By: john faerseth
September 8 2023
Vladimir Putin holds what he claims to be a draft agreement with Ukraine at a meeting with African leaders in St. Petersburg. Source: Reuters
When Vladimir Putin met with a group of African leaders on June 17, he presented what he claimed was “a draft peace treaty” with Ukraine whose representative had allegedly signed it in the spring of 2022.
The delegation, which was led by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and included the presidents of Senegal, Zambia and Comoros as well as the Egyptian prime minister, was on a mission to broker peace between Russia and Ukraine. The meeting took place in St Petersburg the day after they had met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.
Putin described the documents he presented as a treaty of permanent neutrality and security guarantees for Ukraine. According to Putin, Kyiv later rejected the agreement after Russia had withdrawn its troops from outside Kyiv as promised. He also suggested this happened after Western pressure.
“Where are the guarantees that they will not renounce any other agreements in the future?” he asked.
According to Putin, the documents included 18 articles and a detailed addendum dealing with Ukraine’s armed forces, which were agreed upon during negotiations in Turkey throughout March and April of 2022. He also claimed that the leader of the Ukrainian negotiation group had signed with his initials.
Putin’s claims about a draft peace treaty signed by the Ukrainian delegation but then abruptly discarded have been repeated by the Russian satellite TV network RT and by the state news agency TASS. The claims have also been the subject of several viral videos on TikTok.
Russia’s war on Ukraine began in 2014 with the illegal annexation of Crimea and the Russian-sponsored armed conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas region in March and April 2014. From 2014 to 2022, fighting was accompanied by talks within the “Normandy format,” which consisted of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France. The format effectively ceased to exist when Moscow recognized the Russian-controlled “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk on 21 February 2022, three days before the full-scale invasion.
From the beginning of the invasion, Russia declared itself willing to talk. Its conditions for ending the war included Ukraine renouncing its intentions to join NATO, recognizing the so-called people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, and the “demilitarization” and “de-Nazification” of Ukraine.
At first, Ukraine demanded a cease-fire as a condition for talks but bowed to severe military pressure and agreed on talks in Belarus on February 28. Further meetings took place on March 3 and 7. On March 10, foreign ministers Dmytro Kuleba and Sergey Lavrov met in Antalya for new talks brokered by Turkey.
When the talks reconvened in Istanbul on March 29, the Ukrainian side presented a ten-point "Istanbul Communiqué.” This offered far-reaching concessions: Ukraine was willing to refrain from hosting military bases or foreign troops on its territory and from developing nuclear weapons. It also offered to abandon its pursuit of NATO membership and remain permanently non-aligned in return for international security guarantees, which would not extend to Crimea and parts of Donbas. The status of occupied Crimea would be resolved bilaterally within fifteen years. A treaty was to be signed at a meeting of the two presidents, where the remaining points would also be worked out.
However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said a treaty would be subject to a referendum since it involved changes to the Ukrainian constitution, which has EU and NATO membership as stated goals.
On March 30, the Kremlin rejected any talks about the status of Crimea. Putin also told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi that the time had not yet come for a cease-fire or a meeting with Zelenskyy.
Negotiations continued online through the first half of April, but the two sides remained irreconcilable regarding security guarantees and the status of Crimea and Donbas. Ukraine wanted "NATO-style" security guarantees from Western countries, where the guarantors would be legally bound to come to Ukraine’s defense in case of an attack. Ukraine also refused to legitimize Russia’s recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics.
Moscow insisted on a role as guarantor and anchoring the guarantees in the United Nations Security Council, where Russia holds a permanent seat with veto power. Russia also refused to discuss the status of Crimea and insisted on the “independence” of the two “people’s republics.”
On May 17, Ukraine and Russia both withdrew from the talks.
Mathieu Boulègue, a non-resident Senior Fellow with the Transatlantic Defense and Security Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), told Logically Facts that the talks broke down because neither party wanted to discuss each other’s key points.
“What Russia wanted was the full demilitarization and neutrality of Ukraine and some undefined security guarantees in return for withdrawing not to the pre-2014 borders but the pre-2022 ones. And they did not want to discuss the status of Crimea. Eventually, Ukraine came with their own plan and demands, but since they were completely irreconcilable, the talks broke down as there was nothing to discuss.”
He also relayed that Russia’s true desire was to see the total destruction of the Ukrainian state and nation. “Everything else is a ploy and deception,” he adds.
Steven Pifer, fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, believes that the Ukrainian government was serious in its attempt to negotiate to end the Russian invasion.
“For example, it was prepared to accept neutrality and make other concessions. However, the revelations of Russian atrocities in Bucha and Irpin after they were liberated by Ukrainian forces understandably hardened attitudes in the Ukrainian government.” He adds, “They also hardened public attitudes against Russia, which would have limited Kyiv's freedom to negotiate had the Ukrainian government continued to pursue the earlier negotiations.”
Like Boulègue, Pifer does not believe the same can be said about Russia.
“From the beginning, it repeated its maximum demands – neutrality, demilitarization, de-Nazification, acceptance of Crimea as Russian and recognition of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk ‘people's republics’ as independent states.” He adds that “Later, at the end of September 2022, Moscow demanded that Ukraine accept Russia's supposed annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson, even though Russian forces had been losing on the battlefield for nearly six weeks.”
He speculates the situation was “not serious” and that Russian powers would not “abide by a ceasefire but would likely take advantage to rebuild its military with a view to renewing hostilities at a later point,” adding, “As we saw in 2014, a ceasefire in place would mean that Russia would not yield back any territory.”
According to a BBC investigation, the documents presented by Putin appear to be prints of working drafts. Between the final meeting on March 29 and the end of negotiations on May 17, both delegations continued to work on draft treaties online, exchanging comments and corrections to the draft documents several times a day.
In the video, visible headlines on the documents say “Treaty on Permanent Neutrality and Security Guarantees of Ukraine" and "Appendix 1. Limiting number of personnel, weapons, and military equipment in the combat composition of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in peacetime."
Both documents are dated April 15, 2022, more than two weeks after the last face-to-face meeting of the delegations and several weeks before the end of negotiations. They also have multiple fonts, which signify the differences between the Ukrainian and Russian sides. No signatures are visible on the displayed documents.
Dmytro Zolotukhin, a Ukrainian expert on information warfare and former deputy minister of information policy, believes Putin displayed the documents at the meeting with African delegates to appear willing to negotiate.
“Putin needs at least the appearance of international support.” He explains, ‘The Africa region might be his only option to get this appearance and potential help with resources. African countries are very vulnerable because of the war, and need answers to what both parties are doing to stop a war that may cause famine in Africa.”
He adds to Putin’s intentions: “Putin had to show Africa that he is a good guy, and ready for any kind of negotiation process. At the same time, this readiness must appear to be from a position of force. These are the reasons why he still tries to create something which does not exist. Like some piece of paper.”
Zolotukhin adds that when the Russian chief negotiator Vladimir Medinskiy said in interviews that negotiations were pending, he never mentioned any existing documents.
As for Putin’s claim that Russia withdrew from Kyiv as a goodwill gesture or part of an agreement, Mathieu Boulègue comments: “There is no such thing as a goodwill gesture in war. The only reason for withdrawing was that it was good for their own war effort. The Russian army besieged Kyiv for a month but failed to take it due to the extremely forceful resistance of Ukrainian civilians and military and because it was a tactical failure. Therefore they decided to redeploy forces to Donbas and focus the war there.”
Thus, Putin’s claims that a treaty was ready and acceptable for Ukraine in the spring of 2022 but was rejected by Ukraine are highly unlikely. The documents displayed at the June 17 meeting are likely to have been working drafts. The positions of the parties were too far apart, and Russia was not likely to abide by a ceasefire. A treaty would have to be signed by the presidents, and subject to a referendum in Ukraine.