August 27, 2022
Is a meeting likely between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, the heads of two countries whose crisis in relations is shaping the world? With small steps forward, a meeting should indeed be on the horizon in an effort to resolve the conflict through diplomatic channels, but is it still a long way off or can we expect it in the shorter term?
This question has, from the beginning, been among those that are central to finding a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, and last week promising steps appeared to be taken in this direction. Reportedly, the issue of a meeting was raised by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who played the useful mediator role, when he visited Lviv on Aug. 18 to meet Zelensky and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
It was not the first time Erdogan had suggested such an initiative; he did so two weeks previously, on Aug. 6, when he invited Putin to meet Zelensky in Ankara as a platform for a process of negotiations. The official responses from both sides were not made public, other than a comment by Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, a few hours later during an interview with the Financial Times in which he said there “was not any practical platform for having this meeting” between Putin and Zelensky.
Indeed, in addition to other developments in the Ukraine crisis, the continuing deterioration of relations includes the circumstances surrounding the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and the investigation of the shelling of a pretrial detention center in Yelenovka. Moreover, the car bomb attack outside Moscow that killed Darya Dugina, the daughter of Russian philosopher and Putin ally Alexander Dugin, the so-called ideologist of the “Russian world,” on Aug. 20 (a day after Erdogan was supposed to discuss a proposed meeting between Putin and Zelensky) has further complicated matters.
Among other challenges facing efforts to arrange a meeting between the two leaders are their countries’ successes on the battlefield, which clearly offer trump cards they can play in the negotiations.
Ukraine seems very skeptical about proposals for a meeting of the presidents, given that Zelensky has ruled out any negotiations while Russian troops remain in Ukraine. Dialogue between Moscow and Kyiv is also likely to be impossible in the event that captured Ukrainian soldiers are put on trial in Mariupol, or if Moscow goes ahead with plans to hold referendums in Russian-occupied territories on the issue of becoming part of Russia.
In addition, the Ukrainians say that negotiations with Russia cannot begin until the Ukrainian army achieves an advantageous negotiating position through a counteroffensive. Given all of these considerations, Ukraine’s readiness to consider negotiations clearly depends on many variables.
Turkey and the UN have already played a crucial role in achieving and implementing a deal to resume grain exports, one of the complicated issues arising from the crisis.
Dr. Diana Galeeva
On the Russian side, in contrast, there have been small signs of progress. On Aug. 18, Moscow softened its stance on the conditions for a possible meeting between Putin and Zelensky.
Previously, the Russians had insisted that a road map be drawn up before any meeting of the two leaders. At the beginning of August, the Kremlin stated that the necessary prerequisites had not been met for a summit meeting between Russia and Ukraine because the delegations had not done their “homework.” Now, according to reports by CNN Turkey, Moscow seems prepared to adjust its conditions and the Russians have said that the leaders can first discuss and define a road map, and their delegations can then start work on implementing it.
These facts suggest two possible scenarios, one positive, the other more skeptical. The first scenario is linked to the active involvement of Turkish mediators and Erdogan’s vision of ending the conflict quickly through diplomatic channels. His desire for this was evident on Monday when the Turkish president stated during a Cabinet meeting that his goal is to arrange a meeting between Putin and Zelensky. His enthusiastic view on this is indeed very promising and, as noted, there are small but positive steps that suggest Turkish mediation might yet bring the two leaders to the table soon.
However, given the ongoing developments in the conflict and the importance to both sides of the trump cards they hope to hold and play during the negotiation process that will shape the roadmap for reconciliation, it is also worth considering the more skeptical view of how events might play out.
While Erdogan emphasizes the necessity of a meeting between the presidents of Ukraine and Russia, the UN secretary-general has said, with undisguised skepticism, that: “I think there is probably a lot of time and ultimately a lot of changes in the verification of the situation so that this becomes possible.” He continued: “To be honest, I don’t know. I think we are not there yet. I think it’s probably too early for that.”
Given the complexity of this conflict, both of these possibilities are worth considering. However, as a believer in the power of diplomacy, and the view that this channel is the only one that can end the crisis, I tend to favor Erdogan’s efforts and his optimism. It should be noted that Turkey and the UN have already played a crucial role in achieving and implementing a deal to resume grain exports, one of the complicated issues arising from the crisis.
Perhaps this positive outcome serves as a good advert for Turkish diplomacy, and as motivation for us to believe in the power of the positive thinking behind Erdogan’s vision for ending this crisis through the use of diplomatic tools, and that perhaps a meeting between Putin and Zelensky can happen sooner rather than later.
• Dr. Diana Galeeva was an academic visitor to St. Antony’s College, Oxford University (2019-2022). She is the author of two books: “Qatar: The Practice of Rented Power” (Routledge, 2022) and “Russia and the GCC: The Case of Tatarstan’s Paradiplomacy” (I.B. Tauris/Bloomsbury, 2023). She is also a co-editor of the collection “Post-Brexit Europe and UK: Policy Challenges Towards Iran and the GCC States” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021).
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