No ceasefire wanted

A new study traces efforts to achieve a ceasefire in Ukraine since 28 February 2022: Russia’s repeated attempts to halt the fighting have been ignored by the collective West.

BERLIN/KIEV (own report) – The first, almost successful, negotiations to end the Ukraine war began two years ago yesterday, on 28 February 2022. We have been reminded of this by a recently published study by a military expert: retired Bundeswehr Colonel Wolfgang Richter, a former military adviser to the German missions to the UN and the OSCE. Those talks opened a path to compromise in late March 2022. The deal would have centred on neutrality and EU accession for Ukraine, and Russian troop withdrawal. The talks brought an early peace “within reach”, argues Richter, who now works for the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP). The main reason for their failure, apart from the “resistance” from Ukrainian nationalists, was the “massive influence exerted by representatives of Western governments”, who vigorously urged Kiev to continue the war. Moreover, the New York Times has reported on a proposal by Russian President Vladimir Putin for a freeze on frontline movements and a ceasefire as early as autumn 2022, and then again in September 2023. Kiev and the West have consistently rejected these offers. They insist on seeking to achieve victory at all costs. It is from this stance that Europe is now discussing the deployment of boots on the ground.

Initial talks

As Richter writes, negotiations on a quick end to the war had already begun on 28 February 2022, mediated primarily by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the then Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. They initially took place in Belarus – at the border with Ukraine in an undisclosed location (Gomel region). Further rounds of negotiations were then held in Turkey and Israel. Among those involved was German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who travelled to Israel on 2 March 2022 for discussions with Bennett about the war in Ukraine. Bennett met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 5 March and then flew to Berlin to confer again with Scholz. On 14 March, Scholz discussed options with Erdoğan in Ankara, while on the same day Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky spoke of “meaningful progress in the talks”.[1] On 19 March, “Moscow halted its advance near Kiev,” says Richter, in response to bilateral negotiations between the two sides that had by then “produced their first substantial results.” This was when Moscow made its first military concessions. There were hopes for successful talks leading to an early ceasefire.

Peace through compromise within reach

A breakthrough seemed to have been achieved on 29 March 2022 when both sides agreed on the Istanbul Communiqué in their Istanbul talks. This document provided for ten steps that would make it possible to end the war.[2] They included Ukraine’s commitment to neutrality, its renunciation of nuclear weapons, and its assurance that neither foreign military bases nor foreign troops would be allowed on Ukrainian territory. Conversely, Russia agreed to withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory, with the exception of Crimea, and to raise no objections to Ukraine’s path to EU accession. Ukraine was to receive security guarantees from several states, including the US, the UK and Germany, as well as possibly China and Turkey. “In the event of an attack on a neutral Ukraine,” Richter explains, mutual assistance mechanisms to protect the country, “including the use of armed force”, were envisaged. The details were to be clarified with the guarantor powers. As for Crimea, a transitional period of fifteen years was to be agreed for resolving the dispute over its affiliation. “Peace through compromise,” Richter notes, “thus seemed to be within reach.” On the same day, 29 March 2022, Russia initiated the withdrawal of its troops from the outskirts of Kiev.

Boris Johnson in Kiev

Hopes for a compromise were ultimately dashed due to two factors, according to Richter: internally, a “national opposition” formed in Kiev, “presumably” in coordination with certain foreign powers backing Ukraine, to categorically reject the Istanbul Communiqué; meanwhile Western governments were also blocking a deal. On 9 April 2022, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in the Ukrainian capital. Citing Ukrainian negotiators, Richter finds that Johnson declared that the British were “not prepared ... to sign a guarantee agreement”. “Instead, he encouraged Kiev to continue the fighting and promised extensive military assistance.”[3] Other Western governments followed suit in subsequent days. Eventually, Ukraine stepped away from dialogue on 19 May. “According to Ukrainian participants in the talks,” notes Richter, “both the massive influence exerted by Western government officials and the resistance by the national opposition to any concessions to Russia led the Ukrainian leadership to break off talks. This assessment is shared by former Israeli Prime Minister Bennett.”

Attempts at mediation

Since then, there have been repeated attempts to stop the fighting and move on to negotiations. For example, the New York Times has reported, citing numerous inside sources on both the Russian and Western sides that, in the autumn of 2022, Putin had already made it clear to the West via internal channels that he was still prepared to agree a ceasefire. Against the backdrop of a successful Ukrainian offensive unfolding at the time, Putin’s ceasefire offer was made despite Russia’s recent territorial losses.[4] International efforts to end the fighting were also taking off at that time. Brazil, India and China were among the players campaigning for a peace settlement.[5] On the first anniversary of the Russian attack, China, for example, presented a twelve-point paper “on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis” and was engaging in intensive mediation.[6] All of this failed because the West believed that the Ukrainian military would push through and win back more territory. Ukraine’s spring offensive had been loudly praised in advance by Western commentators. Moscow would, they thought, have to enter into negotiations with Kiev from a position of weakness. The hope in the US was that it could all be wrapped up by the end of 2023 and enable Joe Biden to go into the presidential election campaign unencumbered with foreign policy burdens.

At any price

The failure of the Ukrainian offensive has dashed the West’s plans. The New York Times adds that, even after September 2023, President Putin has again been signalling his willingness to freeze the current frontline and move to a ceasefire.[7] Moscow has communicated this through a number of channels, not only the usual bilateral lines of communication but also through foreign governments that have good relations with both Russia and the US. Whereas there were still serious ceasefire considerations in the West in late summer and autumn ( reported [8]), in the end the faction that wants to crush Russia militarily at all costs has prevailed. This passion seems to be impervious to facts on the ground, as military officials have been warning since last autumn that victory is no longer possible. In the meantime, the Russian forces are advancing and have succeeded in capturing the city of Avdiivka. With the Kiev regime increasingly on the defensive, Berlin, the EU and other European states have responded not only by pledging ever more weapons but even by presenting the prospect of Western boots on the ground [9] – in a war that could have ended in spring 2022.


[1], [2], [3] Wolfgang Richter: Russlands Angriffskrieg gegen die Ukraine. Vienna, December 2023. See also: The Western War Objectives.

[4] Anton Troianovski, Adam Entous, Julian E. Barnes: Putin Quietly Signals He Is Open to a Cease-Fire in Ukraine. 23.12.2023.

[5] See also: “On the Side of Diplomacy” (III).

[6] See also: Auf der Seite des Krieges.

[7] Anton Troianovski, Adam Entous, Julian E. Barnes: Putin Quietly Signals He Is Open to a Cease-Fire in Ukraine. 23.12.2023.

[8] See also: Heikle Gespräche.

[9] See also: Der Wille zum Weltkrieg (II).