No Exit: Two Ukraine Peace Proposals Going Nowhere
by Mel Gurtov
Two Very Different Paths to Peace
Two proposals for bringing peace in Russia’s war on Ukraine were issued on nearly the same day last month: a UN General Assembly resolution on February 23 and a Chinese plan on February 24. Neither proposal has a ghost of a chance of being implemented, even though one—the UN resolution—received overwhelming approval.
The UN resolution passed the General Assembly by a vote of 141-7, with 32 abstentions. The resolution is based squarely on the UN Charter’s protection of national sovereignty and opposition to aggression. It was put before the General Assembly under the same procedure—the Uniting for Peace Resolution—that was used in 1950 to condemn North Korean aggression when the Security Council was unable to act because of the Russian veto.
Note in particular the “demand” for complete Russian withdrawal from Ukraine. China’s plan, on the other hand, seeks to straddle the fence—a pretense at protecting Ukraine’s independence while also supporting Russian interests. Adhering to Moscow’s narrative, the Chinese foreign ministry calls the plan “China’s Position on a Political Solution to the Ukraine Crisis,” not war. (Presumably to further demonstrate its neutrality, China was among the countries that abstained on the UN resolution, along with India, South Africa, and several others.)
The General Assembly resolution, entitled Principles of the Charter of the United Nations underlying a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine, contains these key points:
· Deploring the dire human rights and humanitarian consequences of the war;
· Expressing deep concern about the adverse impact of the war on global food security, energy, nuclear security and safety and the environment;
· Calling for full adherence by the parties to the armed conflict to their obligations under international humanitarian law;
· Emphasizing the need to ensure accountability for the most serious crimes under international law committed on the territory of Ukraine through independent investigations and prosecutions at the national or international level, and ensure justice for all victims and the prevention of future crimes;
· Underscoring the need to reach, as soon as possible, a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine in line with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations;
· Reaffirming that no territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal;
· Demanding that the Russian Federation withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized border;
· Calling for a cessation of hostilities.
The Vote in the UN
Voting on the UN resolution fell almost precisely along the lines of a previous peace resolution last March. Most of the countries that joined Russia in voting “no” are closely aligned with it, such as North Korea, Belarus, and Syria. Those that abstained include developing countries in Africa and South and Southeast Asia that don’t want to get entangled in a Cold War-style choosing of sides (notably, India), or are Central Asian countries (such as Kazakhstan) too geographically close to Russia to risk offending it.
China’s Plan: Less Than Meets the Eye
The Chinese plan calls for an end to sanctions on Russia and a cease-fire, arguing that “dialogue and negotiation are the only viable way out for resolving the Ukraine crisis.”
The plan calls for respect of national sovereignty and territorial integrity, but says nothing about Russian-occupied territory, which by one think tank’s estimate amounts to 18 percent of Ukraine. China says it wants to “serve a constructive purpose” in bringing the war to a halt, but what actually seems to motivate its plan is to demonstrate its continuing support of Russia while convincing the Europeans, who account for a significant proportion of Beijing’s commercial interests, that China is serious about finding a peaceful end to the Ukraine war.
The pro-Russia side of China’s plan should be enough to quash it. It does not qualify China’s official support of Russia’s justification of the war, with all its atrocities and destruction. Nor does it affect China’s substantial economic and military trade with Russia—the latter limited only by China’s not supplying finished weapons to Russia and by opposition to use of a nuclear weapon or attacks on nuclear power stations.
The plan acknowledges a “humanitarian crisis” in Ukraine that needs international assistance, but never points to the source of the crisis. Ukraine’s President Zelensky damned the Chinese plan with faint praise, saying that nice words, specifically on territorial integrity, need to be matched by deeds.
In sum, China’s plan amounts to old wine in a new bottle. It is designed to appeal to everyone by talking in generalities, as though both sides in the war have equally valid claims. This false equivalence will make Vladimir Putin happy, and may advance China’s stature with developing countries, many of which (led by India) refuse to condemn Russian aggression but do criticize Western arms shipments to Ukraine.
Those countries have made clear, most recently at a Group of 20 conference in New Delhi, that the Ukraine “crisis”requires finding a path to peace, not isolating Russia. Of course, cheap Russian oil and other goods are part of the motivation for this stance, but the fact remains—as French President Emmanuel Macron said—that Western leaders are “shocked by how much credibility we are losing in the Global South.”
Peace At Any Price?
What developing countries, China, Ukraine, Russia, and NATO all say they want is a cease-fire and negotiations. But that begs two questions: What happens after a cease-fire? What is the basis for negotiations, given that Ukraine and Russia each wants total victory?
Other fundamental issues in this war, responsibility and accountability, may never be fully and faithfully addressed. War crimes, crimes against humanity, reparations, exchanges of prisoners, repatriation of (Ukraine) children and parents—these elements of aggressive war are surely as important as territorial control, yet are the most confounding in negotiations, and the most likely to be unresolved—thus perpetuating grievances and making resumption of fighting likely.
Even if a cease-fire is declared, how will Ukraine’s cities, families, armies, and industries ever recover? Is Ukraine’s destruction the price of peace?
Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest.
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