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A Possible Peace Deal Takes Shape Between Russia and Ukraine

Although talks show progress, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s position seems unchanged.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A man removes the rubble from his flat.
A man removes the rubble from his flat.
A man removes the rubble from his flat at Mostytska Street in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 14. Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at the prospects for peace in Ukraine, British prisoners freed in Iran, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s trip to Slovakia, and more news worth watching from around the world.

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Peace Talks Proceed Amid Ukraine War 

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at the prospects for peace in Ukraine, British prisoners freed in Iran, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austins trip to Slovakia, and more news worth watching from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Peace Talks Proceed Amid Ukraine War 

As Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its fourth week, the contours of a peace deal are beginning to come into focus. As the Financial Times reports, topics currently under discussion include Ukrainian neutrality, a promise never to join NATO, and a pledge not to host any foreign military bases.

Some of those measures are similar to Russian demands made in discussions with the United States in December 2021.

Ukraine’s lead negotiator, Mykhailo Podolyak, has rejected a Russian suggestion of neutrality based on Sweden or Austria’s models, saying the model could only be “Ukrainian and only on legally verified security guarantees.” The fact that the idea was not simply dismissed shows how seriously Ukraine’s government is considering the option. (Adopting Finland’s model, an option recommended by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and others, seems to have been left unsaid.)

Still, the possibility that Ukraine could shift its stance has been signaled by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who suggested on Tuesday that he would consider abandoning the countrys quest to join NATO, a process that would involve amending the country’s constitution.

Zelensky also said the talks, which could follow into a fourth consecutive day today, were becoming “more realistic” while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said there is now “some hope for compromise.”

The United States is less optimistic about peace, with U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price saying on Tuesday that the Biden administration has “yet to find a Russian interlocutor that is either able or willing to negotiate in good faith, and certainly not in the context of de-escalation.” (That U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke the very next day with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, suggests that ground could be shifting.)

Despite Russia’s insistence that it will prosecute the war until its “goals” are met, seeking a deal sooner rather than later makes sense. Sanctions will take time to fully hit, but when they do, the Kremlin will have to deal with an even more unsettled populace. The seeds of unrest—exemplified by forced factory closures as well as a declining ruble—are already taking root.

It also makes sense in that Ukraine’s ability to wage war is strengthening, with an additional $800 million in U.S. military aid announced on Wednesday—part of a broader $14 billion aid package. The military component includes 100 miniature Switchblade drones, designed to fly kamikaze style to penetrate armored vehicles.

Ultimately, the decision to pursue further negotiations—and whether to compromise—rests with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the anti-Western rhetoric emanating from the Kremlin in recent days has not changed much.


What We’re Following Today

Iran frees British prisoners. Two British nationals, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, who had been detained in Iran for several years, returned to the United Kingdom via Oman yesterday. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case was closely followed by the British press due to the very public protests and hunger strikes of her husband, Richard, and daughter, Gabriella, outside No. 10 Downing St. and the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office during her six years of detention.

A third British citizen held in Iran, Morad Tahbaz, was released from prison and is under house arrest but is not allowed to return; he was born in London but also holds U.S. citizenship, and Iran is treating him as an American. U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Thursday that the government would “continue to work intensively’’ on his case.

The British government reportedly agreed to pay £393.8 million ($519 million) it owed Iran after cancelling an order of tanks following the overthrow of Irans shah in the Iranian Revolution of 1978 and 1979. Secret talks in Oman held in February apparently led to the deal.

Austin in Slovakia. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visits Slovakia today in a show of support for a nation on NATOs eastern flank—and Ukraine’s border. It is the first time a Pentagon chief has visited the country since it joined the defense alliance in 2004. Austin is expected to discuss the possible transfer of Slovakia’s Soviet-era S-300 air defense system to Ukraine, a move Slovakia is open to as long as it gets replacement equipment.

St. Patrick’s Day at the White House. U.S. President Joe Biden welcomes Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin to the White House today for Washington’s traditional St. Patrick’s Day celebration, the first in-person St. Patrick’s Day celebration since 2019. Martin will begin the day with a breakfast with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris before a bipartisan luncheon on Capitol Hill hosted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, followed by a visit to the White House later in the day.


Keep an Eye On

French discuss Corsica autonomy. The French government said it is prepared to discuss “autonomy” for the Mediterranean island of Corsica following pro-independence riots sparked by a prison attack on Yvan Colonna, considered a hero to the Corsican independence movement for his role in assassinating Paris’s representative to the island in 1998. “We are ready to go as far as autonomy. There you go; the word has been said,” French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told a local newspaper on Wednesday, adding that discussions would only begin once violence had ceased.

Yemen peace talks. Yemen’s Houthis said they would agree to peace talks with the opposing Saudi-led coalition as long as they are held in a neutral country—not in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as the Gulf Cooperation Council proposed. “It is neither logical nor fair that the host of the talks is also the sponsor of war and blockade,” the Houthis said in a statement. The group has said its priority was to lift “arbitrary” restrictions on Yemeni ports and airports.

U.S.-Israel relations. A new poll issued by Gallup gives the latest snapshot of American attitudes toward Israel and the Palestinians. Overall, 55 percent of U.S. adults surveyed said their sympathies lay with Israelis, whereas 26 percent said they sympathized more with Palestinians—a 20-year high for the Palestinian cause. On a partisan basis, the difference was more stark, Republicans said they sympathized more with Israelis than Palestinians in a 77:13 split, whereas Democrats held both sides almost equally—40 percent siding with Israelis and 38 percent siding with Palestinians.


FP Recommends

The Ukrainian city of Mariupol has suffered under a heavy Russian bombardment for weeks now, and with few civilians able to leave and even fewer international reporters allowed in, the city’s plight has been largely viewed from a distance. The latest dispatch from Associated Press reporters Mstyslav Chernov, Evgeniy Maloletka, and Lori Hinnant is not for the faint of heart but gives a vivid account of life in the city.


Odds and Ends

As today is St. Patrick’s Day, we can indulge in a bit of history. Cast yourself back to 1986, when then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan was interrupted during a White House meeting by an Irish piper, dancer, singer—an example of how much U.S.-Ireland relations have matured since then.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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