Can the Ukraine war end with a peace deal?

This photograph shared by Zelenskyy on X on Jan. 31, 2024, shows Ukrainian prisoners of war react after after a prisoner exchange at an undisclosed location, Ukraine.
This photograph shared by Zelenskyy on X on Jan. 31, 2024, shows Ukrainian prisoners of war react after after a prisoner exchange at an undisclosed location, Ukraine. Copyright Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the social media platform X via AP
By Giulia Carbonaro
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

Surveys show Europeans are losing faith in Kyiv’s ability to defeat Moscow's invasion – but some experts claim hopes for a negotiated peace are misguided.

ADVERTISEMENT

It’s been two years since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. 

Tens of thousands of people have died and large swathes of Ukraine lie in ruins, but the conflict shows no sign of ending. 

Russia – along with many military experts – expected Ukraine to capitulate quickly after its forces launched their full-scale invasion. Instead, Ukraine resisted, faring much better than many thought as Russia's offensive ran into myriad problems.

In the first year of the war, Ukrainian troops mounted a stunning counteroffensive, managing to drive Russian forces out of Kherson, the only regional capital they then captured.

But in the second year, progress was slower. A highly anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive failed, with Kyiv unable to land a major breakthrough - despite billions in aid from the West. 

Now in the third year of fighting, Ukraine is facing a new challenge: the withering of crucial Western support. 

Europe’s dwindling optimism

According to a recent EU-wide poll, only 10% of Europeans believe Ukraine can defeat Russia in the war.

The survey's authors wrote that, given this, EU politicians should take a more “realistic” approach to the conflict and focus on defining how peace can be achieved.

Still, experts told Euronews that a peace deal is not really on the table.

People lay toys and flowers on the graves of a family killed in a fire when Russian drone hit their home in a residential neighbourhood in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 12, 2024.
People lay toys and flowers on the graves of a family killed in a fire when Russian drone hit their home in a residential neighbourhood in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 12, 2024.AP Photo/Andrii Marienko

Stephen Hall, lecturer in Russian and post-Soviet politics at the University of Bath, says Vladimir Putin’s terms for ending the war still include the “denazification, demilitarisation and neutrality of Ukraine.”

As far as the Russian president is concerned, those goals are non-negotiable. 

However, they are unacceptable to Ukraine’s number one Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his Western allies.

But that’s not all. According to Dr Jade Glynn, research fellow at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, Kyiv and Moscow's ideas for an acceptable peace deal are mutually exclusive.

Kyiv’s ideal peace deal would demand the respect of its legally recognised 1991 borders and the imposition of a genuine form of deterrence against any future Russian attack, she said. 

This would mean rolling back everything Russia has achieved through its military action since 2014, widely seen as the start of the Ukraine war. 

In parallel, Kyiv would want to join the European Union and NATO, said Hall. 

Such has long been opposed by Putin, who initially invoked Ukraine's NATO membership as a pretext for the invasions of both 2014 and 2022.

Glynn told Euronews that an acceptable deal for Russia would require its full control of all four Ukrainian regions they claim are Russian, along with the city of Kharkiv and even Odesa. 

Moscow would demand a final say on who can be president of Ukraine – and their only concession would be that what remains of Ukraine could join the EU.

ADVERTISEMENT

This is unacceptable to Kyiv. 

‘Can’t trust Putin’s words’

Putin has repeatedly made clear that he doesn’t consider Ukraine a sovereign country, insisting it should be under Russian rule.

Glynn says a peace deal would allow Russia to "restore its army to the strength of 2022, which according to Ukrainian estimates it should be able to do by 2028." 

This means it could ultimately help Russia launch a renewed assault in the future, though a ceasefire would give Ukrainians a "night off" from the bombing, she added. 

According to Mathieu Boulègue, a security expert at Chatham House, a peace deal isn’t possible until the “Putin system" is fully dismantled, with power handed to "more representable politicians.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Years to come

The war in Ukraine continues because the country cannot afford to lose. 

As several experts told Euronews, Russian victory would likely mean the end of its very existence.

It will take years for the war in Ukraine to end, said Boulègue. 

“Conflicts tend to either finish very quickly or be prolonged for a long time and become normalised, with neither side being able to dominate militarily on the other,” he noted.

Talks of negotiations between Ukraine and Russia are unhelpful, Boulègue continued. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“Zelenskyy would tell you, ‘we don’t negotiate with war criminals’, and the rest of the international community should be on the same line. And even if we did, there would be absolutely no guarantee that Russia will not come back in a few years to destroy Ukraine again.”

Test for NATO and the West

All experts who talked to Euronews agree that a Russian defeat in Ukraine is as important to the West as it is for Kyiv.

“I don’t think negotiations are a solution to this conflict, at least in the present form, because it would highlight that the West is weak,” Hall said. “It would be taken as a cue for Russia to have another go at Ukraine or potentially another country.

While he doesn’t like to advocate for continued war, the University of Bath lecturer sees continuing the conflict as the best way ahead now.

“The West needs to maintain its support for Ukraine to ideally help it win as quickly as possible, or at least make it so unpalatable to Russia that it won’t be able to take it, and eventually when Putin leaves power, it will lead to actual peace talks that aren’t merely a Russian diktat to Ukraine.”

ADVERTISEMENT

According to Boulègue, fighting Putin is “very much about the principles” of the European Union, NATO, the United States, and all the global and collective West.

“If we let the bullies win, we’re not living by the standards that we want to project in terms of human rights, in terms of democracy, in terms of sovereignty.”

Share this articleComments

You might also like

Ukraine war: Two killed as Russia continues to pummel south and east

31,000 Ukrainian troops killed since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion, Zelenskyy says

At least two people killed in Ukrainian missile attack, says Russia