In their second round of talks in Belarus on March 3, Russia and Ukraine agreed to open humanitarian corridors and exit routes for civilians from Mariupol and Volnovakha. The bilateral agreement was executed on March 5. A third round of talks was to take place on March 7.
These steps taken by Russia and Ukraine are small but very significant. They demonstrate that political talks through diplomatic efforts are workable so long as both sides increase mutual understanding and trust. The international community welcomes more bilateral talks for peace and stability between Russia and Ukraine, free from outside interference. The U.S.-led NATO countries are required to take concrete action to encourage peace talks between the two sides by refraining from imposing any kind of sanctions against either side or sending heavy weapons to the conflict areas. It is believed that a quiet kind international environment helps the two countries make decisions independently on their own.
It is an unfortunate fact that the Ukraine crisis has brought heavy losses to both Russia and Ukraine. It has also made many innocent business partners of the two countries suffer from shortages and supply disruptions. Price hikes in oil and natural gas have made inflation in the United States even worse, with California becoming the first state to see $5 per gallon from $ 2.75 a year ago.
European Union countries are undergoing a more serious test as a result of the skyrocketing price of natural gas. According to Bruegel, an EU think tank, the value of Russian natural gas exports to the EU has soared to $545 million from about $220 million in February, 2022. As a result, policy differences on how to deal with Russia have begun to emerge, with heated debate in Germany on whether or not the Nord Stream 2 project should be on the sanction list.
To end the Ukraine crisis as soon as possible and to realize long-term peace and prosperity in both Russia and the whole of Europe, it is essential for Russia and Ukraine to continue their political talks and produce positive results no matter how difficult the talks may be. At the same time, U.S.-led NATO member countries, especially European countries, are duty bound to conduct serious talks with Russia with sincerity.
The current conflict has complicated political and historical roots. For the moment, the focus of Russia’s special military operation seems to be on the destruction of Ukraine’s ground military installations and facilities, including alleged nuclear weapons manufacturers and their missile carriers. Russia’s political motive as publicly announced, is the removal of immediate military threats from Ukraine, a close neighbor that is seeking to become a member of NATO.
Developments in the Russia-Ukraine conflict show that it is, in essence, a conflict between Russia and U.S.-led NATO. To weaken and isolate Russia, NATO members have been providing Ukraine with all kinds of military assistance and support in all possible areas short of sending troops in active service to Ukraine. Providing Ukraine with money and weapons by U.S.-led NATO members has in fact, discouraged Ukraine from engaging in political talks with Russia, thereby prolonging the military conflict. It won’t help Ukraine win the final victory on the battlefield, but places it in a worse dilemma.
Russia’s relationship with NATO countries, and with the U.S. in particular, have worsened over the past 20 years or more. Russia has felt frustrated by NATO’s seemingly unstoppable eastward expansion all the way to Russian borders and deploying offensive strategic weapons in breach of its original assurances. In the eyes of Russians, the expansion of NATO is a continual political provocation against Russia and a form of oppression. Wherever there is oppression, there is resistance.
The political talks between Russia and Ukraine regarding a cease-fire, reconciliation and possible cooperation are only the first small steps in the right direction. To thoroughly resolve the deep-rooted differences and to bring about long-term peace and stability in Europe and Russia, political talks between Russia and NATO need to follow. It is important to note that even in the U.S. there are public voices calling for providing Ukraine with perpetual neutral status and for ending the NATO expansionism that set the stage for the current Ukraine conflict.
Common sense tells us that those voices might be constructive. If Ukraine had chosen to be neutral, friendly to both Russia and NATO members, there wouldn’t have been any Russian special military operations in Ukraine. To try to build a community of Europe and Russia sharing a common future, political talks between Russia and Ukraine and between Russia and U.S.-led NATO should be conducted seriously as the best choice. The Cold War mentality and zero-sum game logic should be abandoned along with the unrealistic hope on the part of the U.S. to strangle Russia.
It is futile and counterproductive for any party involved to take advantage of the current Ukraine crisis for its selfish interests. It is the duty of all responsible countries to encourage and support political talks between Russia and Ukraine and between Russia and NATO right now. Any words and deeds that add fuel to the current military conflict in Ukraine should be avoided.