One year on: Negotiated peace the only solution to Ukraine conflict
Updated 15:15, 26-Feb-2023
Imran Khalid
Local residents are seen outside a damaged building in Volnovakha of Donetsk, March 15, 2022. /CFP
Local residents are seen outside a damaged building in Volnovakha of Donetsk, March 15, 2022. /CFP

Local residents are seen outside a damaged building in Volnovakha of Donetsk, March 15, 2022. /CFP

Editor's note: Imran Khalid is a freelance columnist on international affairs. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

As expected, facing the first anniversary of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, several pricking questions are hovering in the air pertaining to the next phase of the war. Has Russia already started its much-hyped spring offensive? Will the modern tanks and air defense system from the West result in NATO's direct collision with Russia? Is this hotspot graduating to be a "frozen conflict?" If not, will there be a negotiated deal? If none of both cases, which side is likely to emerge as winner, and when?

There are a plethora of similar questions being discussed in the media and academia these days. Factually speaking, owing to increasing complexity and incessant disinformation on both sides, it is quite challenging to predict the future course of this conflict. The intense hype created by Moscow and Kyiv on the control of Bakhmut is an example of this ludicrous propaganda war that has captured the headlines in the media for the last several weeks. As the conflict reaches its first anniversary, the Bakhmut fracas has acquired too much symbolic and political importance. A small town lying on the frontline that bisects Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, Bakhmut has limited strategic value but both sides are engaged in fierce fighting for its control.

Practically speaking, as military experts opine, the capture of Bakhmut will not add any significant strategic value for Moscow's larger game plan, but Russian President Vladimir Putin and his close associates want to utilize this as an emotional and political signpost. But the Bakhmut clash has assumed oversized significance on both sides because of the fact that Moscow, after months of paralytic halt in its military advances in other parts of Ukraine, appears to have a fair chance of capturing the town.

On one hand, Moscow expects that the fall of Bakhmut will provide the much-needed emotional booster to the Russian forces. On the other hand, the calculus in retaining control of Bakhmut is of strategic importance for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as it helps to secure continued support from Western countries, whose military aid is vital to sustaining Ukraine's war campaign.

So far, being a media-savvy showman, Zelenskyy has been able to keep engaging his target audience in the West through his highly emotive gimmicks – olive green sweatshirt, cargo pants and combat boots. He knows well that, despite all the financial and military support from NATO, the Ukrainian forces are in no shape to push back the Russians to the pre-February 2022 positions. He has effectively utilized the first anniversary of the conflict as an emotional marketing tool to muster huge sums of money as well as sophisticated tanks and advanced Patriot System from Europe and the U.S. by conducting two whirlwind trips to Washington and European capitals on the heels of the conflict anniversary.

The fact is that Moscow and Kyiv have gradually entered into the World War II-styled trench warfare phase that is incurring huge losses on both sides with scant territorial gains. Zelenskyy, who is playing the role of a front man for the West in this proxy war, is apparently confident that his forces will be able to throw the Russians out of the occupied territories, but the ground realities are quite different. With neither side ready to back down, the war continues to grind on. Washington and its allies are also aware of the fact that, despite their full throttle technical and material support, Ukraine has very meager chances of victory in the longer run. But despite this bitter ground reality, the Western capitals are inflexibly opposing the resumption of any kind of negotiation between Ukraine and Moscow.

A demonstrator holds a slogan during the anti-war rally in Washington, D.C., the United States, February 19, 2023. /Xinhua
A demonstrator holds a slogan during the anti-war rally in Washington, D.C., the United States, February 19, 2023. /Xinhua

A demonstrator holds a slogan during the anti-war rally in Washington, D.C., the United States, February 19, 2023. /Xinhua

At the same time, they are also scared of the nuclear escalation in case of Putin's routing in this conflict. While Putin, who has no imminent threat to his rule from his opponent even if the war drags on for a few more years, is also hoping that he can afford to sustain a chronic war in Ukraine that will eventually compel Kyiv's backers to stop "investing" in a hopeless venture. 

For Washington, both scenarios – Putin's victory or his loss – are fraught with the problems of equal magnitude: If Putin wins, then the U.S. may feel ashamed and be afraid of Putin's further influences in Europe, while a defeated Putin may resort to the nuclear option to muffle the embarrassment of the defeat. Both scenarios are equally dreadful. Russia has so far successfully survived the stringent sanctions and its economy is showing better growth rate than some of its big neighbors in Western Europe, including Germany.

So, what is the option left for Washington which has been nurturing this conflict through exceedingly generous monetary and military support to Ukraine, and not letting Zelenskyy sit on the table to have a peace deal? The dilemma with the U.S. and its allies is they can neither squeeze their assistance to let Ukraine melt away in front of Russia's military power nor NATO is in a position to have direct confrontation with Russia at this time.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has been persistently persuading both sides to find a negotiated solution to end this bloody conflict that has practically instigated an unprecedented inflation and recession across the globe. This is the only option available to extinguish the flames of this war that has the potential to metastasize. Regrettably, the U.S. has displayed only a peripheral interest in ending this tragic conflict. The U.S. could have acted positively to promote negotiated peace in Ukraine. Instead, it has pursued a narrow and shortsighted strategy, driven by its own quest for hegemony and influence.

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