March 1, 2024

Institute for the Study of War:  Russian goal in 2022 peace talks was to make Ukraine undependable

Institute for the Study of War

Reported details of Russian-Ukrainian peace negotiations that occurred in Istanbul in April 2022 indicate that Russia has consistently envisioned a settlement for its illegal invasion of Ukraine wherein Ukraine would be unable to defend itself from a future Russian attack – an objective Russia continues to pursue under calls for Ukraine’s “demilitarization.” The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on March 1 that documents it obtained of the draft treaty from the 2022 Ukrainian-Russian peace negotiations indicate that both sides initially agreed that Ukraine would be a “permanently neutral state that doesn’t participate in military blocs.” The draft treaty also reportedly banned Ukraine from receiving any foreign weapons or hosting any foreign military personnel. The WSJ reported that Russia pushed for the Ukrainian military to be limited to 85,000 soldiers, 342 tanks, and 519 artillery systems, whereas Ukraine wanted the caps to be 250,000 soldiers, 800 tanks, and 1,900 artillery systems. Russia also reportedly demanded that Ukrainian missiles be limited to a range of 40 kilometers, a range that would allow Russian forces to deploy critical systems and materiel close to Ukraine without fear of strikes. The Kremlin has repeatedly called for the “demilitarization” of Ukraine since its full-scale invasion but has not previously provided details on what that would specifically entail. The Ukrainian military in 2014 – before Russia’s first invasion – consisted of about 130,000 personnel, and the documents from 2022 indicate that Russia intended to drastically reduce Ukraine’s military to such a level that Ukraine could no longer defend itself. Russian President Vladimir Putin has most recently emphasized the idea of a “demilitarized” or “sanitary” zone in Ukraine that would place Russian territory – including occupied Ukraine – out of range of both Ukrainian frontline artillery systems and Western-provided long-range systems. Putin likely aims for the ”demilitarization” of Ukraine to allow him to enforce his will upon Ukraine without any substantial resistance.

Reported details of the draft treaty suggest that Russia intended to use the treaty to set conditions for future attacks against Ukraine while also prompting the West to make concessions on Ukraine’s sovereignty. The WSJ reported that the United States, United Kingdom, China, France, and Russia were to be guarantors of the treaty. Russia also reportedly wanted to include Belarus as a guarantor. The guarantor states were supposed to “terminate international treaties and agreements incompatible with the permanent neutrality of Ukraine,” including military aid agreements. The WSJ did not specify if other non-guarantor states would have to terminate their agreements with Ukraine as well, although this is likely considering that the treaty would ban Ukraine from having foreign-supplied weapons. It is unclear what Russia considers to be “incompatible” with a permanently “neutral” Ukraine, although the Kremlin most certainly would have broadly interpreted this as forbidding Ukraine from joining NATO, which is stipulated by Ukraine’s constitution, thereby likely demanding that Ukraine amend its constitution. Russia reportedly wanted all guarantors to agree on a response should Ukraine be subject to any attacks, but the WSJ stated that the guarantor states were unlikely to agree on a response should Russia attack Ukraine again – likely due to the guarantor states’ diverging interests. This stipulation likely intended to allow Russia to influence, predict, and prepare for the international response to any possible future Russian attacks on Ukraine. ISW continues to assess that any ceasefire would benefit Russia, giving it time to reconstitute and regroup for future offensive operations.

Russia’s territorial objectives beyond the areas it occupied in 2022 likely prevented Russia and Ukraine from agreeing on the status of Russian-occupied areas in Ukraine in April 2022. The WSJ reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky were to hold “face-to-face talks” to discuss areas of eastern Ukraine that Russian forces have occupied since 2014, but that this meeting never took place. The need for Putin and Zelensky to discuss the matter independently and separately suggests that the Russian and Ukrainian negotiating delegations were unable to reach an agreement on the status of the Russian-occupied territories in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, likely due to Russia’s wider expansionist territorial desires, as Kremlin officials have repeatedly indicated. The WSJ did not report on any clauses in the treaty concerning Russian-occupied territory outside of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

Key Takeaways:

  • Reported details of Russian-Ukrainian peace negotiations that occurred in Istanbul in April 2022 indicate that Russia has consistently envisioned a settlement for its illegal invasion of Ukraine wherein Ukraine would be unable to defend itself from a future Russian attack – an objective Russia continues to pursue under calls for Ukraine’s “demilitarization.”
  • Reported details of the draft treaty suggest that Russia intended to use the treaty to set conditions for future attacks against Ukraine while also prompting the West to make concessions on Ukraine’s sovereignty.
  • Russian authorities suggested that the Kremlin has likely adopted a more extensive set of goals regarding Ukraine over the course of Russia’s war against Ukraine.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to disparage Russian elites in his February 29 Federal Assembly speech, more closely aligning himself with the veteran and military community and drawing praise from ultranationalist milbloggers.
  • Kremlin officials met with leaders of the pro-Russian Moldovan autonomous region Gagauzia and emphasized Russia’s support for Gagauzia against perceived Moldovan “oppression” on March 1.
  • Ukraine and the Netherlands signed a 10-year bilateral security agreement on March 1.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances near Avdiivka and Donetsk City on March 1.
  • Russian authorities will likely use annual combat training for Russian reservists to support crypto-mobilization efforts.
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