Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine could be immediately brought to a halt if Kyiv accepts the Kremlin’s demands, says Russia’s top brass. But this proposal begs the question: Is it real or simply another ruse to give the impression that Russia is reasonable? Why should Ukrainians or anyone else believe Moscow’s offer of secession of hostilities?
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, detailed Moscow’s demands, including that Ukraine cease military action, change its constitution to ensure it remains neutral, recognize Crimea as Russian territory, and accept the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent republics.
Peskov explained how the Russian “special military operation” could, in his words, be “stopped in a moment,” saying, “[w]e really are finishing the demilitarization of Ukraine. We will finish it. But the main thing is that Ukraine ceases its military action … and then no one will shoot.” But these demands have been made before and been rejected by the Ukraine government.
The Kremlin also said that it would honor a ceasefire to let refugees escape the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. However, artillery and small arms firing continued, and landmines along the evacuation route prevented refugees from leaving. Battlefield dispatches report as many as 406 Ukrainian civilians have been killed so far, with 27 children among the dead. Yet, Moscow’s flacks cling to the fiction that the Russian people are somehow the victims.
To add the ultimate insult to the ceasefire failure, “Attacks are said to continue despite a proposal from Russia to create safe escape routes out of Kyiv, Mariupol, Sumy, and Kharkiv. Ukraine branded the proposal ‘immoral’ after it emerged many of the routes would only take civilians to Russia or its ally Belarus,” BBC News reported. The proposal is the ultimate in hubris: Russians are killing Ukrainians, and the Ukrainians should embrace the opportunity to flee to the very people who are killing them? The idea is absurd on its face.
Nevertheless, Russia seems to be reaching out to find some offramp to extricate its troops. Putin and his cronies have made some serious miscalculations confronting what they assumed would be an easily defeated adversary. The unexpected bravery and intensity of Ukrainian forces defending their cities put to rest any notion of a quick victory.
Additionally, Moscow’s expectation of its forces rolling through Ukraine in a couple of days did not anticipate the outrage that coalesced worldwide during the extended fighting. A rapid takeover of Ukraine would not have allowed for the constant and graphic media reports of Russian barbarity in the face of Ukrainian fighters, who have come across as the courageous underdogs. By not achieving fast subjugation of Ukraine, the Kremlin allowed Kyiv’s armed forces to be resupplied. Although it isn’t the “no-fly zone” over Ukraine many had hoped for, the US and NATO have now agreed to send Soviet-era Polish fighter jets to Ukraine. “[T]hat gets a green light,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS’ Margaret Brennan when asked if the US supported such an initiative. “In fact, we’re talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to do to backfill their needs if, in fact, they choose to provide these fighter jets to, to the Ukrainians.”
Russia extending feelers for a way out of the mess is understandable. However, failure to achieve a quick victory, the unexpected will of the Ukrainians to fight for every inch of their country, the intense, vocal backlash of public opinion around the world, and NATO and US willingness to support Kyiv with arms and humanitarian aid have put Putin back on his heels. Going forward, the Kremlin will have to offer more believable measures than the already-rejected demands. Otherwise, Russia may experience the Soviet Union’s unpleasant sojourn in Afghanistan redux.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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