NATO Members Float Plan For Negotiations Amid "Growing Doubts" Ukraine Can Retake Territory
Update(1525ET): NATO has "answered" China's Ukraine peace proposal unveiled earlier in the day by previewing a peace plan that three major Western allies reportedly have in the works. The plan hinges on Ukraine forging a defense pact with NATO (though stopping short of formal membership), and in return Kyiv would enter talks with Moscow, likely with territorial concessions on the table.
It's said to be motivated in part by Western leaders having "growing doubts" over Ukraine's ability to reconquer territory - thus a more 'realist' and pragmatic perspective might be taking hold one year into the stalemated conflict. The Wall Street Journal broadly outlines the German, France, UK plan as follows:
Germany, France and Britain see stronger ties between NATO and Ukraine as a way to encourage Kyiv to start peace talks with Russia later this year, officials from the three governments said, as some of Kyiv’s Western partners have growing doubts over its ability to reconquer all its territory.
U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last week laid out a blueprint for an agreement to give Ukraine much broader access to advanced military equipment, weapons and ammunition to defend itself once the war ends. He said the plan should be on the agenda for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s annual meeting in July.
But if the plan hinges on creating a 'fortress Ukraine' through ramped up arms deliveries, including tanks and possibly jets, then it's unlikely to sit well with Moscow - especially if the plan falls short of making territorial concessions. WSJ continues:
The officials were careful to say that any decision on when and under what conditions any peace talks start is entirely up to Ukraine. Sunak on Friday said the West should give Ukraine arms that would give it a “decisive advantage” on the battlefield, including warplanes.
But the fact is that after one year of war, both China and NATO are actually pushing new avenues of peace, which is at least something - or perhaps just a small step downward from the consistent escalation witnessed of late. Meanwhile, public support in the West also appears to be waning, amid complaints of "Ukraine fatigue" and the general population and public discourse losing interest and momentum...
Zelensky responds to opinion polls in America that show the war losing support:— Citizen Free Press (@CitizenFreePres) February 24, 2023
"If they don’t support Ukraine, they will lose NATO and they will lose their leadership position in the world.” pic.twitter.com/CtOJfpr72O
As for the lack of major progress on either side of the conflict in the past half-year, the AP offers this graphic...
Notable from AP: Front lines have not changed significantly over past 4 monthspic.twitter.com/UOEwYarWA0— Lucas Tomlinson (@LucasFoxNews) February 24, 2023
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As expected, China has released its much anticipated peace proposal Friday, which marks the one-year anniversary of the Ukraine invasion, calling for a cease-fire and peace talks which is to include end to sanctions against Russia, as the plan takes a clear anti-Western position.
The foreign ministry said in its 12-point proposal to end the fighting that "All parties should support Russia and Ukraine in working in the same direction and resuming direct dialogue as quickly as possible, so as to gradually deescalate the situation and ultimately reach a comprehensive ceasefire."
The Associated Press describes that "With its release, President Xi Jinping’s government is reiterating China’s claim to being neutral, despite blocking efforts at the United Nations to condemn the invasion." And further, "The document echoes Russian claims that Western governments are to blame for the Feb. 24, 2022 invasion and criticizes sanctions on Russia."
Indeed it calls on the "relevant countries" to "stop abusing unilateral sanctions" and "do their share in de-escalating the Ukraine crisis" - which again lays blame on the outside Western powers for escalating. It charged these countries with "fanning the flames" of conflict.
"Conflict and war benefit no one. All parties must stay rational and exercise restraint, avoid fanning the flames and aggravating tensions, and prevent the crisis from deteriorating further or even spiraling out of control," the Chinese government said.
While offering no details about how it envisions talks will be held, or in what form, the 12-point proposal calls for the safeguarding of all countries' "sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity."
"Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable way out to resolve Ukraine crisis," it stresses, adding that "China is willing to continue to play a constructive role in this regard."
But as part of the broadly anti-Western position, the proposal condemns the "Cold War mentality" of some nations for standing in the way of peace, and in discussing this comes close to naming NATO directly:
"A country’s security cannot be at the expense of other countries’ security, and regional security cannot be guaranteed by strengthening or even expanding military blocs," the proposal said.
"The legitimate security interests and concerns of all countries should be taken seriously and properly addressed."
China abstained on Thursday when the UN General Assembly approved a non-binding resolution that calls for Russia to end hostilities in Ukraine and withdraw its forces.
Also outlined in the plan, is protection of prisoners of war, halting all attacks on civilians, and the protection of nuclear power plants and the unimpeded flow of grain exports - though again, no further details were spelled out related to these.
But as expected, it fell flat with the West, with the EU delegation head in China very quickly rejecting it as "not a peace proposal". And yet the Ukrainian government itself greeted it with a surprising level of optimism. "The fact that China has started talking about Ukraine and certain signals have been sent is, in general, very good," President Zelensky said as a first reaction.
"It is important for us that all states are on our side, on the side of justice. However, the fact that China is already talking about this is the first step, which is very good," he added. "We will draw conclusions after we see the specifics of what they offer, and then it will be clear."
After this, State Department spokesman Ned Price struck a more reserved and negative tone, saying, "We would like to see nothing more than a just and durable peace. We very much agree with President Zelensky that this brutal war will have to end at the negotiating table, but we are skeptical that reports of a proposal like this will be a constructive path forward."
Crucially, at a moment China's neutrality continues to be questioned, it abstained at Thursday's UN General Assembly vote which approved a non-binding resolution that calls for Russia to immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine, which also condemned the war.