Russia and Ukraine have set out their positions. Now for Trump

As a Swiss summit fires the starting gun on the process towards an agreement between Kyiv and Moscow, the two sides have made their demands. Both the battlefield and the White House could impact them.

Russia and Ukraine have set out their positions. Now for Trump

The international summit held at a Swiss resort at the weekend was always more likely to mark the start of a process for reaching agreement between Russia and Ukraine, rather than act as a platform for announcing a settlement.

As such, it was expected that Russian President Vladimir Putin would pre-empt the summit by demanding Kyiv’s “surrender” (which he did) while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky insisted on Moscow ending its “occupation” (which he did)

This is the first serious attempt to navigate the long and perilous path toward a solution for a war that has raged on Europe’s eastern border for more than two years.

Almost half the world’s countries and entities participated, but some said they ought to have been joined by representatives of Russia, as the principal party in the conflict, and China, which supports Moscow. The pair are in a standoff against the West.

Battlefield realities

Ukraine’s situation is precarious. Its forces have experienced a series of battlefield setbacks in recent months, a stark contrast to their offensive stance last year. Moscow’s new ground offensive in Kharkiv has had some success.

Kyiv’s forces are exhausted after two years of war. Unlike Russia, with its far larger population, the Ukrainians do not have huge reserves of manpower on which to draw. This will undoubtedly have featured in Putin’s war plans.

Moreover, the delayed arrival of Western military supplies has had an impact. US weapons, so vital in this conflict, were delayed by crucial months due to squabbles between the Democrats and the Republicans over the US-Mexico border.

Although a military aid package has now been approved by Congress, it takes time to reach the battlefield. In the meantime, Ukraine’s position has weakened.

Support from friends

The West has demonstrated unwavering support for Zelensky. Washington has even taken a risk by allowing Ukrainian forces to target Russian territory using US weapons, in a decision that carried several conditions at the end of May.

At the G7 summit, Zelensky received another significant boost: a ten-year security pact with the US, encompassing equipment, training, and intelligence.

Alongside that, major nations have pledged loans totalling $54bn, sourced from $300bn of Russian assets that have been sat frozen in Western countries since February 2022, accruing interest. The loans will be provided by the US, UK, Canada, and Japan.

In Switzerland, the G7’s support for Ukraine has intensified, with members also rejecting Moscow’s pre-conditions.

In their final communiqué, the G7 reaffirmed their commitment to the principles of sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all countries, including Ukraine, within their internationally recognised borders, while also emphasising that peace would require the participation and dialogue of all parties involved.

Setting out positions

Zelensky sought to garner support for his comprehensive ten-point plan, addressing various aspects of the conflict, such as food and nuclear security, a ceasefire, prisoner exchanges, and accountability. He also aimed to establish a security structure that would include guarantees for Ukraine.

The Ukrainian president seeks the withdrawal of Russian forces, an end to combat operations, and the restoration of Ukraine-Russia borders as they were prior to 2014.

His plan therefore entails Russia’s complete withdrawal from all occupied territories, including the Crimean Peninsula, annexed in 2014.

Zelensky wants Russia's complete withdrawal from all occupied territories, including the Crimea, annexed in 2014. This is not in Putin's plans

It should surprise no-one that this is not in Russian President Vladimir Putin's plan, and on the eve of the Swiss summit, he announced his conditions for a ceasefire.

They included the complete withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhya, four regions that Russia annexed in 2022 despite not yet having full control over them. He also demanded that Ukraine not seek to join NATO.

Concessions and priorities

However, in the first glint of movement, Putin made a "concession": allowing Kyiv to retain sovereignty over its southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhya, provided that Russia was granted strong land links with Crimea.

This showed his priority: a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, where Russia wants to base its prestigious Black Sea Fleet and control the Sea of Azov. Putin's aim is to legitimise Russia's military gains and allow him to claim victory.

The rejection from Kyiv and Ukraine's allies of Putin's "ultimatum" was swift and decisive. French President Emmanuel Macron called it a "surrender". German Chancellor Olaf Scholz dismissed it as "not serious".

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Putin lacked "good faith", while US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said the Russian president was in no position to dictate terms to Ukraine.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan further added that it was "unreasonable" to require Kyiv to cede not only occupied sovereign Ukrainian land but also non-occupied sovereign Ukrainian land.

Playing one's hand

While the two sides seemingly so far apart, it would be easy to think there was no cause for optimism, yet the significant development is that both parties have begun to publicly articulate their visions for a solution.

This provides crucial transparency that defines a settlement's features, creates conducive conditions for resolution, and justifies victory.

Putin is likely to maintain his hardline stance and maximalist demands. For a quarter of a century, he has reigned supreme in the Kremlin and does so still, despite Russia's forces suffering significant losses and casualties in his "special operation".

Putin is likely to maintain his hard-line stance and maximalist demands. He reigns supreme in the Kremlin, despite Russia suffering big losses

He will know that his hand is still strong. His forces continue to advance, his domestic war-fighting production lines continue to replace lost equipment, and his economy continues to grow, having adapted to circumvent sanctions.

Zelensky's concerns are precisely what Putin is counting on. Many G7 supporters of Ukraine are facing either internal setbacks or electoral challenges. There may not be as many friendly faces around the table the next time the G7 meet.

Foremost in these thoughts is the possibility of Donald Trump—a known Putin admirer—returning to the White House from January. Were this to happen, it would be one of Zelensky's biggest challenges to-date.

With perhaps only a few months left of a Biden presidency, Zelensky may not have time to make gains on the ground before he is forced to accept a settlement. For if Trump wins and stops the weapons, that is likely what he will have to do.

font change