Russia-Ukraine, fake or real withdrawal? The subtle compromise on which peace is played

from Paolo Valentino

The solution to the crisis between Moscow and Kiev will necessarily have to proceed on the military and diplomatic track

BERLIN – The great Russian maneuvers have begun. But not those of the invasion ofUkraine, fortunately destined to remain the avatar of a media war between Moscow and Washington. But those of a partial military and political de-escalation, which Vladimir Putin prepares to orchestrate after having achieved some important goals, albeit paying for unwanted consequences. it is still too early to talk about the end of the Ukrainian crisis, which has been holding the international community in suspense for weeks now. But there are significant signs that the peak of the worst East-West confrontation since the Cold War has been reached and passed.

Yesterday, the Russian Defense Ministry made it known that some of the troops deployed in the border regions of Ukraine have started returning to the bases, after finishing the exercises. The agency Interfax he specified that even the soldiers deployed in the Crimea have begun to return to the barracks. The maneuvers, however, continue in the rest of the border areas. The announcement comes in addition to indications provided on Monday by Sergei Shoigu, the Minister of Defense, according to which the simulations in Belarus are also about to end. it was the first concrete signal of relaxation on the military level to come from Moscow, in tune with the change of tone inaugurated on Monday by Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov. In a clearly prepared staging, in the presence of Putin who observed nodding, Lavrov had declared himself in favor of continuing diplomatic efforts to defuse it.. Yesterday the Kremlin sphinx also spoke, declaring himself ready for dialogue with the West.

The first Ukrainian reaction to the announcement of the end of the maneuvers was skeptical. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kiev will believe de-escalation when it sees a full-blown withdrawal. The Americans are also skeptical, according to which Russia remains in any case able to launch an offensive at any moment. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is skeptical, according to whom the Russians have sometimes faked a withdrawalleaving heavy weapon systems in place for later use.

What will it take then for the Kremlin’s apparent relaxing intentions to be credible and taken seriously? And again: in what concrete way is it possible to get out of the crisis, once the invasion scenario has been denied?

The solution will necessarily have to proceed on the double military and diplomatic track. Vladimir Putin neither wants nor can afford to keep up the expensive and dangerous toy he has put in place, especially since it has already served him to obtain a series of not negligible results: He has placed himself at the center of American foreign policy and international conversation and it has gained China’s support in the sense that it doesn’t have to worry about any problems at the border with Beijing, explains Fiona Hill, a Russian expert at the Brookings Institution, a former member of the National Security Council in the Trump administration. But to progressively dismantle it he needs to be able to boast a bonus at the diplomatic table.

Certainly Putin had not calculated the strong American reaction and the glue effect his war games had on NATO: Unwittingly Putin became the second father of the Alliance, says former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer. For this now he must find a way out that allows him to save face. The Kremlin leader knows very well that the requests made to the United States, first of all that of closing the door of NATO to Ukraine forever, are inadmissible. But he also knows that there is no concrete possibility for Kiev to join the Alliance in the next ten or twenty years.

in this rift of ambiguity that compromise can be forged. It became clear to us in the meeting between German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, both ready to say that the king naked: Ukraine’s entry into NATO is not on the agenda. The problem is finding a way to affirm it, without questioning its cardinal principle: the policy of open doors on the basis of which every sovereign country has the right to request accession to the Atlantic Pact. In short, it is a question of saying the obvious, but giving it some formal dress. The diplomatic negotiation will revolve around this verbal exercise (which is also substantial) plus a series of collateral but no less important tables, which are those of disarmament and security: elimination of intermediate nuclear missiles, new treaty to limit strategic ones, mutual trust measures such as a new inspection regime.

Of course, the evil is hidden in the details. And as long as the technical possibility of Russian military action is in place, there is little chance that diplomacy will also make progress. The two things stand or fall together.

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