Expert: How Russia-Ukraine talks might be framed, reached is vital

Merle Maigre.
Merle Maigre. Source: Author's private collection.

An important nuance in any peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine is how they will take place, and what form any final agreement might take, security expert Merle Maigre says.

The latter would also have a significant impact on the West's future relations with Russia, she said, appearing on ETV politics talk show "Esimene stuudio" Sunday evening.

Maigre noted that since the initial, sudden attack by Russia has not ended, it can now be seen that the battles are ones of attrition against the enemy.

"This is a situation where a lot depends on logistical support," Maigre said.

"This means that the Russian forces have directed their forces against the civilian population, which is, naturally, something that the President of Ukraine wants to prevent. The desire to make the negotiations meaningful is therefore understandable," she continued.

Even per the most skeptical estimates, Maigre stated that there are at least 7,000 dead on the Russian side, song with 14,000 on the Ukrainian side.

"Perhaps nearly 14,000 wounded. If we calculate that every army will lose a significant part of its combat force, where at least 10 percent of the combat power is lost, then based on the calculation that the Russian contingent's size is 150,000, it seems plausible that their combat capability and their morale has diminished."

Ukraine has been systematically strengthening its defense capabilities since 2014, Maigre said. Regular phone calls between western leaders and Putin are vital, as it is necessary to keep in touch with Russia.

She said: "There may be a situation where at some point there are greater risks involved than there are by not talking. We don't know exactly what is being said in these conversations."

Ukraine has not talked much about any ambitions towards NATO recently, and this is not appropriate in the given time, though regarding the EU membership, talks on this could commence, she said.

"I think it is extremely important, both morally and substantively, that talks get started between Ukraine and the EU. It is vital that Ukraine has a choice as to which organizations it wants to belong to and which it does not, and how it sees the future of its security and defense."

While Putin has demanded that Ukraine abandon its NATO ambitions, what will actually come to the negotiating table will become clearer on that score when peace talks begin. 

"It is clear that there will be major and minor victories in the peace talks. The big victory for Russia would be for Ukraine to abandon NATO membership ambitions, but more importantly to leave Zelenskyy in power - to conquer Kyiv and eliminate Zelenskyy," she said, adding that the latter outcome was unlikely.

"Ukraine's great wish would be for all Russian troops to leave Ukraine. To make a prediction, I would venture to say that neither side will achieve a major victory at the negotiations, so it becomes a question of a small victory which could be satisfied. It seems to me that Putin is so conservative that the victory he would sell to his people is more about territorial gains," she continued.

Ukraine backing down on NATO is not such a concrete victory that Putin could show to his people as might be thought, Maigre added.

The Russian leader's goals for "de-nazifying" and demilitarizing Ukraine are so vague, that they leave Russia a lot of room for interpretation, she added.

"At the end of the day, the most important aspect of the Russian-Ukrainian negotiations is what the Ukrainian side agrees to, what Zelenskyy agrees to. It is very important here that we do not criticize him on that."

An important nuance is how the peace talks will be reached and what form the agreement takes, Maigre continued.

"Is this a specific agreement that is clearly understood by both parties, or is it another 'Minsk three' that is very vague and leaves a lot of room for interpretation for the West as well," she added.

"If we talk about what the West's relations with Russia will be like in the long term, whether there will be war fatigue, how long the sanctions will last - all these questions depend on what agreement is reached and whether Ukraine and Russia reach an agreement."

One possibility is that by agreeing on peace, Russia will withdraw, in order to build up its forces, she added.

In a statement, the Riigikogu has also called for setting up a comprehensive trade embargo against Russia and Belarus.

According to Maigre, there is room for improvement in terms of sanctions, and it is key for Estonia to reduce its energy dependence on Russia.

Merle Maigre was talking to ETV's "Esimene stuudio", Saturday March 19 2022.

Merle Maigre was deputy head of NATO's Representation in Ukraine 2010-2012 and has worked both at the foreign and defense ministries, as well as as a presidential adviser to both Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Kersti Kaljulaid. Most recently, she joined the Eesti 200 party.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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