A peace deal is possible: we all have a role to play


In a recent exploration of the “contours of a negotiated solution,” Crisis Group offered some very good advice:

Western governments should not aim for a complete, but likely unattainable, victory that includes a return to the pre-2014 status quo and war crimes investigations, let alone Russian President Vladimir Putin’s departure.

Their main objective should rather be an agreement that both sides can accept and that will bring the war to a close.

Last week’s Ceasefire.ca blog post elaborated what we — and others including Crisis Group — believe are the elements of a durable agreement that satisfies core security interests of Ukraine and Russia.

We also highlighted the essential role of the USA and NATO in backing the peace settlement, including through the provision of meaningful security guarantees as well as the lifting of some sanctions in return for the deal.

Helping Zelensky “sell” neutrality to Ukrainians

A key element of the peace deal apparently under discussion is a neutral status for Ukraine, in line with Russia’s longstanding demand that Ukraine not be granted NATO membership. Crisis Group comments:

Kyiv has already spoken of eschewing pursuit of NATO membership. As NATO is not planning to invite Ukraine to join, it should be ready to accept this step.

But is NATO acquiescence enough?

Professor Serhiy Kudelia, writing in Open Democracy, makes a compelling case for the potential inability of President Zelensky to “sell”  Ukrainian neutrality to the public if it appears to be a one-way concession, an “imposed neutrality” forced on the country by Russia.

He writes:

A sudden about-face by the president’s faction and other NATO supporters in parliament, who would need to amend Ukraine’s constitution to remove the country’s commitment to NATO membership, would be an explicit acquiescence to one of Russia’s key demands.

The professor cites the latest Ukrainian opinion poll, which  shows that a record number — 72% of respondents — support NATO membership, while fully 93 per cent of respondents were “largely or fully confident” that Ukraine would win the war with Russia.

In such circumstances, Zelensky faces an uphill battle unless he receives some help from NATO itself.

Kudelia argues it is essential, therefore, that NATO make clear the Alliance door is shut to Ukraine:

Neutrality would then no longer be viewed as a choice forced on Ukraine by Russia alone, but as an inevitable necessity.

President Zelensky could then “pivot from the need to justify abandoning NATO aspirations domestically to searching for a new security arrangement outside of existing alliances.”

In the view of Ceasefire.ca:

This action by the Alliance would be an important contribution to a political resolution of the conflict and the negative optics of shutting the membership door at this time could be decisively offset by a key compensatory provision of the deal — the security guarantees for Ukraine.

What about those security guarantees?

According to the Financial Times report of the negotiations that we outlined in last week’s blog post, one key outstanding element was unspecified security guarantees to Ukraine from key allies in return for abandoning its NATO membership aspirations.

Former UN and Australian diplomat Richard Wilcox proposes another variation on the idea of a neutrality treaty that specifically addresses the type of security guarantees required:

Ukraine would declare itself neutral and key external powers including the United States, major European states and potentially China would commit to protect this neutrality.

This guarantee, of necessity, would go far beyond the 1994 Budapest Memorandum formulation of “respect for Ukrainian sovereignty” and referral to the UN Security Council in case of violations.

He writes:

Instead, [Ukraine’s] neutrality would be guaranteed by the same tools of statecraft brought to bear following February’s invasion — severe economic sanctions and military aid short of combat intervention.

Neutrality treaty and the European Union

Professor Wilcox proposes that Ukraine’s desire for EU membership also be addressed in the neutrality treaty, writing:

the pact should explicitly require Russia to recognize Ukraine’s democratic and economic aspirations toward joining the European Union.

He acknowledges that Russia may “refuse to recognize Ukraine’s European aspirations,” but, at a minimum:

diplomacy will have shown a way to peace.

And ultimately Russia will have to judge, just as Ukraine must, whether the peace deal in its totality gives each of them enough.

On the matter of Russia potentially facing the need to further downgrade its war aims in light of the realities on the ground, see Russia appears to scale back war ambition to ‘liberating’ Donbas (Reuters, cbc.ca, 25 March 2022).

For the latest from Anatol Lieven (and colleagues), see Avoiding the Dangers of a Protracted Conflict in Ukraine (quincyinst.org, 25 March 2022).

UPDATE: for the latest on the resumption of face-to-face peace negotiations in Turkey, click here.

If a deal is reached, how might it be implemented?

It is not too early for policymakers to start thinking about what tasks a future peace operation might undertake. – Richard Gowan

For a creative early assessment of possible peace operations to help oversee the implementation of a partial or complete peace settlement between Russia and Ukraine, see A Tentative First Look at Options for Peace Operations in Ukraine (Richard Gowan, crisisgroup.org, 24 March 2022).

Whither Canada?

We urge the Government of Canada to engage in quiet diplomacy within NATO and bilaterally with the USA on concrete steps in support of a negotiated political solution to the war in Ukraine.  


A particularly alarming aspect of the media speculation and pontification on the Ukraine war concerns the alleged merits of an American response in kind should Russia launch a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine.

To get us back on track, we turn to an article in Responsible Statecraft by veteran arms control expert Joe Cirincione entitled Let’s curb loose talk of using lower-yield nuclear weapons (23 March 2022).

He quotes Brown University professor Nina Tannenwald:

The nuclear taboo is the single most important accomplishment of the nuclear age. It is the primary obligation of leaders today to make sure nuclear weapons are never used again.

But as Cirincione notes:

Unfortunately,… many experts are engaging in cavalier armchair strategies that normalize, or could even encourage, a nuclear war should Putin break this taboo.

Long time advocates of nuclear war fighting, using so-called “low-yield” nuclear warheads, urge this type of American response to any Russian nuclear use in Ukraine.

Cirincione responds:

These nuclear war advocates have lost touch with the reality of nuclear war. Even the smallest conceivable nuclear blast would be many times more powerful than the largest conventional bomb.

As Professor Tannenwald explains in a separate article:

Tactical nuclear weapons exist because each side fears it would be deterred from using its big city-razing [nuclear] weapons by their very destructiveness. By making nuclear weapons smaller and the targeting more precise, their use becomes more thinkable.

She continues:

No one should imagine, however, that it makes sense to use a tactical nuclear weapon. A thermonuclear explosion of any size possesses overwhelming destructive power.

And no one knows if using a tactical nuclear weapon would trigger full-scale nuclear war.

Rather than “loose talking” about using nuclear weapons, Professor Tannenweld argues that we need more discussion of the dangers of breaking the nuclear taboo:

Not just first use, but second use. We wouldn’t respond to the use of chemical weapons by using chemical weapons ourselves. The same must be true for nuclear weapons.

What do we do to lower the risks?

Citing the 2018 congressional testimony of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis on the dangers of tactical nuclear weapons, Tannenwald argues that:

We need experienced, senior leaders to reinforce the barriers to any nuclear use.

The hope is that this, in turn, will encourage President Joe Biden to declare that the United States and NATO have no intention of using a nuclear weapon first in this conflict, thereby strengthening the norm against use.

On the longer-term implications, Cirincione writes:

We must change our attitude toward these weapons, understanding that nuclear weapons are not our greatest strength but our greatest weakness.

In the words of Ploughshares Fund Policy Director Tom Collina:

The U.S. nuclear arsenal does nothing for us in this conflict. It did not keep Mr. Putin out of Ukraine.

Because he is willing to use the threat of nuclear war to deter intervention in Ukraine, the existence of nuclear weapons, if anything, helped enable him.

And right now we need former officials to join calls from anti-nuclear activists and other advocates of restraint:

We need a chorus of wiser voices to still the cries of the nuclear warriors and calm journalistic nuclear voyeurism.

For the full article by Joe Cirincione, click here. For a related article by Professor Tannenwald, click here.

Whither Canada?

We urge the Government of Canada to convey to President Biden our strong support for the adoption by the USA of a no-first-use of nuclear weapons or a “sole purpose” doctrine.


In our 5 March 2022 blog post, we observed that Canada’s prompt action to ensure possible war crimes by Russia in Ukraine are investigated as soon as possible by the ICC was tarnished by our opposition to such an investigation in Palestine.

This theme is echoed in a 10 March Guardian article entitled The US supports illegal annexations by Israel and Morocco. Why the hypocrisy?

Peter Beinart, the author of this article, recalls the Biden administration’s “stark warning to Vladimir Putin in December 2021:

Any use of force to change borders is strictly prohibited under international law.

Beinart agrees:

Remaking borders by force violates a core principle of international law. Which is why the Biden administration must do more than resist Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. It must stop violating that principle itself.

He reminds us that, in 2019, the Trump administration made the United States the only foreign country to recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 war. He writes:

Tel Aviv University Law Professor Eliav Lieblich noted that the decision — which contradicted a unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution supported by the US itself — constituted a “significant departure from the bedrock legal prohibition of unilateral annexation.”

He further notes:

The Russian government called it an “indication of the contempt that Washington shows for the norms of international law.”

Then, in 2020, the Trump administration followed up by making the United States the only foreign country to recognize Morocco’s brutal annexation of Western Sahara, a territory Morocco invaded in 1975 after the territory’s Spanish colonial rulers withdrew.

Once again, Russia blasted the US for transgressing a “universally recognized international legal” principle.

Beinart notes:

Since taking office, the Biden administration has reversed neither of these Trump decisions. To the contrary, the US continues to provide Israel almost $4 billion in military aid per year absent any human rights conditions even as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International allege that it is practicing apartheid.

The Biden administration has also boosted arms sales to Morocco even though the US-based democracy watchdog Freedom House reports that people in Western Sahara enjoy fewer freedoms than people in China or Iran.

In Beinart’s view, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine gives the Biden administration a chance to “reconsider this dangerous path”:

It can harness the current global revulsion against Putin’s aggression to rebuild the principle that no country should redraw another’s borders by force. But only if it reverses Trump’s decisions and proves that the US is willing to live by the standards it demands of Moscow.

These two decisions advantage Israel, which enjoys wide support in Washington, so to undo them, Biden must wage a political battle at home. But surely now is exactly the time to do that.

For a further recent, egregious example, this time at the congressional level, of the violation of the fundamental international norm at stake in the Ukraine conflict, see Bipartisan Bill for Middle East “Peace” Will Enable Dictatorships and Occupation (Stephen Zunes, truthout.org, 27 February 2022).

We end the section with this tweet by law professor and RI Senior Fellow Craig Martin about the Beinart article (and equally applicable to the Zunes example):

Exactly right. One outcome of this war must be that the US, and the West generally, not only enforce but consistently comply with international law. Hypocrisy and double standards do violence to the rule of law.

Russia’s war on Ukraine makes defence investors $49 billion richer

The title of this segment is the headline from a recent article in Investor’s Business Daily, available here.

Veteran international peace and security expert Paul Rogers, in his latest article for Open Democracy, writes of a war that already is savaging the world’s poorest:

One winner is the world’s multiple military-industrial complexes. Back in January I argued that in many countries across the northern hemisphere the arms industries would benefit: so it has proved.

He continues with a point we at Ceasefire.ca have also highlighted:

As for the West, scarcely anyone is asking why NATO needs to spend more when it collectively outspends Russia by 14:1 and Russia’s war is already failing.

After reviewing the wider issues of potential climate breakdown and a profoundly unequal economic system, Professor Rogers ends with a message we all need to hear:

Rising above these global challenges was a huge task before the war and is now made more difficult by its consequences. That is no excuse not to work for a more peaceful world, even if the accumulation of problems may seem so daunting.

We all have a role to play. Let our government know you want Canada working as hard as possible for a peace deal in Ukraine.  

Emails can be sent to:

Prime Minister Trudeau: justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca, cc to Patrick.Travers@pmo-cpm.ca

Deputy Prime Minister Freeland: Chrystia.Freeland@parl.gc.ca

Foreign Minister Joly: Melanie.Joly@parl.gc.ca, cc to Nadia.Hadjmohamed@international.gc.ca

Defence Minister Anand: anita.anand@canada.ca and Anita.Anand@parl.gc.ca, cc to Michael.power@forces.gc.ca


In early February 2022, Canadian Graeme Smith, Senior Crisis Group Consultant for Afghanistan, testified before the US Congress on the “urgent action to help address basic needs” that is required in Afghanistan.

He began with these words:

Tens of millions of lives are at stake. Afghanistan ranks as world’s largest humanitarian crisis, and there is a serious risk of widespread famine. The United Nations estimates that 97 per cent of Afghans could fall into poverty this year. People are so desperate that they are selling their own daughters, anything to survive.

He referenced the US–Europe Joint Statement on Afghanistan of 27 January 2022, where the US and European envoys at a recent meeting in Norway specifically committed to:

1) helping prevent the collapse of social services and 2) supporting the revival of Afghanistan’s economy.

His testimony outlines the specific steps that are now required to achieve these two objectives.

For his full remarks, see Afghanistan: The Humanitarian Crisis and the U.S. Response (crisis group.org, 10 February 2022).

Whither Canada?

The latest statement on humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan that can be found on the Global Affairs website is from December 2021.

The only recent statement is a Global Affairs press release, without links, entitled Joint Statement of Female Foreign Ministers on the occasion of the re-opening of schools in Afghanistan, available here.

It states in part:

As women and as foreign ministers, we are deeply disappointed and concerned that girls in Afghanistan are being denied access to secondary schools this spring.

Graeme Smith’s testimony to Congress includes this reference to the important issue of female education:

The biggest employer in the country is the education system, but right now there is no plan for paying 200,000 teachers and staff through the school year. The United Nations has successfully negotiated with the Taliban to allow girls’ secondary schools to re-open in some provinces, and building on that momentum now depends on making funds available to reward progress.

We call on the Government of Canada to supplement ministerial platitudes on the importance of equality in education in Afghanistan with concrete assistance to the United Nations to help make that possible.


Last week’s blog post gave notice of a March 22nd Carleton University webinar on Pathways to De-esclation in the Ukraine War, featuring RI President Peggy Mason. The session was not recorded, but a text of her remarks is available here.

Photo credit: immigration.ca (Canadian & Ukrainian flags)

Ceasefire.ca is a public outreach project of the Rideau Institute.




Tags: Afghanistan, Crisis Group, de-escalation, escalation, Golan Heights annexation, Graeme Smith, International Crisis Group (ICG), NATO, nuclear war-fighting, Prof Nina Tannenwald, tactical nuclear weapons, Ukraine conflict, Ukraine neutrality treaty, Ukraine-Russia peace negotiations, war profiteers, Western Sahara