One year ago, Foreign Affairs published an article by Samuel Charap, a fellow and analyst at the RAND Corporation, who has been a foreign policy adviser to the White House for many years. The article highlighted the main challenges that the end of the war in Ukraine and the subsequent peaceful negotiation process may face.

Among the main challenges to the peace process, Samuel Charap rightly identified the so-called “moral asymmetry” that has been accumulated since the beginning of the full-scale invasion by statements from the two main participants – Ukraine and Russia. The accumulated expectations for the end of the war, especially on the Ukrainian side, such as the protection of not only state sovereignty and independence, which has actually already happened but also the full restoration of territorial integrity by military means, along with the amount of moral damage caused to the people of Ukraine by Russian aggression, make direct negotiations on ending the war between Ukraine and Russia virtually impossible.

Simply put, the representatives of Ukraine and Russia have no moral right to sit down at a common negotiating table – a huge and painful moral asymmetry has widened the gap in the direct negotiation and peace process between the two sides.

Is there a way out of this situation? A recent statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Mr. Kuleba, suggests there is.

Thus, Kuleba notes that in the current situation of huge moral asymmetry between the two sides, the negotiation process and the subsequent peace process can be implemented based on the model of the grain agreement between Ukraine and Russia signed in 2022. Despite the ongoing war, this agreement has been implemented quite successfully for two years.

The peculiarity of the grain deal is that Ukraine and Russia do not have direct contact during the negotiations. Communications between them are carried out through the other two parties to the agreement, Turkey and the UN, which first agreed on the agreement’s text with each party separately and then separately collected the signatures of the participants to the agreement.

In general, this is a fairly effective negotiation model, and it was implemented quite effectively at the level of the grain agreement. This raises several important questions. First, who should be the other parties to this agreement, acting as mediators in the negotiations? Second, what should be the main platform for this kind of negotiation process to gain support for the peace process from most countries of the world, together with the main geopolitical players? Perhaps peace summits?

The peace summit held in Switzerland in June this year did not answer this question. Still, given the formation of two camps on the conditions for ending the war, the most reliable would be the representation of developed Western countries and countries of the Global South. Will the leaders of both groups of countries- the United States and China- take on this role? In terms of influencing the course of the negotiation process, yes, they will.

But who will technically be represented by such negotiators? Probably, getting an answer to this question is also the task of peace summits, which should demonstrate progress in the peace process and revive diplomacy as a security mechanism that was abandoned after the end of the Cold War.

It is difficult to overestimate the role of the United States in the peace process. Ben Rhodes, in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, made a fairly meaningful attempt to summarize the Biden administration’s foreign policy strategy, identifying three main foreign policy challenges:

“Washington must recognize that all three fault lines of global conflict today—Russia-Ukraine, Iran-Israel, and China-Taiwan—run across territories just beyond the reach of U.S. treaty obligations. In other words, these are not areas where the American people have been prepared to go to war directly. With little public support and no legal obligation to do that, Washington should not count on bluffing or military buildups alone to resolve these issues; instead, it will have to focus relentlessly on diplomacy, buttressed by reassurance to frontline partners that there are alternative pathways to achieving security”.

This request for meaningful diplomacy should form the basis for ending the war in Ukraine and further negotiations. At the same time, the United States must demonstrate its geopolitical leadership by participating in Ukraine’s future:

“In Ukraine, the United States and Europe should focus on protecting and investing in the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government—drawing Ukraine into European institutions, sustaining its economy, and fortifying it for lengthy negotiations with Moscow so that time works in Kyiv’s favor”.

President Biden has almost 7 months in spare to put in practice this foreign policy. Else, as mentioned in another recent article in Foreign Affairs by Robert C. O’Brien:

“Trump, for his part, has made clear that he would like to see a negotiated settlement to the war that ends the killing and preserves the security of Ukraine.”

Likely, it will not be so difficult for Trump to implement the process of ending the war in Ukraine, including the one mentioned above by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba, because Trump, unlike President Biden, has not contributed to increasing moral asymmetry, i.e., he has not made statements that would emphasize the overwhelming importance of military instruments to end the war.

Trump has much more room for maneuver in the implementation of the peace process in Ukraine than Biden, who is bound by previous statements of a rather bellicose nature.

Strobe Talbot, the advisor to President Clinton, recalled Condoleezza Rice, in a number of a conversations he had with her at Stanford, remarking casuistically that “the namelessness of the nineties bespoke the timelessness of American policy in that period – i.e., the Clinton administration’s policy.” Now we are all witnessing that the aimlessness of American policy in the nineties, with a plethora of deferred security problems, including those around Ukraine, is emphasizing the role of dynamic, powerful, and forward-looking US diplomacy in systematically addressing complex geopolitical challenges, including the war in Ukraine, fueled by the significant moral asymmetry of its main participants.


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