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“Vladimir Putin is in himself a wall against which all possibility of dialogue breaks”

RRussians and Ukrainians will have to negotiate well one day and the sooner the better, said the chief of staff of the American army, General Mark Milley recently – a man who knows war. The negotiation consists in finding a point of balance, however imperfect it may be, between the claims of the belligerents. If this is the case, we must look reality in the face: Vladimir Putin alone is a wall against which any possibility of dialogue is shattered.

Apart from the destruction or the total submission of kyiv to Moscow, it is not known what the Russian president wants. We know the position of the attacked country, which is that of the international community. Ukraine intends to live within its borders – those whose integrity Russia has undertaken by treaty to guarantee. Officially and privately, Volodymyr Zelensky cannot defend any other position and the same would apply to any Ukrainian leader.

So negotiate what? A ceasefire in exchange for a promise of a free referendum, under international control? In ten, twenty or thirty years, the population of the territories under Russian occupation will decide on its future: with kyiv or with Moscow? We can still imagine an exchange: Ukraine recovers its full territorial sovereignty but agrees to a status of strategic neutrality?

A war on civilians

Too late. By annexing four provinces of Donbass – declared Russian for eternity, in the same way as Crimea, occupied in 2014 – Putin is closing the door to a solution acceptable to the Ukrainians. He has placed himself in a situation where any territorial concession will look like defeat for Russia and, more seriously for this autocrat with a fragile ego, personal humiliation.

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“What is Putin’s way out?, asked US President Joe Biden in New York in October? How can he find a situation that allows him both to not lose face or part of his power in Russia? »

General Milley was recently thinking about the possibility of a negotiation. The successes of the Ukrainian army (from the defense of kyiv to the battles of Kharkiv and Kherson) do not change a larger strategic situation: “The probability of a total victory, which would see kyiv drive all Russian troops out of Ukraine, is not very high in the short term. » Should we then take advantage of the victories obtained to date by the Ukrainians to imagine a political outcome?

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