A Putin – Zelensky meeting unlikely to happen soon

A Putin – Zelensky meeting unlikely to happen soon

By Golnar Hakimi / Tehran

International relations expert Dr. Rahman Ghahramanpour stated that a possible meeting between Putin and Zelensky depends on a possible unilateral declaration of victory from either side, adding “it is unlikely to take place in the near future.”

For quite some time, news about the Russian-Ukrainian war has taken the attention of the media all over the world and, both sides have put different reasons regarding the emergence of this crisis.

For example, Moscow’s argument is that NATO has not kept its promise not to expand any further along Russia’s borders and has been trying to weaken Russia more and more by encouraging Ukraine to join this treaty organization.

And the argument put forward by the Western bloc is mainly focused on Russian expansionism and the desire to revive the former Soviet glory by the current Russian government.

But the question remains: what really caused this war in Ukraine? And what changes would await the new world order, if this war either continues or gets resolved?

We spoke on this subject, with international relations expert Dr. Rahman Ghahremanpour.

Despite the negotiation efforts between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations in the early days of the war, no clear result came of it. Meanwhile Turkish officials have also been trying to mediate and are still trying to arrange a meeting between the presidents of Russia and Ukraine. However, no improvement has seen so far. So, what could be the reason for this? Under what circumstances, can a meeting be held between Putin and Zelensky?

Since the beginning of this war, contacts between the delegations of Russia and Ukraine have been established, mediated by Belarus and Turkey. The first of these contacts was between the delegations of the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministries at a place on the Belarusian border; the second one was at the level of the judicial authorities of Russia and Ukraine. The third contact was established in Istanbul between the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine. The third contact still stands as the strongest line of communications. Of course, it is also being said that, in addition Turkey’s efforts, Israel and the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich have also been trying to establish a contact between Putin and Zelensky as soon as possible.

However there is a big problem; neither side wants to lose this war. Especially Russia, which desires to declare a decisive victory and take the higher ground before taking place at the negotiating table. At first it was speculated that Russia would gain a swift victory and that the Ukrainians would be ineffective in combat. However, after the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Kiev front, the West has increased its military assistance to Ukraine, Ukrainian army took heart and now Kiev is trying to make fewer concessions on its own behalf.

Therefore, this is one of the main reasons to avoid a possible Putin-Zelensky meeting.

After withdrawing from the Kiev front, Russia settled deeper in the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine, captured the city of Mariupol and announced its plans to hold a referendum in the Kherson region of Ukraine.

The West believes that Russia wants to divide Ukraine into eastern and the western regions. As a result of this, it will be quite difficult for Ukraine to negotiate. Ukraine may lose a large part of its territory after a peace agreement. Therefore, it is very difficult for Ukraine to make any concessions in such a situation.  

Meanwhile with the increasing arms support from the West, an impression has emerged in the West that Ukraine could actually win this war. The US Secretary of Defense also stated that he believes Ukraine will truly win the war against Russia. Therefore, there is no an exact winner on the battlefield right now and neither side thinks they will lose anytime soon. Both sides are now trying to strengthen their positions to take a higher ground at the negotiation table. Therefore, the high level talks do not seem to promise anything and no talks are expected anytime soon between the presidents of the two countries.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, two different analyses have been made on this subject. A) Russian expansionism triggered the crisis. B) Russia was forced to attack under the threat of NATO. Of course, some analysts believe that this war was set up by the United States as a trap to weaken Russia. How would you evaluate the cause of the war in Ukraine?

No reliable information has been published to explain the reason for the outbreak of this war and all these speculations are mostly the analyses provided by different parties. Therefore, first of all, it is worth knowing the basis of this Russian-Ukrainian War.

If we accept the Charter of the United Nations as the bases of the world political order, the right to sovereignty and to defend own independence is seen as one of the fundamental principles in this treaty. Therefore, a violation of a country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is a clear violation of the aforementioned UN Charter. Russia itself has been one of the main founders of this order as a Soviet government in the past. Therefore, the Russian attack became the subject of a great controversy. The same action was taken by the United States against Iraq. Therefore, the Russian action is considered as contrary to the UN Charter. But the real question is, why did Russia decide to launch a swift attack on Ukraine, while it had previously taken actions such as capturing Luhansk and Donetsk and then annexing Crimea to Russia back in 2014?

At first I thought that Russia would not launch a swift large-scale attack and would quickly recognize the two Ukrainian provinces as independent states, as in the case of Georgia. But contrary to all these analyses, Russia still launched a large-scale attack against Ukraine, raising the question of why Putin had done it. Later, two common assumptions were put forward.

Perhaps, according to Putin, there was a great danger imposed on Russia and he had to attack Ukraine to prevent this danger. However, it is unclear what this great danger really is. Some experts claim that NATO wanted to attack Russia. Another assumption was that Putin had miscalculated the scale of the Western reaction, after considering the silence of the West after some previous actions in the past. Therefore, Putin’s assessment might be that the West could also not be able to unite this time as well. There are also speculations that Putin has misjudged the real strength of his own military.

European countries began to impose a series of economic sanctions against Moscow, despite Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas. On the other hand, we have started to witness some disruptions in the flow of gas towards Europe in recent days. Don’t you think that the economic sanctions from the West and its pressure on Russia have made Moscow more aggressive?

Russia undoubtedly poses a threat to the security structure of the EU and Europe as a whole. But the real question is; will the threat of a weaker Russia be on a larger scale in the future than the threat it has posed in the past decade? What I am trying to say is, we do not know if the Russian attack on Ukraine could be beyond a threat itself. Therefore, according to the Western narrative, since even a weak Russia is still aggressive, it seems that the sanctions will even weaken Russia further and it will not be able to deal a major blow to the Europe’s own political interests.

At the same time, they hope that economic sanctions will harm Putin and pave the way for regime change in favor of a much less nationalist government. In short, the West believes that even though a weak Russia is certainly a threat, it will not be able to attack the territory of another country again as it is now in Ukraine. They believe that Russia should be weakened, and that this weakening will eventually lead to an emergence of governments that would be much less nationalist within Russia. Whether this can really happen depends on many factors. The fate of the Putin’s leadership is a very important issue within Russia and will undoubtedly affect the way the country is governed and the effectiveness of the sanctions.

What impact will the war in Ukraine have on the new world order and the world’s security?

The future effects of the war in Ukraine depend on how this war actually ends. We have to wait and see which of the three sides (Ukraine, Russia or the West) will prevail in this war. Or will this war even have a decisive and a clear winner in the first place? The situation in Ukraine is so uncertain that Russia has taken control of southern and eastern Ukraine and can declare victory on its own, but Ukraine may also claim that, as of now, “Russia has not achieved all of its goals”. Therefore, the most important factor is which side wins.

What can be said at the moment is that after Russia’s operations in Ukraine, a solidarity and alliance has been established among liberal democracies including Japan, Singapore and South Korea.

However, countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Pakistan are not pro-Western or pro-Russian yet, and they still conduct their foreign policies with both sides in a neutral manner, as they have done in the past. Of course, this alliance between the liberal democracies can get even stronger.

Of course, it is also not yet clear whether this will be a long-lasting solidarity, as the interests and point of views of the UK, the United States and the EU differ a lot in the Ukrainian War.

As of now, the countries most concerned about the war in Ukraine are those that are geographically close or even have borders with Russia, such as Poland, Moldova, Latvia or Lithuania. This is due to the fact that they are worried that they may lose power significantly if Russia comes out of this war stronger. On the other hand, the views of France and Germany also differ on the war in Ukraine.

Will the war shift the center of the world?

There are several important questions about the impact that the Ukrainian War could have on the new world order:

First of all: will this war shift the center of the world order, currently in the Asia-Pacific, towards Europe? Would the situation after the Second World War be repeated in the same way?

This is an important unanswered question. However, it seems that the war in Ukraine, unlike World War II, is more of a regional war rather than a global war, and the Asia-Pacific will keep its central status of the new world order. 

Secondly; will this alliance of high-income liberal democracies continue after the end of the war in Ukraine? And will this existing alliance of high-income liberal democracies, pave the way for the establishment of a new global order or not?

There is also no clear answer to this question.

It is likely that this alliance will lose its power after the end of the war. For example, we can see this from Macron’s reaction to Biden about the war in Ukraine. Macron stated “it is the duty of the judiciary, not the politicians, to decide whether the Ukrainian War is a genocide or not.”

And the third issue will be the China’s reaction and its stance on the Ukrainian war. Will China even allow Russia to weaken?

Will China stand up against the West over the Ukrainian crisis or will it take a more passive stance? The answer to this question will be determined by the impact of the Ukrainian War on the world order.

How does Iran evaluate Russia’s operation in the Ukraine?

Some officials in Iran, just like others in other countries, were expecting that Russia would win the war within two or three days and occupy Ukraine or change the country’s political system. In the beginning, some refrained from openly condemning the war. But as the war continued and Russia did not succeed in conquering Kyiv, Iran started displaying a more critical stance towards the war. Despite that, being a close friend and ally of Russia for the last 30 years, no one can expect Iran to display a more critical tone than it already does. Iran has abstained the vote in the UN General Assembly’s 11th extraordinary session concerning the Ukraine crisis.

Iran took care not to damage relations to Russia

Iran displayed a similar stance as Turkey, Brazil, and partly South Africa: The country has rejected the war, but took care of not damaging its relations to Russia. All these countries have in the recent years deepened relations with Russia. In that context, Moscow expected from them, if not outright support, at least refraining from openly condemning the operation and staying away from the imposed sanctions.

Accordingly, India, Iran, Brazil, South Africa and to a certain degree Pakistan and the other Asian countries took the stance of condemning the war in general while at the same time rejecting to take part in sanctions imposed on Russia.

We can say that Iran’s policy has been the same since the first weeks after the conflict erupted. Both, Foreign Minister Amr Abdollahian and Parliament President Ghalibaf have pronounced that war is not a way to solve a problem, demanding an end as soon as possible.

The Russian-Israeli relations are going through a serious crisis in the context of the Ukraine operation. What is your take on that?

Concerning the Russian-Israeli tensions, there are different aspects to focus on: First of all, there are several influential political parties in Israel that are comprised of Russian Jews. “Israel Our Home” is an example. Russia and Israel have had close relations in the last 20 years.

Netanyahu had good personal relations with Putin, and both were coordinating policy concerning Syria. At the same time, this regime was from the beginning the West’s best ally in the region and has obtained its nuclear weapons with the support of the US and France. It has always received the US support within the UN Security Council, where Washington vetoed all proposals condemning Israel.

In that regard, Israel had a more difficult stand than Turkey, which also always had good relations with the West and Russia. And as the current coalition government of Naftali Bennett is very fragile, it was very difficult for them to continue this balanced approach of the Israeli state.

Israel was in a difficult position generally. On the one side, it was forced to join Western sanctions against Russia. On the other side, it had to support Moscow due to its previous relations and the existence of the Russian Jews. Therefore, Israel tried to enter the scene as a mediator. Of course, the country has condemned the event of Bucha and has moved its stance more towards the Western position. But still, it took less part in the sanctions against Russia when compared to European countries or states like Japan and Singapore. If the war continues, Israel will have even more problems to continue its approach.

United World International

Independent analytical center where political scientists and experts in international relations from various countries exchange their opinions and views.

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March 2023