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As War in Ukraine Ramps Up, Who Wants to End It?

Peace talks have appeared to fade into the background as Russia launches a new offensive.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres waves.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres waves.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres waves as he prepares to leave after speaking during a press conference at the United Nations Visitors Center in New York City on April 19. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’s visit to Moscow, the prospects for peace in Ukraine, and more news worth following from around the world.

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


Guterres Meets Putin in Moscow

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’s visit to Moscow, the prospects for peace in Ukraine, and more news worth following from around the world.

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


Guterres Meets Putin in Moscow

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres visits Moscow today for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where he is expected to push the Russian leader to order a cease-fire in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who meets Guterres later this week, has already criticized the visit, saying on Saturday that it was “simply wrong” that the U.N. chief would not visit Ukraine first “to see the people there, the consequences of the occupation.”

“There is no justice and no logic in this order,” Zelensky said.

His comments came as efforts to end the war have appeared to sputter and as both sides face off in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

Many observers argue that Putin needs the war to end in some kind of face-saving victory following a disastrous first phase. Meanwhile, Zelensky faces a more existential problem: keeping his country together both psychologically and geographically in the face of a Russian onslaught.

A Financial Times report on Sunday suggested Putin has largely given up on peace talks; his focus now appears set on a land grab. Zelensky was also reported to be wary of talks, telling European Council President Charles Michel last week that Ukrainian public opinion was against them and was in favor of taking the fight to Russian forces instead.

Even if Putin isn’t keen on resolving the conflict any time soon, his chief diplomat has already begun talking about the prospect, albeit in vague terms. “As in any situation where armed forces are used, everything will end with a treaty,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with state television on Monday. “But its parameters will be determined by the stage of hostilities at which this treaty becomes a reality.”

The elephant in the negotiating room is territorial control, with neither side in agreement as to where to draw the borders if the conflict were to cease.

“Everyone seems to have decided that theyre going to play that one out on the battlefield,” Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist with the Rand Corporation, told Foreign Policy.

Charap added that the two approaches aren’t mutually exclusive in a conflict such as this: “Its a method of doing business that I think is consistent with the strategic culture in both places—that you fight and you talk at the same time, and the fighting helps your position at the bargaining table.”

Zelensky has also pushed for diplomacy alongside his calls for Western weapons support. He has repeatedly called for a summit with Putin and has also raised the possibility of Ukrainian neutrality (protected by Western security guarantees) as a way out of the crisis.

Olga Oliker, director for Europe and Central Asia at the International Crisis Group, highlighted the difficult position Zelensky is in at home when it comes to a peace agreement. “At some point, you have to make a decision on whether to keep fighting or to make peace at a point where Ukraine is either winning or losing,” Oliker told FP. “If he makes a peace that is seen as unfavorable when Ukraine seems to be winning, he will never be forgiven.”

“If he makes a peace that people arent happy with and Ukraine seems to be losing, he might still never be forgiven because there will always be people who say that if we had just held out long enough, you know, if this, if that, we could have won this.”

Those looking for U.S. heft in negotiations shouldn’t hold their breath. Although $3.7 billion in U.S. military support could be said to strengthen Kyiv’s negotiating position, U.S. motives may not simply be about its stated goal of supporting Ukrainian sovereignty. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made that clear in a comment on Sunday upon his return from Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.

“We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” Austin said.

The problem with any deal, no matter how the map is carved up, is that it’s likely to only be a temporary fix, Oliker said, raising the possibility of more conflict down the line: “The Russians are going to walk away from that kind of a deal thinking, Were going to come back and fix this later. The Ukrainians will too.


What We’re Following Today

Austin convenes Ukraine meeting. Austin convenes a diverse group of defense leaders, formally known as the Ukraine Defense Consultative Group, at the U.S. Air Force base in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany, today. According to documents reviewed by Breaking Defense, the invite list included 43 countries, including non-NATO members Israel, Kenya, and Japan.

U.N. procedures under scrutiny. Permanent U.N. Security Council members will be asked to justify their use of vetoes if a draft resolution brought forward by Liechtenstein passes a U.N. General Assembly vote today. The draft resolution is co-sponsored by 50 nations, including the United States, but not by any of the other four permanent council members: Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom. The move is seen as a tactic to pressure Russia, which has used the veto more than any other permanent council member.

If the measure passes, the assembly will convene “within 10 working days of the casting of a veto by one or more permanent members of the Security Council, to hold a debate on the situation as to which the veto was cast,” according to draft text seen by AFP.


Keep an Eye On

The world’s military spending. Global military expenditure passed the $2 trillion mark for the first time in 2021, according to new figures released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute on Monday. The $2.1 trillion figure represents a 0.7 percent increase on the previous year. The United States remains the largest military spender worldwide, contributing to 38 percent of the global total.

NATO’s newest members? Sweden and Finland will submit simultaneous applications to join the NATO alliance as soon as the middle of May, according to reports in local media. As FP’s Robbie Gramer reported on Friday, the two countries can expect an easy but not instant entrance process, with all 30 current NATO members needing to approve the move.

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

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