Week five of Russia’s war in Ukraine brought some Ukrainian successes around Kyiv and a Russian reorientation to focus on “liberating” the eastern Donbas region, suggesting Moscow is giving up on regime change and focusing on territorial gains with a view to a settlement.
The week also offered a glimpse of what that settlement might look like.
Ukraine put forward a detailed proposal of neutrality as negotiators met in Istanbul on March 29. It included pledges to not join military alliances or host foreign troops, and that it would remain a non-nuclear power.
That would mean Ukraine would give up its aspirations to join NATO, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded.
Ukraine suggested guarantors will be permanent members of the UN Security Council – the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and Russia – as well as Israel, Turkey, Germany, Canada and Poland.
Some experts have said such a peace deal would weaken Ukrainian sovereignty and reward Russia.
“In terms of international legal norms, it is absolutely unacceptable that stronger powers violate international borders and dictate their terms to the weaker side,” said Greek former Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Valinakis.
“However, wars usually end up creating new realities on the ground … Russia will insist on at least partial demilitarisation of Ukraine,” he told Al Jazeera.
Valinakis believes security guarantees will be problematic for both sides.
“I cannot see Putin‘s interest in accepting the proposed guarantees. NATO itself will not encourage its members granting security guarantees to Kyiv; in case of a Russian attack on a guarantor power, the Alliance would risk activating article 5 [on collective defence] and thereby a catastrophic escalation to a Russia-NATO war.”
Ukrainian negotiator Oleksander Chaly highlighted the proposal’s positives.
“If we manage to consolidate these key provisions … Ukraine will be in a position to actually fix its current status as a non-bloc and non-nuclear state in the form of permanent neutrality,” he said.
Territorial concessions in Luhansk and Donetsk would be discussed directly by Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy, according to the Ukrainian proposal. The fate of Crimea would be the subject of a 15-year consultation.
“These are diplomatic formulas designed to alleviate public opinion pressure on Zelenskyy,” Valinakis said. “In the absence of a sizeable rollback of Russian troops to the east, I don’t see a very different outcome for the peace negotiations.”
The peace deal would be put to a referendum in Ukraine.