Moscow presents its unlikely peace terms

When Vladimir Putin launched his war against Ukraine, he said he was doing so to “denazify” the country, challenging its right to exist.

Just last week, the Russian president accused the country’s leaders, including its Jewish president Volodymyr Zelensky, of being a “gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis”.

On Monday, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s top spokesman, offered Moscow’s conditions for stopping the invasion. If the original plan had been to conquer all of Ukraine, the terms of the new agreement represent a significant setback.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. PA

After 12 days of fighting, Mr. Putin’s war is not being prepared. Russia has failed to capture Kiev, its convoy in the north is bogged down and its troops are suffering heavy losses – although it may still regroup, Western officials say, and there is better progress in the south .

But Mr Peskov, who served as Mr Putin’s spokesman for more than 20 years, said Russia would stop fighting “in a moment” if Ukraine were to meet its list of conditions.

Moscow may have decided – with economic sanctions crippling the country – that it was better to cut the war short; and that the time has come to seek a peace agreement on its terms. Or maybe it’s a trap.

Ukraine may be forced to reject the deal and Russia may step up its bombardment, saying it has no other choice.

Moscow’s demands are:

Ukraine must stop shooting

If the Kremlin had thought that the power of the Russian army would bring down Ukraine in record time, it was wrong. Mr Peskov has backed away from any suggestion that Mr Putin has made territorial claims on Ukraine. He said it was “not true” that Russia is demanding that all of Ukraine be handed over and placed under Kremlin control.

In an interview with Reuters, Mr. Peskov said: “We are really finishing the demilitarization of Ukraine. We will finish it. But the main thing is that Ukraine cease its military action.

Ukraine suffered terrible losses, with Russia targeting its densely populated urban areas. But only Kherson, of the big cities, fell. Kiev will be dismissive of a ceasefire with preconditions dictated by Russia.

Anatol Lieven, a senior fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, asked yesterday what Mr Peskov really meant by “demilitarization”, adding: “If that means the abolition of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, then that is completely unacceptable.”

But if that meant removing long-range missiles from its soil, similar to the deal that ended the Cuban Missile Crisis, then Prof Lieven said a deal could be possible.

Kiev should not join the EU or NATO

Russia has long protested against any attempt by Ukraine to join NATO or the European Union. He wants to make Ukraine’s neutrality a condition of any peace agreement.

Mr Peskov told Reuters: “They should make amendments to the constitution that Ukraine would reject any goal of entering a bloc.

“Ukraine is an independent state that will live as it wants, but in conditions of neutrality.”

Shashank Joshi, defense editor at The Economistsaid: “So, two weeks later, Russia unilaterally moved on to: Nazis can stay if they say no to NATO and cede territory.”

He added: “If Ukraine accepted such conditions (it is not impossible), it would also have bad implications for other EU or NATO candidates.”

Recognize Crimea

Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, saying it was doing so to protect ethnic Russians living on the peninsula. Yesterday Mr Peskov said: ‘We also talked about how they should recognize Crimea as Russian territory.’

Mr. Zelensky and the West refused to recognize Russia’s annexation. But the reality is that Russia will not return Crimea and Ukraine will never win it back in a war.

This could be a sticking point, but the West may wish to push Mr. Zelensky into a deal if he ends hostilities. Professor Lieven suggests that the thorny issue could somehow be “set aside”.

If Moscow and Kiev could reach an agreement on Crimea – without Ukraine having to recognize it as Russian territory – then perhaps Russia could claim that it ensured Crimea’s survival and justify the invasion, thus saving face.

Recognize Donetsk and Lugansk

Parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions have been occupied by Russian separatists since 2014. Ukraine’s eastern border has seen intermittent fighting for the past eight years and now the Kremlin is calling for both regions to be recognized as countries independent.

In the days before the war, Mr Putin had recognized the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in a live television signing ceremony that was a prelude to the war. Yesterday Mr Peskov said their recognition should be part of any peace deal.

Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation, a US defense think tank, said it was “difficult to see” how Mr Zelensky could agree to recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk, adding that could not happen than “if there were a new government installed”.

The fate of President Zelensky

The Kremlin’s battle plan in the early days of the war had been to capture Hostomel airport near Kiev, land an elite team of special forces troops, drive to the capital, catch the president and, metaphorically at least, to “decapitate” him. But 12 days later, Mr. Zelensky remains a hero of the Ukrainian people and now of the world.

In his interview with Reuters, Mr Peskov made no mention of Russia’s demands for Mr Zelensky, but Christo Grozev of Bellingcat, an investigative journalism group that has exposed Russian wrongdoing for several years, said said the Kremlin was willing to accept Mr. Zelensky as president on the condition that Yuriy Boiko, a senior politician more sympathetic to Russia, was appointed prime minister.

Again, this is a request that will be unpleasant for Kiev.