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Negotiations between Russia and Ukraine are ongoing – here’s what might be part of a deal

Firefighters extinguish an apartment house after a Russian rocket attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, Ukraine, Monday, March 14, 2022.  (Pavel Dorogoy/Associated Press)

Peace talks have begun between negotiators in Russia and Ukraine, but as Russian forces continue pushing forward in Ukraine, there could still be a long way before a deal is reached.

Experts have mixed ideas about how the conflict will end, but most can agree it will take some compromising from both Russia, Ukraine and the West.

The fourth round of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine started Monday. Although no one really knows what goes on inside that room, Florian Justwan, associate professor of political science at the University of Idaho, said most people who are observing on the outside know what both sides ultimately want.

Russia wants Ukraine to formally pledge that it will not join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which formed at the end of World War II in response to security threats by the Soviet Union. Russian President Vladimir Putin has consistently pushed against Ukraine joining NATO.

Russia has also demanded Ukraine formally recognize the annexation of Crimean Peninsula, which Russia invaded in 2014. It also is calling on Ukraine to recognize independence of the Donbas region of the country, two provinces that border Russia and have been controlled by separatist governments since 2014.

Ukraine has called for immediate demilitarization and withdrawal of all Russian forces.

Ukrainian negotiators have said talks are productive and there may be some movement toward a deal in coming days.

What a peace deal may look like, however, remains unknown.

Majid Sharifi, director of the international affairs program at Eastern Washington University, said Ukraine granting regional autonomy – a separate government, military and police force – to the Donbas region, recognizing Crimea as a part of Russia and pledging to remain militarily neutral “is doable, pragmatic and it should be done soon.” In return, he said, Russia would need to give up its hopes of controlling any part of Ukraine.

“The best situation is to come to a compromise,” Sharifi said. “There is no military solution to this conflict.”

The question that remains is to what extent both sides are going to be able to compromise on those wants, Justwan said. For Russia, a compromise would have to include something Putin can sell as a win to his own citizens, Justwan said.

One option, Justwan said, would be going back to the “political status quo” prior to the crisis, but that would likely require Ukraine to promise to stay out of NATO. For Russia, returning to something similar to where they were prior to the conflict could be “costly” for Putin, Justwan said.

“The difficulty here is Russia has now spent so much money, so much material and has invested so many lives into this military conflict,” he said.

On the other hand, the West will likely not allow Putin to achieve all of his aims with this war, especially if it comes to questioning the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Justwan said.

Kristin Edquist, professor of political science and international affairs at EWU, said concessions from the West and NATO might need to happen in order to bring an end to the military conflict. Without Western concessions, she said, it would be hard to see Russia ending what seems to be a “scorched earth policy.”

Russia has long felt threatened by NATO and its expansion and has argued that Ukraine has violated terms of a 2015 agreement meant to end disputes in eastern separatist regions in Ukraine backed by Russia, Edquist said.

“It would be very hard for them to walk away with nothing,” Edquist said.

Though the West has played a significant role by supporting Ukraine with money, equipment and sanctions on Russia, Justwan said it will ultimately be up to Ukraine’s leaders to decide what kind of deal they are willing to accept.

Another question that remains is when a deal will be reached. Though Ukrainian negotiators say there could be substantive progress within days, Justwan said it could still be a while.

Oftentimes, negotiations tend to be the most successful when a “mutually hurting stalemate” – what political scientists call the point when the cost of continuing a struggle exceed the benefits for both sides – is reached, Justwan said.

Observers do not think the conflict, which has only gone on for 18 days, is there yet, Justwan said.

Editor’s note: This article was changed on March 15, 2022, to add more context from Kristin Edquist.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.