The world is hoping and praying that the talks between Ukraine and Russia have a positive outcome. However, plans have to be made for the next step should these fail. This requires the United Nations and the major powers to come up with a plan to stop a conflict that threatens to escalate to catastrophic proportions. Russian President Putin has signaled just that by placing his nuclear arsenal on alert.
At the present, the effort on multinational forums is to condemn Russia’s war on Ukraine, rather than work out a solution. Voting in the UN has seen important nations like India and China abstain from this approach. If bilateral talks between Ukraine and Russia do not work out, there needs to be formal mediation between the two to work out a formula for peace. The world could afford to ignore a local conflict, as it does in many places, but a nuclear confrontation is not an option.
Ukraine’s right to defend itself against invading forces is unquestionable. It is for Russia to explain why it has been necessary to cross international boundaries. So far, Putin has claimed Ukraine used to be an inalienable part of the Russian Empire, but history does not bear that out. He claims to be saving the breakaway provinces of Ukraine from eight years of atrocities carried out by the military. So, would he be satisfied with an acceptance, if not a recognition of ‘independent republics’ of Donetsk and Luhansk? Can the UN post peace-keeping forces on the border between them and Ukraine to bring about an end to the hostilities? Or, is he determined to forge an ‘Akhand Russia’ despite the suffering it will cause to the world, Ukraine and the Russians?
Putin’s attitude, thus far, has led people to believe that he has lost his psychological moorings. However, if he really has an achievable objective in the present scenario, he will need to have an opening position for negotiations. How much suffering and consolidation of the opposition alliance will he allow before revealing it? He needs to be nudged by those who have refused to go against him – India and China – to adopt a conciliatory position. No high emissaries have taken off from New Delhi or Beijing to try and achieve this, which means a low profile is still being maintained. But, an initiative will be needed sooner than later, if peace is to prevail.