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov of Russia's demands reflects an unchanged, well-known articulation of Putin's position. But it has raised significant points of convergence. Moscow, Peskov said, wants guarantees of Ukrainian neutrality and non-membership of Nato, demilitarisation, "denazification", protection of the Russian language and ethnic Russians, and acknowledgment of both Donbass and Crimea as Russian.

Permanent non-membership of Nato appears no longer to be a red line in Kyiv. President Volodymr Zelenskiy has admitted he had “cooled down” on joining Nato, acknowledging pragmatically it is clear the Western alliance “is not prepared to accept Ukraine”. And while he did not accept a carve-out of parts of the country, like Crimea and Donbass, he said that “we can discuss and find a compromise on how these territories will live on”.


Vladimir Medinsky, Russia's chief negotiator, told state television: "Ukraine is offering an Austrian or Swedish version of a neutral, demilitarised state, but at the same time a state with its own army and navy", a formulation that Peskov said "could really be seen a compromise".

On Wednesday, a Ukrainian negotiator also spoke of a “model” on the negotiating table of legally binding security guarantees that would offer Ukraine protection via a group of allies in the event of a future attack. Could the idea of “guarantor states” be acceptable to Moscow, and would European capitals be willing to engage to the point of providing such guarantees?

And what of a path to EU membership? Russia has not publicly ruled it out. Austria, which it has cited as a model, is after all a member. The EU does also have a mutual defence clause. Could that be acceptable to Moscow on the face-saving basis that it is not Nato?

Western powers have said that they will not prescribe to Ukraine what terms it should accept, and will support it, whatever it decides. Although unwilling directly to engage Russia militarily for fear of escalation, they may have to consider if they are willing to accept being part of any settlement, either as legal guarantors of neutrality and non-interference or through EU membership.