Draft peace deal drawn up shortly after Russia’s invasion shows Ukraine was confronted with becoming a neutered state

Document From 2022 Reveals Putin’s Punishing Terms for Peace

Wall Street Journal
01.03.2024
Lesedauer: 7 Minuten
Russian President Vladimir Putin maintains his maximalist goals in Ukraine, which include regime change, warn Western officials. PHOTO: KREMLIN POOL/ZUMA PRESS

Russian President Vladimir Putin has in recent weeks publicly hinted that he would be open to discussions to end the war in Ukraine on Moscow’s terms, as Kyiv’s military momentum stalls.

The outlines of a deal the Russian leader likely wants can be seen in a draft peace treaty drawn up by Russian and Ukrainian negotiators in April 2022, about six weeks after the start of the war. Western officials and analysts say those objectives remain largely unchanged after two years of fighting: Turn Ukraine into a neutered state permanently vulnerable to Russian military aggression.

While the broad outlines of the ultimately unsuccessful peace negotiations have been disclosed, the full 17-page document, which was viewed by The Wall Street Journal and others familiar with the negotiations, hasn’t been made public.

The document, dated April 15, 2022, sketches out how negotiators on both sides sought to end the fighting by agreeing to turn Ukraine into a “permanently neutral state that doesn’t participate in military blocs,” barred from rebuilding its military with Western support and leaving Crimea under de facto Russian control. 

Ultimately no deal was agreed upon. The scale of Russian war crimes in Ukraine became apparent, Ukraine’s military fortunes improved and the West poured in weapons to bolster Kyiv.

Today, Ukraine says that it won’t start peace talks until Russia removes troops from its country. Two years of conflict have hardened Ukrainian public opinion against any kind of peace deal, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that any cessation of hostilities would simply allow Russia to rearm and better attack Ukraine further down the line. Analysts say a military victory for either side looks increasingly out of reach.

The document shows the deep concessions negotiators on the Ukrainian side were considering as Kyiv struggled in the early weeks of the war. It also serves as a reminder of the compromises that Russia might try to force Ukraine to swallow if Western military support dries up and Russia makes significant territorial gains.

The draft treaty states that Ukraine, while being allowed to pursue European Union membership, wouldn’t be allowed to join military alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. No foreign weapons would be allowed on Ukrainian soil. Ukraine’s military would be pared down to a specific size. Russia sought to limit everything from the number of troops and tanks to the maximum firing range of Ukrainian missiles.

The Crimean Peninsula, already occupied by Russia, would remain under Moscow’s influence and not be considered neutral. Moscow also pushed for the Russian language to operate on an equal basis with Ukrainian in government and courts, a clause Kyiv hadn’t signed off on, according to the draft document.

The future of the area of eastern Ukraine covertly invaded and occupied by Russia in 2014, wasn’t included in the draft, leaving it up to Putin and Zelensky to complete in face-to-face talks. That meeting never took place.

The treaty was to be guaranteed by foreign powers, which are listed on the document as including the U.S., U.K, China, France and Russia. Those countries would be given the responsibility to defend Ukraine’s neutrality if the treaty was violated. But while the treaty held, guarantors would be required to “terminate international treaties and agreements, incompatible with the permanent neutrality of Ukraine” including any promises of bilateral military aid. The international security guarantees wouldn’t apply to Crimea and Sevastopol.

The document reflects deeply held Russian phobias that the West, led by the U.S., was for years developing Ukraine as an “anti-Russia” to undermine, contain and attempt to seize control of Russia. After Putin’s initial attempt to take control of Kyiv and topple the government failed, the document appears to offer the next best thing: a way to cut off Western support for Kyiv.

While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered earlier this week to host talks anew, any renewed attempt at peace looks unlikely in the immediate future. While the front line has hardly budged for a year, pessimism is growing about the outlook for Ukraine, with Russia recently making its first significant advance in months and Kyiv’s forces running low on ammunition and manpower. Billions of dollars of U.S. funding for Ukraine is snarled in Congress, Western attention has shifted to the Middle East and polling is favorable for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has said he would broker an immediate peace deal if elected.

Putin told talk show host Tucker Carlson recently that he was ready for “dialogue,” and some former Kremlin officials say they have put out feelers in recent months to explore halting the conflict along existing front lines.

The Russian president has argued that Ukraine balked at a first chance at peace under Western pressure. At a June 17, 2023 meeting with several African leaders, Putin displayed a document that he said had been initialed by the head of Kyiv’s negotiating team. The draft, he said, had 18 articles with appendices stipulating the number of military personnel and armored vehicles. “The Kyiv government, as their masters usually do, threw it all on the trash heap of history,” Putin said. “They rejected it.”

Samuel Charap, a Russia analyst at RAND, said Moscow’s impulse to negotiate might wane as it sees Western aid held up and notches more advances on the battlefield.

Western officials warn that despite two years of costly fighting, Putin maintains his maximalist goals in Ukraine, which includes engineering regime change in Kyiv to ensure a state that does the Kremlin’s bidding.

Any such peace agreement by Ukraine “leaves it at the mercy of Russia for any future repeat of the invasion,” says Keir Giles, a director at the Conflict Studies Research Centre, a U.K. think tank.

Since its initial invasion of eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia has violated more than 400 international treaties and conventions, according to the think tank Chatham House. Past cease-fires or peace treaties involving Russia in Georgia, Syria and Ukraine have all been subsequently exploited by the Kremlin for its own gain, Giles says.

The first round of tentative peace talks began only days after the February 2022 invasion. Russian and Ukrainian negotiators initially met in Belarus before moving to Turkey and continuing talks on and off until April. The resulting document appears loosely based on the 1990 treaty that created a united Germany, where Soviet Union troops quit East Germany on the condition that the country renounce nuclear weapons and cap the size of its army. 

The draft treaty with Ukraine included banning foreign weapons, “including missile weapons of any type, armed forces and formations.” Moscow wanted Ukraine’s armed forces capped at 85,000 troops, 342 tanks and 519 artillery pieces. Ukrainian negotiators wanted 250,000 troops, 800 tanks and 1,900 artillery pieces, according to the document. Russia wanted to have the range of Ukrainian missiles capped at 40 kilometers (about 25 miles). 

Other issues remained outstanding, notably what would happen if Ukraine was attacked. Russia wanted all guarantor states to agree on a response, meaning a unified response was unlikely if Russia itself was the aggressor. In case of an attack on Ukraine, Ukrainian negotiators wanted its airspace to then be closed, which would require guarantor states to enforce a no-fly zone, and the provision of weapons by the guarantors, a clause not approved by Russia. 

Russia wanted to add Belarus as a guarantor; Ukraine wanted to add Turkey. Ukrainian negotiators italicized text indicating they refused to discuss a Russian clause requesting Kyiv withdraw claims for it to come under jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, which prosecutes war crimes, according to the document. They also wouldn’t ratify a clause to cancel all mutual sanctions. 

Negotiations continued—even over Zoom—but they eventually stopped altogether in June 2022.

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