Owen Matthews Owen Matthews

Putin’s ‘peace’ is a partitioned Ukraine

Is Vladimir Putin trying to end his war in Ukraine? According to recent reports, the Kremlin has launched a new ‘back-channel diplomacy’ to reach out to senior officials in the Joe Biden administration. Putin’s message: to signal that he could accept a ceasefire that freezes the fighting along current lines.

Reactions to the story have been furious. Some Ukrainians, sheltering from Russia’s biggest-ever missile and drone assaults of the war over Christmas, saw it as evidence of a nefarious Washington insider plot to sell Kyiv down the river. President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed Putin’s initiative as disingenuous, saying that he saw ‘no sign’ Russia genuinely wanted to negotiate. ‘We just see brazen willingness to kill,’ he told the New York Times.

Even Zaluzhny has admitted that ‘a magical break­through’ to reconquer its lost territories was unrealistic

In one sense, Zelensky is right: Putin’s ceasefire proposal will lock in Russia’s military gains, allow Putin to claim victory, reward aggression and effectively partition Ukraine. Nor does Putin’s reported offer to talk show any real willingness to compromise. ‘We have repeatedly proved that we are able to solve the most difficult tasks and will never retreat, because there is no force that can divide us,’ Putin told his nation in his New Year’s address – hardly the words of a man preparing any kind of climbdown.

Yet there is one brutal truth at the core of Putin’s manoeuvrings: the partition of Ukraine has, to a significant extent, already happened. Though no one in Washington wants to spell it out, the key challenge facing US policymakers this year will be how to handle that reality. The past year of fruitless fighting has shown that reconquering Ukraine’s lost territories in their entirety will require many times more blood and treasure than has already been spent – money that the US is increasingly unwilling to provide.

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