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Diplomacy Watch: Will six months of war turn into six years?

Diplomacy Watch: Will six months of war turn into six years?

Chances for a negotiated settlement are dwindling as all of the Ukraine conflict’s stakeholders dig in for the long haul.

Analysis | Europe

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that Washington will fund an additional $3 billion in military aid for Ukraine. On the surface, this may seem like business as usual. After all, the United States has sent 19 separate tranches of military support since the war began, and Congress has already approved funding for at least another $10 billion worth of arms.

But this latest transfer is not like its predecessors. So far, most of the aid that Washington has provided came via drawdowns of the Pentagon’s own stockpiles. The package announced Wednesday will instead rely on new contracts with weapons manufacturers, meaning that its contents won’t reach Ukraine for a while yet.

In other words, Biden is signaling that his administration intends to measure this war in years, not months. The president said as much in a statement Wednesday in which he argued that the weapons will help ensure that Ukraine “can continue to defend itself over the long term.”

As the war in Ukraine passes its six month mark, the war’s belligerents seem to agree. On the Russian side, one of Moscow’s top diplomats recently said he does “not see any possibility for diplomatic contacts.”

“We do not have any contacts with the western delegations. On the protocol side we do not see each other. Privately we do not have any contacts, unfortunately... we simply do not talk to each other,” said Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s envoy to UN offices in Geneva.

As for Ukraine, President Volodomyr Zelensky made clear in a speech on Wednesday that he no longer sees a negotiated settlement as a solution to Russia’s brutal invasion: “What for us is the end of the war? We used to say ‘peace.’ Now we say ‘victory.’”

This wide opposition to diplomacy comes as the situation on the ground has reached a bloody stalemate. As Zack Beauchamp argued in Vox, both Ukraine and Russia are unlikely to break that trend as they’ve become convinced that it’s in their political interest to dig in.

“Ukraine’s future, then, depends on the success of its war effort. Russia, by contrast, is fighting to minimize its losses — to salvage something from the geopolitical wreckage wrought by the decision to invade in the first place,” Beauchamp wrote. “Both sides believe they can improve their ultimate outcomes on these metrics on the battlefield.”

Meanwhile, the war’s humanitarian impact continues to grow. The conflict has ravaged Ukraine, leaving (by a conservative estimate) nearly 6000 civilians dead and forcing more than six million Ukrainians to flee as refugees. And the projected cost of post-war reconstruction — which currently sits around $200 billion — grows daily as the fighting drags on.

The war has also strained the foreign aid budgets of donor countries, according to the New York Times. While programs aimed at helping Ukrainians have thankfully been well-funded, other populations in desperate need of humanitarian aid have been increasingly neglected by international benefactors.

“Camps for Syrian refugees in northern Iraq have cut access to clean water, sanitation and electricity. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, many people forced from their homes face life without shelter or basic tools like fishing or farming gear. In South Sudan, there will be no secondary school this fall for some refugee children.

Funding to ease the world’s humanitarian crises is falling further than ever behind what is needed for critical requirements like shelter, food, water, power and education, the United Nations reports. Demand, already inflated by scourges like the pandemic and drought, has soared this year, driven in part by the war in Ukraine. Donations from wealthy countries have grown, but not nearly as fast.”

In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:

— Large metal cages are being built in a prominent part of the occupied city of Mariupol, raising concerns that Russia intends to hold “show trials” of prisoners of war there, according to the New York Times. On Monday, Zelensky said that, if show trials do happen, Kyiv will refuse any diplomacy with Moscow: “This will be the line beyond which any negotiations are impossible.” The UN added Tuesday that show trials would constitute a war crime.

— On Tuesday, UN political affairs head Rosemary DiCarlo urged Ukraine and Russia to “stop any military activities” at or near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which has been threatened by nearby shelling in recent weeks. “Any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia is suicidal,” DiCarlo said.

— A U.S. Treasury official threatened to sanction a pair of Turkish business associations if they continue to work with sanctioned Russians, according to the Wall Street Journal. The move highlights Western fears that growing Turkey-Russia ties could undermine the sanctions regime that the United States and its allies have built to punish Moscow. It also shows just how challenging it will be for Ankara to serve as a trusted mediator between Russia and the West. But this difficulty has not dissuaded Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from trying: As the article also notes, Erdogan “reiterated an offer to host further rounds of peace talks” during a trip to Ukraine last week.

— In the New York Times, physicist Michael Riordan lamented the impact that Russia’s war in Ukraine will have on the future of scientific discovery.

“Scientific research has advanced to such an extent since the end of the Cold War that such large, expensive international projects are the only way to push back the frontiers in many disciplines. Individual nations no longer have sufficient financial and intellectual resources to pursue the science unilaterally. The current retreat from Russian involvement in these big projects can in this way easily curtail scientific progress — as well as impair international relations more broadly.” 

U.S. State Department News:

In a Wednesday press briefing, spokesperson Vedant Patel laid out Washington’s approach to the war as it passes the six month mark.

“We believe it’s for Ukraine to define what it considers success. We’ve been clear that diplomacy is the only way to end this conflict, but Russia has consistently shown no signs that it’s willing to seriously engage in negotiations. We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign, and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression, and we are focused on strengthening Ukraine’s hand as much as possible on the battlefield so when that time comes, Ukraine has as much leverage as possible at the negotiating table.”

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Ukraine War Crisis