Listen to article
In her final appearance on 13 July 1917 at Fatima in Portugal, the Virgin Mary had asked for the consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart to stop Russia from spreading “its errors throughout the world and fomenting wars,” for peace to prevail on earth. On 25 March 2022, a month into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Pope Francis consecrated Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, alongside Ukraine. Nine months have passed by, but still, an end to the war is nowhere in sight, and an era of peace on earth looks even more remote.
The Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, had in November reiterated the Holy See’s offer to act as a mediator, based on the neutrality of the Catholic Church, given that both Ukraine and Russia are predominantly Orthodox. The possibility of negotiations was also discussed at the G20 Summit held in Bali, Indonesia but despite efforts by the world’s religious and political leaders to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv, neither side seems to be looking at peace talks for now.
Zelensky believes that Russia might seek a “short truce” merely to regroup after the recent loss of Kherson to the Ukrainians. He is also unwilling to engage in peace talks while Putin is in the Kremlin. Putin, too, may no longer be keen on peace parleys after Angela Merkel revealed to the German Newspaper ‘Die Zeit’ on the 7th of December that the 2014 Minsk Accord was only a stalling tactic that allowed the West to turn Ukraine into an anti-Russian proxy, by arming and training its troops for an inevitable war. Peace talks at this stage would only help Ukraine (and Europe) to tide through the winter, rebuild its infrastructure, recoup its losses, and prepare for a spring fightback. Putin said that Merkel’s remarks on the Minsk Accord only shows that launching the ‘special military operation’ was the right decision. Earlier, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov had made it clear that for peace talks to begin, Kyiv must show the political will and readiness to discuss demands already made by Russia.
For peace talks to begin, the territorial issue is a major hindrance. Despite the retreat of its troops to the eastern side of the Dnieper River, Russia continues to insist that Kherson is Russian territory. Russia’s intransigent posture will only keep Zelensky away from exploring a negotiated settlement since he has been vocal about the withdrawal of Russian troops from the occupied areas. Russia will not loosen its hold over Donbas or Crimea, and if Ukraine tries to retake them, Moscow might resort to launching a tactical nuclear strike. Putin has recently floated the possibility of abandoning Russia’s “No First Use” nuclear doctrine, which could open the way for a Russian First Strike. In other words, concerns over a looming nuclear strike diminish the trust needed to kickstart the peace process. Another factor that raises the uncertainty over possible negotiations is Zelensky’s proposal for a “new security architecture” under the Kyiv Security Compact – a treaty with Ukraine’s allies – rather than the possibility of picking up the threads of the Minsk process which the Ukrainian leadership never really accepted.
There is however a glimmer of hope, in that, a growing number of U.S. Congressmen have voiced their opinion that the White House must put pressure on Kyiv to hold peace talks with Russia because of the global economic and humanitarian fallout of the war, and also because the endless supply of American weapons and other support to Ukraine is not sustainable. It is noteworthy too that Putin told the media during the EEU Summit in Bishkek recently, that ‘an agreement will have to be reached’ to end the conflict.
Freezing winter temperatures may have turned the tide in favor of Russia against Napoleon in 1812, and had also helped Peter the Great in defeating the Swedes in the Battle of Poltava during the Great Northern War in 1708 when the Swedish King Charles XII took refuge in Ukraine to escape the harshest winter in northern Europe for more than 500 years, but modern technology and American replenishments in the current situation may help Ukraine to foil Russian attempts at making notable gains in the frosty weeks ahead despite the breakdown of almost all of Ukraine’s infrastructure. As temperatures fall and life becomes miserable, Russia has hoped that more Ukrainians will flee to neighboring countries, putting pressure on Europe. European leaders are aware of the growing public disquiet from rising energy bills, soaring inflation, and a growing refugee crisis that are consequences of the war. The situation will turn worse should Moscow further weaponize gas flows to Europe, or close down underwater cables or pipelines. Such results could force European leaders to put pressure on Zelensky to relent.
Military history tells us that wars come to an end when one side defeats the other, or both sides are too exhausted to carry on. At present, neither Moscow nor Kyiv has the decisive edge, but the conflict has reached a point where both have suffered massive losses although Ukraine’s losses are proportionally far greater. Both sides believe they can win, and there is no need to engage in peace talks. Russia wants to keep the areas it has occupied, while Ukraine, relying on continuing western military and financial support, wants Russia to pull out of those areas, pay war reparations, and face war crimes tribunals. Only when the realization dawns on both sides that the mounting losses are unsustainable, can a peacemaker step in with an acceptable offer that cuts through the maximalist demands of either side and makes them amenable to a truce through diplomatic persuasion. At the right time, Delhi can play the role of a peacemaker. India which is on good terms with both East and West has the ability to act as a neutral peacemaker and end the conflict. India played a role in the Korean armistice of 1953, and again in the mid-1950s, India as Chairman of the International Commission for Supervision and Control facilitated the peace process between North and South Vietnam after the Geneva Conference on 21 July 1954. In July, when a crucial deal was brokered by the UN and Turkey to free up Ukrainian grain shipments, India played an important role in persuading Russia to lift the grain blockade. Two months later, when Russian and Ukrainian forces were shelling the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, India stepped in again and asked both sides to back off. If the fighting reaches a stalemate and multiple crises make life even more difficult in Ukraine and across Europe this winter, then the prospect of a negotiated settlement may possibly arise. It is only then that India can step into broker peace. If Delhi can bring an end to this conflict, it would help burnish India’s credentials for a permanent place in the UNSC.