We need a peace deal to end this war


Sanctions, while wreaking huge havoc not only on Russia but the global economy, cannot work on their own. Putin will not capitulate, will continue fighting for a long time, and can also likely resist internal efforts to remove him and his inner circle for an equally long period.

But sanctions can potentially work as part of a negotiating strategy to bring an early end to this catastrophic war.

This is the argument in a nutshell of Anatol Lieven, one of world’s foremost experts on Russia and global strategic competition, in conversation with Al Jazeera host Steve Clemons.

The impact of the conflict is going far beyond Ukraine…. We must avoid a hurricane of hunger and the meltdown of our global food system – UN Secretary-General António Guterres

The dangers of a continuing conflict — to Ukraine and to European and global security, outlined by Anatol Lieven and highlighted in the Secretary-General’s statement above — are immense and growing and include:

Wholesale destruction of Ukrainian cities with massive loss of life

Deadly attacks kill, injure civilians, destroy homes. Explosive weapons leave people dead, wounded, homeless; damage vital infrastructure – Human Rights Watch, 18 March

For the latest UN comment on civilian casualties, click here, and for the latest UN estimates of damage to infrastructure, click here. The toll will be exponentially higher if the conflict becomes a long war.

Damage to the global economy and resulting instability

In the words of Anatol Lieven:

[a continuing war] will also mean the long-running deep economic sanctions, which we can already see the effects both on global energy prices but also, and this is what really worries me, global food prices because Russia is the biggest global food exporter and Ukraine is also a major food exporter….

We know from the run up to the Arab Spring and other cases the ability of the inflation of food prices to cause deep instability around the world including in key U.S. allies.

French President Macron in his 11 March speech to the EU Versailles Summit stated:

we should also identify and re-evaluate a strategy regarding Africa, otherwise several countries in Africa will be affected in 12-18 months by famine, precisely because of the war.

See also: Ukraine invasion may lead to worldwide food crisis, warns UN (guardian.com, 14 March 2022). For those with a subscription to Arab Digest, see: Putin’s war and a MENA food crisis (arabdigest.org, 16 March 2022).

The Arab Digest commentary begins:

Summary: before the Russians invaded Ukraine, food insecurity was already an issue for many MENA countries but as of 24 February a bad situation got a whole lot worse.

The newsletter outlines the extreme dependency of Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria and Yemen on Ukrainian and Russian imports of grains and sunflower oil. Add to this the rapidly rising price of fertilizer, already in short supply.

Danger of direct conflict between Russia and USA/NATO which could escalate to a nuclear war

Anatol Lieven:

If the United States introduced a no-fly-zone with American aircraft operating out of bases in Poland, then I have very little doubt that Russia would attack those bases with missiles; then we would get into something which throughout the Cold War leaders on both sides were so careful to avoid which is an actual direct military clash between the two nuclear superpowers of the world.

This is one concern that the USA and NATO need no convincing about, although it bears repeating because calls continue, from many quarters, for “closing the skies”.

Where this war is headed — a long running insurgency and proxy war between NATO and Russia

Anatol Lieven discusses the scenario of Russia occupying Ukraine in the face of ongoing Ukrainian resistance, leading in his view to:

a long-running guerilla war, supported from the west, supplied across Poland, [which] would give Russia such an incentive to disrupt Europe and the West in every way possible.

Lieven adds that, with Poland, a NATO member, supplying and helping to direct the insurgency, and Russia trying to stop them:

NATO then comes very close to conflict with Russia. That is why I and others are so strongly advocating an attempt, however difficult, to bring about an early peace settlement to this conflict.

Insurgency inevitably favours its most extremist elements

Anton Lieven:

What I also fear there with an insurgency in Ukraine, as I have seen elsewhere, is the automatic tendency in these circumstances for the most extreme and hardline sections of the insurgents to come to the fore…. In this case this is extreme ethnic Ukrainian nationalists… who hate not just Russia as a state, but also Russians including Ukrainian Russians as a people.

Putin is prepared to fight for a very long time

Lieven distinguishes between the powerful businessmen benefiting from the Russian system but who, in his view, are not involved in major political decisions and Putin’s inner circle, whom he describes as a “tough and resolute bunch”:

So while I think it very likely in the long run that Putin will be removed, it will I fear be a long and difficult process because it will mean getting rid of not just him but of his inner circle as well.

Lieven continues:

I think, absent a peace settlement that can create some appearance of success for Russia and for [his inner circle], I think they are prepared to fight on for a long time.

These are the manifold risks that Anatol Lieven foresees from a long conflict.

He concludes:

So Russia has a colossal amount to lose and has begun to lose it as a result of this war, but we shouldn’t ignore the fact that the West and the rest of the world has a lot to lose as well.

We will come back to Anatol Lieven’s peace proposals in a moment.

Dire economic sanctions can increase risk-taking on the losing side

In a truly terrifying article entitled “The Russian Sanctions Regime and the Risk of Catastrophic Success” (warontherocks.com, 8 March 2022), Erik Sand and Suzanne Freeman demonstrate the dangers of conflict escalation if sanctions begin to truly undermine Putin’s war effort and he has no off-ramp:

They argue:

What if the sanctions work — that is, they make life in Russia intolerable or undermine Russia’s ability to continue the war?

That could force Russia to the negotiating table. But it could also have the opposite effect.

They explain that it is not enough to avoid escalatory military options, like imposing a no-fly-zone:

Sanctions too can lead to war, or at least to riskier Russian strategies that court war. A desperate Vladimir Putin could escalate the war in a gamble for resurrection.

Economic isolation can lead to risky strategies

According to Sand and Freeman:

Scholars who study the effects of economic isolation on states … find that economic isolation rarely causes its targets to capitulate outright. Rather, economic pressure can lead states at war to adopt riskier strategies, often involving escalation. Call it economic inadvertent escalation.

The most troubling of these possible escalatory moves by Russia is of course the nuclear option.

They write:

No nuclear armed power has ever faced the possibility of regime collapse due to economic pressure. It is conceivable that the Russian regime might consider nuclear use if economic pressure were significant enough to threaten its existence.

In light of these dangers, Sand and Freeman urge Western leaders to:

combine sanctions with off-ramps for Moscow, especially if the conflict drags on.

They conclude:

There may be no deal both Russia and the West will accept, but Western leaders must not be lulled into thinking that continued pressure will only weaken Moscow without Putin deciding to fight back.

He has previously warned, “If you compress the spring all the way to its limit, it will snap back hard. You must always remember this.”

Are Canada and NATO engaging in hybrid warfare with Russia?

Canadian professors David Carment and Dani Belo view the far-reaching western sanctions, supply of military equipment, support for volunteer fighters from their countries, and engagement in information warfare as the use of techniques associated with hybrid warfare.

They warn:

[These measures] are assumed to be inherently less costly [than direct military engagement] and they are assumed to be a deterrent. Neither of these conclusions appear to be true.

The West has never confronted a nuclear power with this debatable approach before now, yet is persisting.

For more on the dangers of hybrid warfare, see: Let’s stop pretending Canada isn’t at war in Ukraine (policyoptions.irpp.org, 18 March 2022).


Dialogue, diplomacy and negotiations are the only acceptable route to resolving the conflict in a way that can stand the test of time. – former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov

Anatol Lieven sees five key elements to a potential deal to end the conflict, which he believes “in principle” ought to be negotiable:

  • An independent sovereign Ukraine
  • A treaty of neutrality for Ukraine
  • A referendum on the status of Crimea under international supervision
  • Limitations on certain weapons systems in Ukraine, likely long-range missiles
  • A constitutional guarantee of Russian as minority language in Ukraine.

An independent sovereign Ukraine

In the words of Anatol Lieven:

What we need to focus on is maintaining the sovereignty of Ukraine…. Russian domination of Ukraine …[via] the appointment of a pro-Russian government is impossible now and, of course, must be absolutely rejected.

Treaty of neutrality for Ukraine

Noting that President Zelensky has “hinted at” such a treaty (subsequently reinforced in a  15 March statement), Lieven spends some time articulating the merits of this provision, beginning with the argument that this proposal is not simply a “concession” on the Ukrainian or Western side:

A treaty of neutrality for Ukraine would rule out Ukraine joining NATO; it would also rule out Ukraine joining the Eurasian Union and any other Russian-led alliance.

He brings in the examples of Finland and Austria:

we can learn from the Cold War and the examples of Finland and Austria that a treaty of neutrality is, in fact, a perfectly good way out of this horrible war and out of this trap….

They couldn’t be part of NATO, but they were completely functioning Western free market democracies.

Referendum on Crimea under international supervision

Regarding Putin’s demand for recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea, Lieven states:

Russia is not going to abandon Crimea. Perhaps, as Thomas Graham, former U.S. diplomat, and others have suggested, there would be a way of legitimizing this internationally by a referendum under international supervision.

Limitation on certain weapons systems, likely long-range missiles

In support of the salience of this proposal, Lieven notes:

The Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has suggested that demilitarization, which is a Russian demand, might only mean Ukraine giving up long-range missiles aimed at Russia.

In other words this would be very close to the deals that ended the Cuban missile crisis…. Not Ukraine giving up its own armed forces; that’s out of the question, but a limitation on certain kinds of weapons.

Constitutional guarantee of Russian as minority language in Ukraine

In Anatol Lieven’s view, this is a potentially positive response to the otherwise impossible Russian “denazification demand”:

In my view what the Ukrainians should do, particularly because Russian speakers and Russians in Ukraine have demonstrated their loyalty to Ukraine in this war… what Ukraine should do is give up its legislation which is attempting to drive the Russian language out of public life in Ukraine and guarantee the status of Russian as a minority language under the Ukrainian constitution.

(We note this was also part of the Minsk agreements.)

For a commentary on Ukraine’s Nazi problem from a decidedly pro-Ukrainian source, see: Ukraine’s Nazi problem is real, even if Putin’s ‘denazification’ claim isn’t (nbcnews.com, 5 March 2022).

For a reminder of the unsavoury Canadian angle, see: Allegations of Canadian troops training neo-Nazis and war criminals sparks military review (David Pugliese, ottawacitizen.com, 8 November 2021).

For a related angle from David Pugliese, see: Jewish groups condemn Latvian parade to honour Nazis, warn it could be used for Russian propaganda (ottawacitizen.com, 17 March 2022).

Full western backing of the agreement necessary

Anatol Lieven concludes his conversation with Steve Clemons:

I don’t know if any of this would work, but if there is a desire for peace on both sides, and if this process receives the full backing of the West as it should, then I do think that there should be a possibility of an agreement along these lines.

For the full video interview, see: Will Ukraine become Russia’s ‘forever war’? (Aljazeera.com/the-bottom-line, 10 March 2022).

Is this enough? What is the demonstrable “win” for Ukraine given their heroic resistance?

The EU conundrum  

In a Crisis Group podcast with board member and expert on Russian foreign policy Andrey Kortunov, he argues that Ukrainian neutrality should be a “choice” of the Ukrainian people and leadership:

in exchange for something and this something should probably be a more rapid integration into EU structures.

Kortunov cites Russian “tolerance” for neutral Moldova’s move in that direction, combined with a “very different political trajectory from Russia”: seeking democracy, fighting corruption and working to get rid of oligarchs. (But note that Moldova, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, fears Russian tolerance may wane.)

This brings us back to the example of the neutrals, Austria and Finland, and Anatol Lieven’s comment:

They couldn’t be part of NATO, but they were [and are] completely functioning Western free market democracies.

They may be neutral countries, but they are also part of the EU.

So what can the EU credibly and meaningfully promise Ukraine?

EU says “fast-tracking” Ukrainian membership not an option

President Zelensky submitted a formal application for EU membership on 28 February 2022 which European leaders are backing — but through the traditional process that takes years, not the fast-tracked version that the Ukrainian President is pushing.

Opinion is divided within the EU on expediting Ukrainian membership. The Dutch Prime Minister said that the EU was treating Ukraine’s application with unprecedented speed, but it would take “months, maybe years, before you get to anything.”

In his view:

What’s important is that Ukraine has asked to be member of the EU (…) there is no fast track procedure….

See here for more information on the steps required on the long road to EU membership.

Simply put, the EU accession process is designed to “fully align” the candidate country with the bloc’s democratic, economic and social standards.

In a recent Euronews report, considerable hurdles to such an alignment were identified:

In terms of democracy, Ukraine is scoring similarly or even worse as the Western Balkan countries. Corruption, functioning and independence of judiciary, and weak democratic institutions are still among the most problematic issues.

Indeed Freedom House calls it “partly free”, while the Economist describes it as a “hybrid regime.” Reporters Without Borders says the oligarchs’ grip on the media is still too “tight.”

And then there is the requirement for candidates for EU membership to have clearly defined and consolidated borders, and territorial integrity.

Ceasefire.ca asks:

If Russia is actually willing to drop its opposition to EU membership for Ukraine as part of a peace deal that also consolidates Ukraine’s borders, then surely the EU can find a meaningful way to respond.

British historian and commentator Timothy Garton Ash, in a Globe and Mail opinion piece published on 17 March 2022, offers the following:

Along this path [to full EU membership], there are many possible halfway houses of closer association. Ukrainians already have visa-free travel to the EU. In the long run, it might even include membership of the European Economic Area.

A further word on sanctions

Many commentators have noted the lack of clarity in terms of what end goal the sanctions are designed to achieve and what would have to happen for President Biden to lift those he has imposed.

Andrey Kortunov describes the Russian view that:

It is quite easy for sanctions to be imposed. It is practically impossible to lift them.

He argues for a degree of flexibility, including consideration of what might be done in response to the achievement of a ceasefire that holds, so that people are no longer dying.

A final word goes to former Canadian diplomat Gregory T. Chin:

Sanctions, embargoes, financial bans and arms transfers with no negotiated end in sight is not the solution, tempting as they may be for western governments.

Further escalation only leads to the unthinkable.

Status of ongoing Ukraine–Russian peace talks

It is clear that Ukraine is not a member of NATO; we understand this. … For years we heard about the apparently open door, but have already also heard that we will not enter there, and these are truths and must be acknowledged. – President Zelensky on 15 March 2022

The Financial Times reported on 16 March that the round of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine held on Monday, March 14th — talks which have been facilitated by Israel’s Prime Minister Bennett and Turkish President Erdogan — had produced:

significant progress on a tentative peace plan including a ceasefire and Russian withdrawal if Kyiv declares neutrality and accepts limits on its armed forces.

In the 15-point draft plan:

  • Ukraine renounces joining NATO, promises not to host foreign military bases or weaponry
  • In exchange Ukraine would get “security guarantees” from allies such as the US, UK and Turkey. It would also continue to maintain its own army.
  • Ukraine would enshrine minority language rights for the Russian language in the constitution.

The nature of the guarantees for Ukrainian security, the willingness of the West to provide them, and their acceptability to Moscow remain unclear.

Nor was there any agreement on Ukraine recognizing Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the independence of the two separatist statelets in the eastern Donbas region, recognized by Russia at the outset of their invasion.

RI President Peggy Mason comments:

Note that President Zelensky has rightly insisted the opinions of people in the Donbas region should be a critical factor in determining some form of settlement, bringing us back again to a key provision of the Minsk agreements calling for local elections under international supervision.


John Ivison decries 2017 testimony to Defence Committee by RI President Peggy Mason

In an article entitled “The Trudeau government’s history of ignoring Ukraine’s call to arms” (nationalpost.com, 16 March 2022), John Ivison makes the following statement, with reference to the testimony by RI President Peggy Mason to the Standing Committee on National Defence in hearings in 2017 on Ukraine:

The committee heard testimony from expert witnesses such as Peggy Mason of the Rideau Institute for International Affairs, who argued supply of such weapons would result in “escalatory actions” on the ground.

Ivison cites this testimony in support of a bizarre argument that the Trudeau government was loathe to provide military equipment to Ukraine because it sees Canada “as a moral superpower”.

This conclusion is reached in spite of the fact that Ivison acknowledges the government of Canada’s  change in position on the very issue about which he complained — lethal weapons exports to Ukraine — in the same month in which the Defence Committee Report was issued, December 2017.

But the more important point is the missing context for the testimony then given by RI President Peggy Mason. She explains:

My testimony focused on the need to take advantage of the “fragile opportunity” that had opened up due to proposals from both Ukraine and Russia for a UN peacekeeping operation in support of the Minsk agreements.

She then quotes the relevant passage of her testimony:

In order for this fragile opportunity to bear fruit, it seems to me there is a need to avoid any escalatory actions, such as delivery of weapons, even defensive, which from all I can gather from my review of the commentary, provide little military advantage, yet could undermine fragile prospects for progress.

In her closing comments to the committee, Mason drew attention to an op-ed that day in the Globe and Mail from former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen:

He was calling for Canada to play a kind of bridge-building role in support of the Minsk protocol and this discussion that’s opened up on the kind of UN peacekeeping operation to help the OSCE monitor and verify the ceasefire [in the Donbas].

Mason adds this further point today:

I note that the former NATO Secretary General and I differed on the merits of Canada and others providing defensive weapons but not on the urgency of supporting a political solution to the conflict through the Minsk agreements.

As we have catalogued many times in our blog posts on Ukraine, the great tragedy is that Canada chose only military support (training and weapons exports) and never put its considerable political weight with the Ukrainian government behind full implementation of the Minsk accords.

In summation, it is not those who worked for many years prior to the Russian invasion, in support of a viable political solution to the conflict, who have so badly let Ukraine down.

For more on the current risks of Canada supplying weapons to Ukraine, see: Experts warn that Canadian weapons shipped to Ukraine could end up in the wrong hands (Nick Boisvert, cbc.ca, 16 March 2022).

Defence Minister considers new defence spending

During an interview on CBC’s Power and Politics, Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand stated, in apparent response to the renewed call by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg for allies to spend a “minimum” of two per cent of GDP on defence:

I personally am bringing forward aggressive options which would see [Canada], potentially, exceeding the two per cent level, hitting the two per cent level, and below the two per cent level.

Canada currently spends 1.39 per cent of its GDP on the military, and under the Liberals, adopted a new defence plan in 2017 that increased Canadian military spending by 70% over 10 years.

Since that time, DND has failed to spend its annual allocation to the tune of between 1 and 2 billion dollars annually.

Ceasefire.ca comments:

NATO countries, led by the USA, already massively outspend Russia on defence (even if calculated on the basis of purchasing power parity rather than per capita income). Russia’s fear of having NATO on its doorstep is a major factor in its illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Increased military spending by NATO countries will not make any of us more secure but will surely drain money away from urgent non-military priorities.

What about diplomacy now?

Consistent with Canada’s longstanding failure to support Ukraine’s efforts towards a negotiated settlement with Russia, the only reference to diplomacy on the website sections dedicated to our support for Ukraine  is the following excerpt from a March 16th speech to La Francophonie by Foreign Minister Joly:

As the second-largest international organization, La Francophonie has a strong voice on the world stage and can contribute to ongoing diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the current crisis.

We urgently call upon Canada to provide political and diplomatic support to Ukraine in its ongoing efforts to negotiate a peace agreement with Russia to end this horrific war.


To register click: https://carleton-ca.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYpdOqhpz8vHtTW-P03mTza0AhvIZwYasSH

Photo credit: Wikimedia images (Ukraine nuclear power plant)

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

Tags: Anatol Lieven, ceasefire agreement, economic sanctions, global food prices, hybrid warfare, insurgency, MENA food crisis, military escalation, Minsk agreements, NATO, proxy war, Russian invasion, treaty of neutrality, Ukraine war