Global Memos are briefs by the Council of Councils that gather opinions from global experts on major international developments.
Ukrainian servicemen rest at their positions in a dark, deep trench after a fight, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, near Bakhmut, Ukraine on May 11, 2023. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Serhii Nuzhnenko via REUTERS
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Serhii Nuzhnenko via REUTERS

Two years into the Russia-Ukraine war, fighting along the front remains stalled. Calls for a negotiated settlement have grown, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has rejected the possibility of ceding territory and directly negotiating with Russia, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has proven unreliable even if an agreement could be reached. War fatigue in the United States and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies is also complicating their ability to continue securing flows of military and economic aid to Ukraine.

Amid this uncertainty, sixteen Council of Councils experts from thirteen countries reflect on ways to contain or end the war. The responses differ sharply in some cases, demonstrating a divided world’s approach to a complex situation. Submissions are organized into three categories: those calling for additional financial and military support for Ukraine, pathways for diplomacy and a ceasefire, and how to rethink current mindsets.


Financial and Military Support for Ukraine

A Negotiated Settlement Now Would Make Things Worse


As Russia’s war of conquest in Ukraine nears its second anniversary, war fatigue has come to dominate the Western media. With Ukraine’s inconclusive counteroffensive in 2023 resulting in a positional war in which neither party seems capable of gaining the upper hand, calls for a settlement have grown. However imperfect, the argument goes, a settlement would at least end the violence. People would stop dying. Ukraine’s economy would benefit. Diplomacy would be given a chance to find a long-term solution. If only. The reality is that there is every reason to believe that a settlement now would make things worse.

Consider the following. What would such a settlement look like? Surely, it would not be a peace treaty. Russia would not agree to withdraw its troops from territory it has formally annexed. Ukraine would never recognize Russia’s territorial acquisitions, which would continue to be Ukrainian land under international law. The West would keep the sanctions regime in place. The frontline would remain militarized.

The result would be a frozen conflict, in which the parties would continue to pursue their original objectives—for Ukraine, liberation; for Russia, conquest—with different tactics. Russia would likely resort to subterfuge, provocation, intimidation, and influence operations meant to hamper Ukraine’s economic reconstruction and political democratization, which in turn could weaken Western support for Kyiv. Kyiv and Moscow would remain at loggerheads.

In the end, violence, even large-scale violence, would most likely flare up again, as it eventually has in most frozen conflicts from the Soviet area, including in Georgia’s regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have been de facto integrated into Russia after the latter’s military intervention in 2008, and Nagorno-Karabakh, where a thirty-year stalemate ended last year when Azerbaijani troops swept into the ethnic Armenian enclave.

If this happens, the West would be hard pressed to go back to its original strategy of supporting Ukraine militarily or accept Russia’s further advancements and face a much-worsened security landscape in Europe and beyond, given the ramifications for the West’s global standing following defeat in Ukraine.

Most Western leaders are probably aware that President Putin will not be content with anything other than the complete subjugation of Ukraine. They should set aside any lingering hesitations and delays in arms deliveries and start acting upon the assumption that supporting Ukraine “as long as it takes” is not the right approach—if it were, Putin would have made concessions at this stage. Instead, the West should do “whatever it takes” to ensure Ukraine wins its battle for independence.

We Cannot Indefinitely Kick the Can Down the Road


Two years on from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the West keeps running away from difficult decisions. To be sure, Ukraine would no longer be able to defend itself were it not for the collective effort of the transatlantic community. Yet, half-hearted measures like slow-rolling military support only address half of the problem. The West has fed Ukraine enough militarily to make it too big to swallow for Russia, but failed so far to curb the Russian appetite. Having digested yet another part of occupied Ukraine, Russia will come back with even greater vigour.

Too many Western policymakers still delude themselves that a compromise with Russia is possible, as if its invasion of Ukraine were a mere unfortunate accident on a somewhat bumpy, but steady, road toward settlement with Russia. Putin will get no rest until he either subjugates Ukraine or destroys it. This imperial self-conception is not just his, but that of Russian elites at large. What happens in Ukraine will not stay in Ukraine. Russia’s long-term strategic goal is to bring back its global power status and recreate a security order built on spheres of influence, and it will not shy away from deploying people and resources from conquered Ukraine against the West.

Instead of targeting its symptoms, the disease of Russian expansionism must be tackled directly. Time has not yet run out, but the window of opportunity is slowly closing. Western leaders should stop kicking the can down the road and face the unpleasant challenge of how to thwart, once and for all, Russian plans to subjugate Ukraine. This requires credible commitment to build up Ukraine’s defenses so it can recover as much territory as possible, and subsequently provide the country with firm security guarantees.

Admittedly, the West has struggled to mobilize more resources and is still not ready to deploy troops on the ground to secure Ukraine, but make no mistake—the war will drag on until the West eventually steps in and fully embraces Ukraine. Therefore, the shortest path to ending this war runs through Ukraine’s accession to NATO, which would be the least costly, and, simultaneously, most effective stabilizing option for the broader transatlantic community.

An accession to NATO would likely entail a painful delay for Kyiv in regaining some of the occupied territories, which Article 5 would temporarily not cover—the ultimate price to be paid for our foot-dragging in arming Ukraine.

Otherwise, Russia will keep bleeding Ukraine—and our pockets—out.

Freeze, Seize, and Tax


With President Biden’s support package stuck in Congress, the decision by the European Union to send an annual $13.5 billion in budget support to Ukraine for the next four years is a much-needed emergency injection that will prevent sovereign default. But it will be insufficient to protect the country from further military onslaught, let alone allow it to rebuild. According to the International Monetary Fund, Ukraine would need at least $37 billion in external support this year to remain resilient. Given the scale of the potential financial commitment, alternative funding sources should be considered.

The seizure of $300 billion in frozen Russian Central Bank (RCB) assets by Group of Seven (G7) countries, $205 billion of which are in the European Union, has long been touted as a potential funding source for Ukraine. While the United States, Belgium, Czechia, and Estonia have looked into how to use freezes within a national context, the G7 debate has lingered due to both international law concerns and fears about Russian retaliation. The European Central Bank has also warned that the move could undermine investor confidence in the euro, leading to capital flight and volatility in financial markets.

Such concerns should not be blown out of proportion. It is vital that international investors not perceive the action as arbitrary and risky. In fact, such a course would be legally justifiable given Russia’s blatant violations of the UN Charter and international criminal law, including the 1948 Genocide Convention. Retaliatory measures from Russia would only unsettle global markets if China, Saudi Arabia, and other economic powerhouses felt that divestment from the eurozone would be worth the economic pain in the short to mid-term. Chances of such a decision are low.

The status of the euro as a reserve currency is strong, thanks to the lure of the single market and its democratic underpinnings anchored in the rule of law. If confiscation were to happen simultaneously in all G7 countries, the risk of the euro losing points on its star rating would be mitigated. To avoid undermining the euro’s status—and that of the dollar, yen, and pound—diplomatic channels should be used to persuade other countries, Switzerland in particular, to close ranks with the G7.

In a show of support for Ukraine ahead of the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion, EU member states have unanimously agreed to set aside windfall profits generated from RCB assets immobilized in Europe. Future proceeds (estimated at more than $4 billion per year) will be booked separately and not paid out as dividends to shareholders until member states decide to set up a financial contribution to the EU budget that shall be raised on these net profits to support Ukraine. That levy, the EU believes, is consistent with applicable contractual obligations and in accordance with international law.

Another levy worth considering is for G7 countries to make Western companies pay for the privilege of continuing to do business in Russia despite sanctions. While some of the world’s largest companies have completely pulled out from Russia, most EU and G7 firms maintain a foothold in Russia to ‘honor’ existing contracts. Taxing them would make them pay for their contribution to Russia’s war effort against Ukraine.

Why Ukraine Should Win This War


Victory for Ukraine is the rightful outcome of this war for many reasons. Saving thousands of lives is what first comes to mind. Defending Ukraine’s independence, territorial integrity, and democratic future are also obvious. Ensuring European security and energy supply, reining in the advance of autocracies, and dispelling the danger of a wider and far more dangerous confrontation with Russia are meaningful reasons as well.

The feasibility of Ukraine’s victory depends on two conditions: unwavering Western military and economic support and the will of the Ukrainian people to resist until victory is achieved. Victory also requires Russian acceptance of a more limited regional role. It won’t be easy. War fatigue is spreading as the conflict enters its third year, and international attention is understandably drawn to the Israel-Hamas confrontation and its regional implications.

A Russian victory raises many questions for Ukraine: Would it accept the loss of a significant part of its territory? What will happen to the population of the occupied territories and to the twenty thousand or more stolen Ukrainian children? And will the Russification policies carried out by the Kremlin be effective on a population that has endured occupation, filtration camps, and the destruction of their homes, schools, and cities?

Given what we know about the history of Ukraine and the determination of its people, it also remains to be seen whether permanent partisan activity would undermine the Russian occupation with the constant risk of a new war.

If there were an armistice or peace agreement without a Ukrainian victory, it is doubtful that Russia would comply. From the 1654 Pereyaslav Treaty to the 1984 Budapest Memorandum to the 1997 Russian–Ukrainian Friendship Treaty, history has shown Russia to disregard or directly violate most of its bilateral or multilateral agreements. The world cannot assume that this time will be different.

Nevertheless, even if a Ukrainian victory would be the fair, morally acceptable outcome, Russia will forever be a neighbor to the European Union and NATO. A compromise must be reached among Russia, Ukraine, and NATO to ensure lasting peace on the continent. Russia needs to honor its international commitments and, consequently, restore and respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. A mutual nonaggression pact should also be reached between NATO and Russia, with built-in guarantees for the latter to be reassured regarding its alleged security concerns.

This is not just about Ukraine and the future of its people. World security is at stake if imperial autocrats get their way through force and violation of international law.

The Only Way to End This War Is to Defeat Putin


The Russia-Ukraine war, which actually started in March 2014 with the invasion of Crimea, continues to move in stages. President Putin has not accepted the demise of the Soviet Union and his policies have been geared to compensate for that loss. Georgia and Moldova also have Russian troops on their soil. Hoping for a quick resolution to his February 2022 invasion, President Putin failed miserably in Ukraine and the war is still raging. In 2023, there was talk of Ukraine not only stopping Russia but also repelling it. However, it is now clear that the outcome of this protracted war will depend on who is more resilient. Despite Russia’s superior numbers and equipment, the most debated issue this year is whether the West, particularly the United States, will continue its support for Ukraine.

Even if one agrees or disagrees on the origins of recent attacks in several regions, they all have one thing in common: warring countries or nonstate actors no longer expect negotiations or diplomatic resolutions that have been postponed for years, even decades. The Russian aggression in Ukraine is only the latest example.

It is evident that the post–World War II international order headed by the United States is threatened. As a result of the war in Ukraine and the conflict between Israel and Hamas, Russia and the United States have taken turns blocking resolutions at the UN Security Council. The Council is not functioning, and without reform, is destined to be obsolete. Disinformation is another problem compounding these challenges as technology advances at a rapid rate.

The Russia-Ukraine war will most probably continue until one side is depleted. The only way to end this war is to defeat Putin, the primary cause of it all. However, even a Russian defeat may seem to be a pause, with fighting only to flare up again later. The world is watching how the West responds, whether it will resist or capitulate. The impact of a possible second Trump administration will be significant for Ukraine, Europe, and beyond. The resulting ramifications will resonate globally. Hard power calls for hard power. As a result, after years of obfuscation, the European Union should finally develop a deterrent system apart from the United States. Since Washington’s involvement in Europe is not guaranteed, it must rely on its own resources to defend itself.  

Pathways for Diplomacy and a Ceasefire

Africa’s Potential Role in Mediating the Ukraine Conflict


In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Africa became an unexpected focus of global attention. Over the past decade, Russia has escalated its presence across Africa, repositioning itself as a burgeoning power in the global race for influence on the continent. This situation divided African countries at the United Nations, evidenced by a nearly split vote on General Assembly resolutions condemning the invasion.

The rise in fuel, fertilizer, and grain prices in 2022, a direct consequence of the conflict, inadvertently propelled many African countries toward more proactive diplomatic stances that deviated from the expectations of the Western and Russian sides. An intriguing development occurred in June 2023 with the African Peace Initiative.

Spearheaded by seven African countries—Comoros, Congo-Brazzaville, Egypt, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia—this coalition presented a document to Ukraine and Russia that provided a clearer and more balanced African stance on the conflict for the first time. Leading these efforts de facto, South Africa has since engaged actively with Russia and Ukraine, demonstrating the continent’s potential leverage in future negotiations. African states did not align with Western demands for sanctions against Russia. However, their participation in the Ukraine Peace Formula elicited criticism from Russia, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted at the first 2024 BRICS Sherpa meeting.

This balanced position by African countries presents a unique opportunity for the continent to mediate this conflict. Mediation, an intricate blend of art and science, demands strategic patience, proper positioning of stakeholders, and identifying engagement opportunities until the moment is ripe for negotiations. The conflict in Ukraine, characterized by its complexity and seemingly intractable nature, underscores the importance of potential mediators in constructing avenues for dialogue.

A negotiated settlement becomes more realistic if the conflict reaches a mutually hurting stalemate. We are not quite there yet. Thus, identifying the timing for mediation is tricky, as limited information and developments on the ground make it difficult to assess the sense of urgency and readiness to negotiate.

However, with their extensive experience in mediation, established relationships with Western states and Russia, and support from the Global South, African countries are well-positioned to bridge the divide when the time is ripe. Their role could be instrumental in fostering a negotiated settlement, underscoring the continent's emerging significance in addressing global geopolitical disputes. The world’s powers should not write off Africa’s role so quickly.

Concrete Steps Toward Peace: A Ceasefire and No Ukraine Membership in NATO


The Russia-Ukraine war appears to have reached a stalemate as it moves into its third year. Ukraine’s counteroffensive has been unable to drive back Russian forces or recover lost territory, despite the overwhelming support of the United States and other NATO countries. The Russian military has also not made significant advances in its attempts to seize additional territory. Yet the destruction of towns and villages, as well as the loss of life, continues on a hideous and unacceptable scale.

Given the growing human insecurity within the region, the need to resolve the conflict has become increasingly compelling. Thus, the time has come for the world to make more concrete efforts at ending the war.

First, the UN Security Council has to work out a humanitarian ceasefire that should be agreed to by Russia, Ukraine, and their allies. This should serve as a starting point for potential peace negotiations. Second, both nations should be persuaded into beginning direct talks as a prelude to peace negotiations.

Third, NATO, the United States, and their allies must abandon the extremely divisive and dangerous notion of offering Ukraine NATO membership. Moscow’s long-standing concerns about Ukraine’s potential NATO membership and resultant threat such a move poses remain at the core of the conflict. While Russia is uncomfortable with Finland and Sweden joining NATO, it does not view those developments with the same desperation and trepidation as Ukraine’s membership. Therefore, NATO should respect geopolitical and strategic boundaries, abandon the notion of Ukraine’s accession, and, alternatively, aim at securing UN Security Council-protection guarantees for Ukraine after the war.

Fourth, to defuse the tension in East-West relations, Ukraine's Western allies should attempt a rapprochement with Russian President Vladimir Putin rather than continue their current policy of hostility and regime change in Moscow. This is necessary to end the contentious foot dragging diplomacy that has crippled the UN Security Council since the war broke out.

Fifth, Russia needs to be persuaded to renounce the claim to the so-called “breakaway territories” of Donetsk and Luhansk as part of a peace deal to end the conflict. In contrast, Ukraine may need to acknowledge the pre-invasion status of Crimea under Russian control. Sixth, the UN Security Council and other organizations should ensure adherence by both parties to existing and emerging peace deals to ensure sustainable peace in the region.

A Blueprint for Conditional Peace


The situation in Ukraine is a political and military deadlock. With the political uncertainty of the so-called year of elections, Europe could further be divided on aid to Ukraine, while a second Trump administration in the United States could lead to a disconnect within the transatlantic alliance. Nevertheless, those uncertainties also present a window of opportunity for diplomacy. Although 2024 may not usher in peace for Ukraine, it could be pivotal for international cooperation on unlocking the stalemate.

First, Ukraine and its allies must define suboptimal victory. While preserving Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity remains the ultimate goal, it is crucial to acknowledge the challenges it presents. Ukrainian forces advanced an average of only ninety meters per day during the peak of their counteroffensive, with less than 1 percent of its territory retaken in 2023. This indicates that Ukraine's goal of restoring the 1991 border will demand considerable time, resources, and casualties, and may become the lonely fight of President Zelenskyy. Establishing a robust defense and negotiations to restore the pre-war status could be seen as a more realistic definition of Ukraine’s victory.

Second, all parties must consider a situation of frozen conflict as the conditional peace. Although the frozen conflict cannot completely resolve the security dilemma, it can significantly reduce casualties and spillover effects, paving the way for a peace process starting with a ceasefire. This approach has proven effective in the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East, and Georgia, making Ukraine another potential candidate for such a strategy.

Third, Russia, Ukraine, and their allies should facilitate a phased ceasefire framework. Given the distrust between Russia and Ukraine and Ukraine ruling out any negotiations, backchannel diplomacy and track-two dialogues are crucial. If the U.S.-led coalition can negotiate a feasible phased ceasefire framework based on Ukraine’s peace formula, countries in the Global South could establish a contact group to facilitate regular communication between Russia and Ukraine. This platform could explore conditions for a phased ceasefire, troop withdrawal, and the establishment of a demilitarized zone under UN peacekeeping force supervision.

Fourth, NATO should devise interim measures for Ukraine’s eventual membership. Ukraine's accession to NATO could prompt Russia to fortify its security buffer zone through new territorial realities, potentially challenging NATO’s collective security obligations under Article 5. Negotiating long-term security cooperation agreements with major countries could serve as an interim measure for Ukraine's security.

Fifth, Russia, Ukraine, their allies, and mediators should craft a goal-based negotiation package. Simply retaking Russian-controlled territories won’t ensure lasting peace. Resolving the conflict requires long-term security assurances for Ukraine, addressing Russia’s legitimate security concerns, designing territorial sovereignty arrangements, and a comprehensive negotiation package on Ukraine, the European security architecture, and transatlantic strategic stability.

Time for a Full-Court Diplomatic Effort to End War


The Russia-Ukraine war has been raging for two years, and it doesn’t appear that the destruction and military assault will stop soon. It is undeniable that the conflict is complex and will be difficult to settle as both warring parties are adamant about winning the war. Presidents Zelenskyy and Putin have both made distinct appeals to other countries to secure support to win the war.

Russia has turned to China, India, and the Global South, while the United States and Europe have been unwavering in their support for Ukraine. Diplomacy has taken a backseat as the current emphasis is primarily on victory on the battlefield. By giving parties with disparate interests or points of view a forum for dialogue and discussion, diplomacy plays a critical role in both preventing and ending wars. To resolve the ongoing crisis, diplomatic engagement through negotiations and mediation needs to be given more consideration. Further, it ought to take precedence over other inefficient measures, such as using military force to accomplish political goals.

To find a compromise, mediation groups made up of impartial, neutral nations should engage with Presidents Zelenskyy and Putin. Similarly, citizen-led initiatives and mediation efforts involving respected international leaders and nonstate entities should also play a part. The Global South should play a decisive diplomatic role in resolving the conflict. It is important to support and replicate the African Peace Delegation made up of African leaders—including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Senegalese President Macky Sall, Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, Comorian President Azali Assoumani, and high-ranking representatives from Egypt and Uganda—in their efforts to negotiate with the warring parties. It would also be beneficial to establish and promote more third-party interventions from the Global South to mediate and negotiate a peaceful settlement to the dispute. This is significant because it is now clear that the West and the Global North are incapable of or unwilling to end the war peacefully.

Even though several diplomatic attempts for a ceasefire have been made, more possibilities for communication and a negotiated end of this conflict should be explored. It is important to consolidate the gains made possible by diplomatic efforts, such as the UN and Turkish-mediated Black Sea Grain Initiative, which was instrumental in preventing a global food crisis.

Despite the complexity of the problems, they are not insurmountable. A greater focus should be placed on reaching a settlement through negotiations that can end the war by addressing both nations’ security concerns and settling their territorial dispute.

The Gulf Cooperation Council States Could Help in De-escalation


The outcome of the Russia-Ukraine war is more uncertain than ever. The Western unity behind Ukraine is starting to show its first cracks, mostly due to domestic political considerations in countries such as the United States, Hungary, and Slovakia. The European Union was only able to overcome Hungary’s objection to a $50 billion military assistance package for Ukraine at its emergency summit meeting in early February after months of delay, and approval of new U.S. Congressional funding remains doubtful. While continued military assistance is critical for the Ukrainian war effort, much will depend on the outcome of the upcoming U.S. presidential election, where the potential return of Donald Trump would likely mark a significant shift in U.S. policy toward Russia. In the meantime, President Putin is content to play the waiting game in hopes that Western solidarity will further weaken.

With the Middle East facing its own crisis in Gaza following the attacks on Israel on October 7, 2023, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have maintained an overall balanced position on Ukraine. On the one hand, the Arab Gulf has condemned the invasion in numerous votes at the United Nations and upheld humanitarian assistance programs for Ukraine. On the other hand, Gulf states have maintained diplomatic channels with Russia. This is part of an overall approach that prioritizes open communication channels to all parties ultimately resolve the conflict.

The GCC states are not in a position to contain nor end the conflict in Ukraine. Yet they can provide a platform for discussions over possible resolution efforts. Recent mediation steps led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to facilitate Ukrainian-Russian prisoner exchanges are one example of this. The hosting of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy during the Arab League summit and the holding of peace talks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in August 2023 are other contributions that GCC states have made. Moreover, during his visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in December 2023, Russian President Putin expressed his support for continued mediation efforts. This suggests other actors can facilitate the exploration of de-escalating steps and find a potential resolution.

Managing an Intractable Conflict

Ukraine Needs a Strategic Reorientation


Russia’s war against Ukraine has reached an inflection point in two critical respects. First, the offensive that Ukraine launched last summer failed to break through Russian defenses. At best, a military stalemate has settled in; at worst, Russia is poised to make further offensive advances. For now, and likely for the foreseeable future, Ukraine has no realistic prospect of restoring territorial integrity by force.

Second, although the governments of most NATO allies remain firmly committed to helping Ukraine resist Russian aggression, their ability to continue securing substantial flows of military and economic aid to Ukraine has become uncertain. Constraints on U.S. and European weapons stockpiles are part of the problem. But the more telling shift is political. Europe struggled to win approval of its new $54 billion package of economic assistance. In the United States, Republicans have so far blocked President Biden’s effort to secure some $60 billion in additional aid for Ukraine. Even if Congress eventually does approve a new package, political obstacles to supporting Ukraine are mounting on both sides of the Atlantic.

Under these circumstances, Ukraine has no choice but to pivot from an offensive to a defensive military strategy, focusing on consolidating its hold on the 80 percent of the country under Kyiv’s control. Ukraine needs to devote available manpower and resources to holding the line, preventing Russia from advancing on the battlefield while forcing Russian forces to suffer the heavy losses that come with efforts to break through defensive lines. Meanwhile, Ukraine should continue to hamper Russian operations and raise costs by striking deep behind the front lines and targeting Russian positions in Crimea and naval assets in the Black Sea.

This reorientation, by laying out a strategy that matches available means to attainable ends, would help consolidate Western support for Ukraine. That goal is urgent. The U.S. Congress needs to act immediately to provide Ukraine with the air defense capabilities, ammunition, and other assets it needs to hold off continuing Russian advances and defend its cities and economic infrastructure against Russian attacks.

As it pivots to defense, secures Western support, and blocks further Russian advances, Ukraine also needs to develop a roadmap for strengthening its economic and political resilience. That means readying plans for reconstruction and taking advantage of candidacy for EU membership by working hard to implement the economic and political reforms required for accession. It means working with its Western supporters to provide the military capability to defend itself for the long haul. Even if Russian President Vladimir Putin no longer seeks to conquer Ukraine militarily, he may well try to turn it into a failed state. Defeating Russian aggression means ensuring Ukraine emerges from this war as a prosperous and secure democracy.

The door to diplomacy should remain open. In his recent interview with Tucker Carlson, Putin expressed interest in efforts to “negotiate” an end to the war, calling for Ukraine to cede territory to Russia. While that proposal is a nonstarter for both Ukraine and the West, Kyiv and its supporters should explore potential pathways to a ceasefire. An end to the fighting would then clear the way for negotiations about a lasting territorial settlement—ultimately Kyiv’s best option given that Ukraine has a better chance of restoring territorial integrity at the negotiating table than on the battlefield.

Prospects for a Lasting Peace Remain Dim


Wars end either with one side decisively defeating the other, or both sides, realizing that total victory is unattainable, agreeing to a compromise peace. In the Russia-Ukraine war, neither scenario is imminent as both sides prepare fresh offensives and counteroffensives in 2024.

Evidently, President Vladimir Putin still wishes to control all of Ukraine, not just occupy parts of its territory. The good news for Kyiv is that despite the $60 billion in U.S. funding held hostage in Congress, Brussels has provided a timely lifeline with a $54 billion multi-year deal. For the European Union, however, its funding may face turbulence should Donald Trump return to the White House later this year because he will likely press them to provide more aid to Ukraine. The West faces strong pressure from supporters of Ukraine to unlock the sizable Russian foreign reserves immobilized in Western banks to pay for Ukrainian defense and reconstruction.

While President Joe Biden continues to support aid to Ukraine, how long this remains U.S. policy is uncertain. More critical theaters, including the war between Israel and Hamas and U.S.-China tensions, are of high priority as well, and will draw military assets away from Ukraine. This is a major factor behind Putin’s recent desire to go on the offensive to secure more territory to better leverage his bargaining position later.

A halt to the fighting is possible, but prospects for a lasting peace remain dim.

Containing the conflict will require a change in mindsets. It will also entail Ukraine sacrificing some of its territory, not to cede to Russia, but to form part of a demilitarized zone. The other part of the demilitarized zone should comprise adjacent land set aside by Russia. This zone could be patrolled by UN peacekeepers, with Russian and Ukrainian police stationed on their respective sides to assist peacekeepers maintain law and order.  

Preserving Ukraine as a viable, independent, and neutral state will require security arrangements agreed on between the interested parties. Kyiv could pledge, for example, not to join NATO or to station foreign troops on its soil. Ukraine would in effect, assume a status akin to Austria, which is bound to neutrality by the 1955 Austrian State Treaty and its constitution. In return, as a special case, NATO could consider stationing significant assets in nearby member states that could be accessed should hostilities resume.

The incentive for Russia in this deal, for a start, would be an end to sanctions and unfreezing its assets in Western financial centers and a return of foreign investments into Moscow. China’s presence as one of the peace-brokers would not only reassure Russia, but Beijing could also provide substantial financial and material aid for the reconstruction of Ukraine’s war-torn territories and infrastructure.  

The Difficulties of Diplomacy and Clash of Civilizations


At the start of the third year of the Russia-Ukraine war, it is evident that it is not only a tragic regional conflict but also the clash of civilizations and remaking of the world order, which political scientist Samuel Huntington predicted thirty years ago. The contradiction between a declining West and its model of democracy and surging East and its authoritarian rules can be seen in the east of Europe.

The present stage of the conflict is described most frequently as a stalemate and war of attrition.

Russia’s size, military-industrial complex, and human and material resources exceed Ukrainian capabilities. The difference might allow Russia to not only maintain its positions in the east and south of Ukraine, but also to go on the offensive.

Nevertheless, given the majority of European leaders view Russia as an existential danger, its military and economic assistance to Ukraine will continue to equalize Ukraine’s chances. EU leaders have finally agreed on a funding deal worth more than $50 billion for Ukraine, and a similar U.S. package stuck in Congress will also likely come through.

No matter how the conflict ends, a completely satisfactory outcome for Russia cannot be visualized. Relations with the Ukrainians, who were a fraternal nation, will remain antagonistic for a long time. Normal relations with the West, where a significant part of the Russian elite has departed for, will need to be restored at the price of significant concessions. The concept of a separate Eurasian civilization led by Russia is hardly viable in view of the ever-shrinking population, lack of cultural appeal, and growing economic difficulties.

It appears that military stalemate provides an opportunity for diplomatic solutions. However, all parties remain dramatically opposed. For Ukraine, the presidential decree formally prohibits negotiations with Russia. For Russia, there are impossible demands for the “demilitarization, denazification and neutralization of Ukraine,” as well as a ban on Ukraine joining NATO.

Informal and formal contacts between intermediaries have not yet led to any results. Many hopes are pinned to the period after the U.S. presidential elections. The year 2024 will see increasing tension and uncertainty.

To End War, Rethink the European Security Architecture


As the Russia-Ukraine war crosses its two-year mark, both sides along with countries across the globe continue to suffer the devastating consequences of war, yet an end still appears elusive.

A military resolution to the war is unlikely given the current stalemate. Both sides have tried various strategies—offensive as well as defensive—without either coming close to a decisive victory. Any sustainable peace needs to be based on the principles enshrined in the UN Charter, including respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. A sound strategy implies getting the balance right between ends, ways, and means. That is missing on both sides of the conflict.

Rethinking the European security architecture, which is essentially shattered, is fundamentally needed. Therefore, the goal of any political process needs to acknowledge Ukrainian insecurity vis-à-vis Russia as well as Russian insecurity vis-à-vis the West. This acknowledgement on both sides needs to guarantee Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity while simultaneously ensuring Russian sensitivities are taken into account by the wider West in the construction of a new security order. This is imperative for a durable resolution, without which tensions are likely to continue to simmer and erupt suddenly and dramatically.

Even while stalled militarily, the war is continuing to pile immense pressure on the wider global economy and the world. The Global South demands that the war be resolved as soon as possible to alleviate further suffering. Sustainable resolutions cannot work without taking into account how this war has harmed many poorer and less-developed nations. From their perspective, too, a long-term resolution is vital for the development agenda, which has become a casualty of the war. As India has emphasized, war is not the solution; dialogue and diplomacy will have to play a larger role.

Unless a genuine modus vivendi—embedded in a newer security logic, architecture, and perspective for the region—is found between the aspirations and insecurities of both sides, a sustainable resolution will remain elusive. Before further death and destruction take place, Ukraine, Russia, and their allies should seriously think about diplomacy or a political process that involves, at its core, the UN Charter and its principles. Both sides’ priorities should be acknowledged, and the goal should focus on determining a lasting political resolution. This appears the only logical way forward.