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No Dearth of Peace Proposals in Ukraine Crisis but India’s Mediation Gets Tricky

It's difficult to see India arguing for a dilution of sovereignty while sitting shoulder to shoulder with Beijing.

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Ukraine's Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova’s very first visit to India since the war began, is a reach out to Delhi to intercede in the debilitating war that has destroyed large parts of a once prosperous country. India has made it clear that it stands ready to assist in peace efforts. The trouble is whether either side or the many other actors involved are ready for mediation efforts, however imaginative.

There’s after all, no lack of peace proposals, each of which says much about the motivations of the proposers, and a reality check on just where the war stands, disinformation overload apart. Evaluating these based on major issues yields some clarity on what could possibly be put on a negotiating table, particularly if India chooses to be a part of such an effort.

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Nuclear Threat Looming Large

First, in order for the world at large, is the issue of nuclear dangers. President Putin moved from vague apparently reactive threats—mostly denied later—to a specific plan to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, marking the 'first’ of such movements since the fall of the Soviet Union.

There is also a clear statement that Russia would no longer abide by a 'nuclear-free Baltic' if Nordic countries joined NATO. Other more tangential threats included a decision to ‘suspend’ its obligations under START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty). The reaction to this has been interesting.

The US reiterated recently that it has not changed its nuclear posture, despite the Russian military announcing drills of all three legs of its nuclear triad, as part of a 'nuclear alert’. That seems to be a strategy to deny Putin a nuclear advantage.
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Beijing’s military commanders have reached rather a different conclusion that Russia’s nuclear brandishing has deterred the US and its allies from directly entering the war. Beijing’s official 12-point peace proposal states clearly that "Nuclear weapons must not be used and nuclear wars must not be fought," and supports the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in promoting the safety and security of peaceful nuclear facilities. That’s also part of the Zelensky 10-point proposal which calls for IAEA presence in all 15 nuclear facilities which the IAEA has since accepted.

India’s response has been active, according to the CIA Chief William Burns who credited Delhi with restraining Russia in 'nuclear sabre-rattling’. Notably, so did China. It seems that this is one thing that all countries are united on. No nukes and no radiation threats. In other words, an immediate ceasefire since Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors are spread all over the country.

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China’s Skewed ‘Sovereignty’ Deal

‘Sovereignty’ is rapidly becoming a dirty word in this war. China’s proposals include 'respecting the sovereignty’ of all countries which is as hypocritical as it gets, given its inventive claims on Indian territory not to mention its occupation of Tibet. Besides, this is qualified by the next paragraph which talks of 'legitimate security interests’. But it must also be remembered that the ‘West’ has been equally dodgy when it comes to specifically outlining ‘victory’ in the war—an attitude apparent since 2015 when the first ceasefires were being worked out.

Scholars point to the ‘Minsk Conundrum' when it was apparent that Russia and Ukraine have entirely different perspectives on what constitutes sovereignty, with the one insisting that Russian troops leave the area before ceding a large degree of 'self-dependence’ for occupied Donbas, and Moscow insisting that the law for this be passed first.

President Zelensky insists on the full withdrawal of Russian forces from all territories including Crimea, a position that he and everyone else knows is undoable. Recently, a senior government, however, not only agreed to talk to Putin but said that Kyiv is willing to discuss the future of Crimea with Moscow if its forces reach the border of the Russian-occupied peninsula.

That’s rather a big ‘if’ even should the recent 'leaks' on Ukrainian military shortcomings be incorrect or doctored. Meanwhile, in an unusual move, UK, Germany, and France have offered Ukraine a pact that includes strong weapons aid, but without the Article 5 defence commitment that is fundamental to NATO in a bid to get President Zelensky to open negotiations.
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Such a move would hardly have been made without some consensus among NATO partners. The Chinese plan says nothing about vacating Ukrainian territory, the UN Resolutions do, but with 141 in favour, seven against, and 32 abstentions including China, India, and Pakistan.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has suggested that Kyiv cede the Black Sea peninsula to Russia to end the war, adding his Ukrainian counterpart "can not want everything". In other words, ‘sovereignty’ seems to run on the principle of ‘grabbers, keepers’. The Minsk agreements are long past, and the first line of mediation possible is to get Russia or Ukraine not to push further. In other words, a standstill agreement. Meanwhile, the erosion of ‘sovereignty’ does no good to the international system, and certainly not good for India, given the salami-slicing effort ongoing on Indian borders.

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Who’s Playing the Mediator in the Ukraine Issue?

There are enough UN Guidelines now for mediation, but the central tenet is the consent of ‘all’ parties involved—not just one or two. In this case, it’s a point that the ‘parties’ involved include the US, and various other European powers, not all of whom are likely to agree even to a ceasefire.

The upcoming US elections are another complicating factor. Then there is a fundamental question as to whether peace will benefit the political futures of President Zelensky or Putin. As history has shown, a wartime politician rarely makes it through peacetime. But assuming that each of them is reaching exhaustion, there is the question of who is to mediate.

Brazil has proposed the creation of a group of countries, potentially including China, India, and Indonesia for the purpose. China’s Foreign Ministry readout of the visit of President Macron said the two had “agreed to continue to step up communication and play a constructive role in promoting peace talks and the political settlement of the crisis."

Beijing refuses to call out Russia nor has President Xi officially talked to President Zelensky. China has, however, reportedly withdrawn the ‘no limits’ phraseology from official communication with Russia.

China wants the war to end, as a further weakening of Russia hardly serves its interests, a position that India would also follow. An effort at mediation by India together with China and other countries is possible. But it's difficult to see India arguing for a dilution of sovereignty while sitting shoulder to shoulder with Beijing.
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What is possible however, is first a ceasefire, with an appropriate monitoring mechanism. This again rests on the assumption that each is reasonably satisfied with the extent of its territorial holdings.

As of now, Ukraine believes its spring offensive will give it more leverage, but the winds of the war can blow either way. This proposal may be made more palatable if this is followed by the promise of elections in the annexed provinces under the supervision of the UN.

The central thread of China’s position is, after all, UN involvement. Europe merely wants to end it all and get back to business. Russia, meanwhile, has a choice to make itself truly popular in those areas, which is all to the good.

If a true vote leads to these areas joining Russia, then Kyiv can hardly object. Such elections would need a capable UN force which Delhi can look to lead. After all, it is not just a thriving democracy but has a reputation for far more even-handedness than China. Delhi will go towards elections too, but unlike the US, a mediatory role would be another feather in the cap of the ruling party whose leadership has shown its ability to take political risks. Besides, enough is enough. Europe has led the world to war and instability for far too long, even as it’s the ‘global south’ which is paying the bills. And last, of all, Putin’s future is not anyone’s business, but one would advise him to stay at home, and count his costs. That's where safety lies.

(Dr Tara Kartha is a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS). She tweets @kartha_tara. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Ukraine crisis   Vladimir Putin   NATO 

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