On Ukraine “Peace Conference” and its travails

Before his traveled to the United States of America for the start of what became known as the Oslo Accord or process, the then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin famously said that “peace is only made with enemies and not with friends”.

When on September 13, 1993, the Israeli leader stretched out his hands to shake his long time adversary, former Palestinian leader and chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), Yasser Arafat, at the White House lawn, it was both defining and stunning moment. For the two men long engaged in the mortal battles of cracking each other people’s skulls, the moment of their ice-cold handshake, signaling a new chapter in the relations of their two peoples were significant and momentous. At least, it momentarily cracked the ice of one of the world’s longest dispute then.

Never mind that Yitzhak Rabin was to be assassinated two years later on November 4, 1995, by one Yigal Amir, an ultra-nationalist Jewish peace rejectionist who opposed the Oslo accords and the process of negotiation that it triggered. The death of Rabin at a peace rally he organised to drum up support for the Oslo process paved the way for the rise of Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu and his ultra-nationalist hard-right that returned the Israeli-Palestinian relations to the trenches of bloodlet, misery and sorrow for which they are currently engrossed.

At the end of the long drawn Iran-Iraq war in 1988, the Iranian spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, agonised that it was worse than swallowing a poison to make peace with former adversary but also noted that peace and reconciliation is only possible with a former bitter foe.

South Africa’s iconic black founding president, Nelson Mandela, who jointly won the Nobel peace prize with the last white minority rule leader, F.W De Klerk, in 1993 not because they were friends but they were former bitter adversaries, who overcame deep rooted and even structural hate between their two respective peoples to seek peace and reconciliation, paving the way for a multiracial society or what was colourfully dubbed the rainbow nation.

Against the trend of established histories and even common sense, the embattled Ukrainian president, Mr Zelensky, whose term of office elapsed on May 20, gathered along with his western patrons, friends and few neutrals at the Swiss resort of Burgenstock on June 15-16 in what was curiously dubbed “peace conference” supposedly aimed to find a solution to the conflict with her bigger neighbour, the Russian Federation. Participants consisting Ukraine’s patrons and few neutrals, the Swiss “peace conference” lived up to expectations, as its final communique piled up litanies of blame at Russia and added that “the United Nations Charter, including the principles of respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states, can and will serve as a basis in achieving a comprehensive just and lasting peace in Ukraine”. This is without any due regards that no state in the exercise of her right to territorial integrity and sovereignty should constitute and/or willfully be an accessory to the breach of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of another state.

The Swiss peace conference of Ukraine and her patrons and friends did not invite the main adversary, the Russian Federation, prompting some major powers like China and regional leaders like Nigeria to stay away because the jamboree at the Swiss resort has no peace implication for the Ukraine-Russian conflict, let alone, any peace dividend. Russia had earlier dismissed it as of no consequence, leading the Russian leader to outline his maximalist peace offer, which urged Ukraine to withdraw her forces from her former four regions that voted to become part of the Russian federation last year.

While any genuine peace conference, with the two sides effectively participating, would moderate the maximalist positions of the two sides and set the stage for compromises and moderations, the Swiss resort conference of Ukraine and her patrons with neutrals will only induce more fratricidal fighting between the two sides as they struggle to gain battlefield advantage that would be consequential in the future substantive negotiations for peace.

The American led NATO, the key promoter of the Swiss conference, are active party to the conflict and their roles which have largely consisted in supplying military hardware including its accessories cannot be anything except to invite Russia to surrender, the least of options that is on Moscow’s table. In its major military conflict and confrontation since it was founded in 1949, Ukraine’s near certain battlefield defeat will unravel the western military alliance (NATO) as overrated and a mere political bubble.

Should desperation push the western military alliance into direct confrontation with Russia, it will bring to an end its civilisations of the belligerents and imperil the rest of humanity.

The Swiss meeting did practically nothing to advance settlement of the conflict let alone establishing the framework for peace. Russia dismissed it as a waste of time and some countries that attended including India, Brazil, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and others refused to sign the final communique. Mr. Zelensky had earlier shot himself in the feet when he decreed that Ukraine would never negotiate with the current leadership of the Russian Federation and, therefore, any path to meaningful peace negotiations will start with Zelensky overturning his decree which he passed at the initial stage of the conflict, when he thought that a western military might, backing him, would secure a quick victory against Moscow.

Thoughtful Western analysts have been cautioning Ukraine to seek negotiation and end the war, when it can secure some useful concessions. The Western military alliance has a long history of cut and run, which was on display in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Ukraine would not be an exception. Meanwhile, voters across the European Union, weary and also wary of the humongous sums of money that are handed to Zelensky and Co, have called the bluff to mainstream ruling parties in Germany, Netherlands and even France, in the just concluded Europe’s wide parliamentary elections, prompting the French President, Mr. Emmanuel Macron, to call for early parliamentary election.

Peace between Russia and Ukraine is possible but must address the core concerns of the two parties in the conflict. The conflict is beyond the simplistic narrative, that one country invaded the other, as if states are irrational to undertake costly military operations for the fun of it. Russia already has the largest territory of any country in the world and it would be outright nonsense to simply suggest that Russia launched her special military operation for territorial hunger. Russia makes up 13% of the planet earth. Moscow has clearly outlined her security concerns which was on full display and was generously shared with her western partners before the conflict with Ukraine erupted into military confrontation.

The US led Western Alliance, the key patron of Ukraine largely ignored these concerns believing that a combination of economic sanction, international campaign of diplomatic isolation and military pressure will force Russia to surrender. With all the arsenal in their kit -economic, diplomatic and military – almost exhausted without any result of Russia stumbling let alone falling, common sense dictates that it is time to care about Moscow security concerns and other issues it raised.

A genuine peace plan, including the China proposed 10 steps which include building a consensus on what Ukraine and Russia really want, would, among other things, consist the genuine framework for peace and reconciliation between the two brotherly neighbours who sprang from the same fountain of the Kievan Rus of Prince Vladmir about 1000 years ago.

Onunaiju writes from Abuja.