Discover more from Flashnotes @SecDev
Off the rails
The peace train aimed at ending Russia's war in Ukraine has yielded no results. Is the train yet to depart, or is the effort critically derailed?
The succession of peace overtures by global and emerging powers in Ukraine and Russia are about more than resolving the war. They are about determining the future shape of the global order.
Although a year and a half has passed since Russia invaded Ukraine, the war grinds on with no clear end in sight. Wagner's (aborted) revolt against the Russian military establishment likely weakened Putin's credibility and may strengthen Ukraine's hand, but decisive victory for either side still remains elusive. The Ukrainian counter-offensive is making progress, and seems intended to improve Kyiv’s bargaining position. Having built defensive fortifications, Russia is determined to wear down Ukraine and its backers, nudging them to a protracted stalemate and an eventual compromise. Both sides seem convinced that fighting must continue before a lasting peace can be achieved.
Over the past few days, Russia, along with Belarus and China, are looking to play down the fallout from the Wagner mutiny. But judging by the drum-beat of global diplomacy, you would be forgiven for thinking that peace is closer at hand than ever. Before Prigozhin called off the uprising on June 25, hardly a news cycle went by without a politician or pundit floating another plan to end the shooting war that has already claimed the lives of over one hundred thousand combatants and civilians, displaced 8.2 million people and drawn the great powers closer than ever to a global conflagration. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who believes serious peace negotiations are unlikely so long as both sides feel they can win, is determined to find solutions.
The advice is coming hard and fast. Henry Kissinger, who at age 100 has had the ear of every US leader since Richard Nixon, recently weighed in. (He is betting on China to broker peace, but in a reversal now also supports Ukraine joining NATO.) So has South African President Cyril Rampahosa, who even before his ill-timed visit to Moscow earlier this month to tell Putin that “the war must end”, offered to deploy an African peace mission to Kyiv and Moscow. Indonesia’s defense minister likewise proposed a plan that included a ceasefire, demilitarized zone, UN mission and referendums in “disputed territories”, drawing a stern rebuke from Western security officials. While virtually everyone agrees that negotiations and peace-making are essential, there are profound disagreements about why, when, and how these two outcomes can be achieved.
On the one side are major Western powers aligned with NATO who insist that any peace deal must be predicated on Russia’s withdrawal from all occupied areas of Ukraine, as a proxy for shoring up what they see as the rules based global democratic order. On the other is China which has outlined a 12-point plan aligned with Russian interests and that would consolidate its global influence. While emphasizing its strategic partnership with Moscow, China's muted reaction to the Wagner uprising reveals growing anxieties in Beijing over Russia's war in Ukraine. In the meantime, an assortment of emerging nations plumping for a multipolar world has also stepped up.
Special honors to Brazil, whose newly elected president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is mortgaging his cachet as a diplomatic star to build a coalition to broker a peace deal. His so-called "peace club" could include a group of countries acting as mediators, including China and India. Lula’s oscillations on the conflict, first casting partial blame on Ukraine for the war, next condemning Moscow’s invasion, and then faulting the West for encouraging belligerence, show how difficult that remit will be.
Emerging nations are far from disinterested bystanders to the Ukraine-Russian war and its settlement.
To be sure, emerging nations are far from disinterested bystanders to the Ukraine-Russian war and its settlement. Caught between hegemons such as the US, Western Europe and China, countries of the so-called Global South have much at stake when it comes to ending the bloodshed. Within months of it starting, the armed conflict disrupted global trade lifelines, fueled food inflation, diverted scarce resources from the world’s most impoverished regions and triggered protest and social unrest.
With few of these peace efforts gaining ground, heads of state and spiritual leaders from the UN General Assembly to Vatican City are taking turns spinning the peace message. Some, like France’s president Macron, tried to play peace broker early-on but found little traction for their overtures in Moscow and Kyiv. Other ventures such as that of Mexico’s president Obrador, who proposed a high level caucus for peace and dialogue, also fell flat. Part of the reason for this is that the situation then as now is still not, in the diplomatic vernacular, ripe for resolution.
Meanwhile, the actual parties to the armed conflict, Russia and Ukraine, have said they will accept nothing less than outright victory. Half-hearted peace talks in Belarus and Turkey in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion in 2022 sputtered out within months. By early 2023, Russia announced that there was no prospect for a diplomatic settlement. While US intelligence insists that a nuclear exchange is not imminent, some analysts fear they are pushing the world closer to an unthinkable, and potentially catastrophic collision. No surprise, then, that there is a heightened sense of urgency for a diplomatic solution even as diplomatic entreaties fall short.
Part of the problem is that the war is not just dividing public opinion; it is separating the world into antagonistic camps.
Part of the problem is that the war is not just dividing public opinion; it is separating the world into antagonistic camps. For the record, most countries are calling for an end to hostilities and a return to peace. In February 2023, 141 countries backed a resolution calling for “comprehensive, just and lasting peace”, with 32 abstaining and just 7 voting against. Similar resolutions in March and November 2022 generated virtually identical results. Below the surface, however, consensus is increasingly elusive, and sharpened by competing geo-political agendas.
Despite the apparent commitment in the General Assembly to end the fighting, there is now even greater distance between western and non-western world over how to sue for peace, parse the blame for aggression, and decide who must relent first. A recent 2023 poll found that the war is strengthening unity in North America and Western Europe, and deepening convictions that they should help Ukraine win. Meanwhile, respondents in non-western countries such as China, India and Turkey prefer a swift end to the fighting, even if Ukraine has to concede territory.
The conflict is widening rifts between nations and regional blocks that are decades in the making. One reason for the impasse is that a growing number of governments believe that ending the war is about much more than just restoring peace between Ukraine and Russia. Rather, the way the conflict ends is increasingly viewed as a proxy for the future world order, either western or post-western.
The way the conflict ends is increasingly viewed as a proxy for the future world order, either western or post-western.
According to a 2022 assessment by the Bennett Institute for Public Policy, the war has increased favorable opinions of the US and strengthened allegiance to NATO among upper-income democracies in North America, South America, Eastern Europe and Asia-Pacific. Over 75 percent of people living in these regions hold negative views of China and 87 percent a negative view of Russia. But compare that to the mood in the countries in the Global South: opinions on the war cut sharply the other way among more liberal and autocratic societies in continental Eurasia, and North and West Africa, where support for China and Russia runs high. There, 70 percent of residents feel positively toward China and 66 percent toward Russia.
These differences have only hardened over time. As the war drags on, overall views of Russia appear to have grown increasingly negative even as opinion of NATO increased in some countries. That Russia’s prestige has taken a serious hit worldwide – including in formerly Soviet states – only bolsters those convictions. An overwhelming majority (70 percent) of citizens around the world also agreed that their country should support others when attacked, although the same share also agreed that military intervention was not acceptable.
Meanwhile, many people surveyed in the Global South want the war to end as swiftly as possible with or without Ukraine in one piece. They are motivated by complex geopolitical calculations, ideological convictions, economic self interest, and the imperative of playing to the home crowd. All of this will make ending one the 21st century’s most dangerous wars even more challenging.
Many people surveyed in the Global South want the war to end as swiftly as possible with or without Ukraine in one piece.
Amid this tangle of allegiances, the path to peace clearly will take more than bromides and bonhomie. Nor will willfulness or third party petulance bring adversaries to the negotiating table. That much must have been clear when the Brazilian leader missed an opportunity for a bilateral conversation with Volodymyr Zelensky face-to-face at the G7 summit in Hiroshima in May. Brasilia’s diplomats wrote off the incident to incompatible agendas while Lula hinted at a no-show by Zelensky. Yet for a leader who has broadcast his bid to cut through the Big Power impasse by brokering talks through a “peace club” of disinterested parties, the failed meeting to push the peace train forward felt more like an own goal.
Source: Ukraine Support Tracker
Source: Al Jazeera
Part of the challenge going forward is who is accredited to wage peace. The world has turned since Lula sought to position his country as the B in BRICS, a protagonist of an emerging new global order. South Africa’s efforts to play a larger role also appear short-lived, as the peace train to Russia earlier this month shows. But now that super block of outsize emerging nations is no longer viewed as an independent voice in international affairs but part of the quarrel, with Russia as a belligerent, India conspicuously silent, and China as Moscow’s quiet enabler.
Meanwhile, the west is compromised as a neutral broker given its outsized diplomatic, economic and military support to Ukraine to resist Russia. At least 46 western countries - with the US, Switzerland, Canada, UK and the EU in the lead - have either imposed or pledged sanctions against Russia. According to Castellum, as of 2023, Russia is facing over 11,327 sanctions, making it the most sanctioned country in the world. Most of them target individuals and entities, with the remainder focus on vessels and aircraft. And at least 40 of these countries have contributed over $115 billion in financial humanitarian and military aid since the war started.
Veering away from war will take much more: a shared understanding of the geopolitical stakes and a roadmap all parties can agree upon. While national and cultural ambiguities can help smooth negotiations, the minimum requirements are a shared agreement of the expected mediators and outcomes. The warring parties also need to be prepared to come to the table. While virtually everyone accepts that a negotiated solution is the most likely outcome, not one of these conditions have yet to materialize
Even as the world community sues for peace, they should also brace for ongoing war.
Big stakeholders may disagree on the causes of the war, but they must start with a baseline consensus on the conditions for sustaining peace. Diplomatic talks between the US and China and the outcomes of the ongoing fighting between Ukraine and Russia will certainly shape the potential for peace talks. Meanwhile, in Russia, the fallout from the Wagner revolt remains uncertain. Russia has just lost one of its key battlefield assets, which may tip the odds in Ukraine's favor. At the same time, a wounded Putin is unlikely to seek a path of negotiation while trying to reassert his position of authority. If Putin were to go, it's unclear whether his successor would come from the more radical nationalist camps that favor victory over Ukraine at all costs or from the more moderate voices calling for de-escalation. Despite all the high-level diplomacy and potential heralds of armistice, the preconditions for ending this increasingly dangerous conflict remain elusive. This means that, even as the global community advocates for peace, they should also prepare for ongoing war
We provide tailored premium subscription levels to match your specific requirements. Our comprehensive coverage spans from geopolitical risks to technology foresight, backed by specialized research. We utilize cutting-edge open-source artificial intelligence for our analysis, drawing upon publicly available and exclusive curated data sources. Reach out to us and let's discuss how we can serve your needs.
SecDev is next generation consultancy firm working at the intersection of geopolitical, digital, urban, energy and cyber risk. Our mission is to deliver high quality, data-driven advice, and solutions powered by seamlessly integrated human and artificial intelligence. Our global network and ability to see ahead of the curve earns us the trust of global leaders in business, government, and intergovernmental organizations. We foster transformative change and to create enduring value for a better, more secure future.