Ms. Deitelhoff, on February 24, the day of Putin’s attack, we spoke about Ukraine for the first time. Eight months later, would you have expected the war to still be going on unabated?
No, not then. I didn’t expect the West to support Ukraine so extensively. And I didn’t think that Ukraine is so strong militarily.
The chance of a negotiated solution currently seems to be zero. While Putin claims to be willing to negotiate, he is probably only interested in securing as much of his spoils of war as possible. And Ukraine sees itself militarily at an advantage and counts on victory. A hopeless situation?
Things are not looking good for negotiations at the moment, the war is too dynamic. Both sides reckon they have a chance of winning the conflict militarily. Many are even betting that Ukraine could succeed in forcing Russia to surrender unconditionally. To me, that’s not the most likely scenario. Nuclear superpowers don’t capitulate, they retreat when they encounter asymmetrical opponents like the USA in Afghanistan or Vietnam. If the opponent is equal, then negotiations and, in the worst case, a nuclear escalation are possible. That’s why it’s now a matter of initiating talks at all, albeit not negotiations.
Russia and Ukraine keep swapping prisoners, and there is an agreement on grain exports. Are these perhaps starting points for further negotiations?
In fact, such functioning coordinations can be starting points, especially when a third party organizes them. At the moment, however, it would be particularly important for the nuclear powerhouses Russia and the USA to talk to each other. If you look at the past few weeks, you can see that we are in an escalation dynamic – not only between Russia and Ukraine, but also between Russia and the US. Nuclear threats and considerations of possible retaliatory strikes are shared publicly. This is extremely dangerous, because both sides are dependent on interpreting actions or statements of the other, some of which are not even primarily aimed at them. In those, it is perhaps more about appearing strong towards one’s own clientele of supporters in order to mobilize.
French President Macron and Chancellor Scholz call Putin from time to time, which is sometimes met with criticism. One wonders what the gentlemen talk about for 90 minutes when there seems to be no room for negotiation.
These conversations are right and important because direct communication can help clear up misunderstandings that contribute to escalation, but also help signal intentions that one would not publicly state. In these phone calls, both sides try to hear even the faintest nuances. You want to find out: is there movement or are positions hardening?
The presidents of Turkey and Hungary, Erdogan and Orbán, are also still talking to Putin. Even if both are rightly criticized in the West: In such a situation, is it a good thing that we have them?
In such conflicts, uninvolved third parties who enjoy trust on both sides are helpful. The problem with Viktor Orbán is that many in the West don’t trust him right now. Trust in Erdogan isn’t very pronounced either, but I think people trust him more. Orbán has made it clear that he is talking to Putin so that he can continue to buy gas cheaply and is also willing to campaign for Putin. Erdogan also benefits from his relationship with Putin, but he doesn’t do it so openly and at the same time he also helps the Ukrainian side.
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