As it stands, both sides see little reason to engage in peace talks. But USIP’s Juan Diaz-Prinz says that shouldn’t stop the international community from trying to incentivize an end to the conflict: “We’ve got to try everything, and we’ve got to try every avenue until the right one fits.”

U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.


Julie Mason: Dr. Juan Diaz-Prince is United States Institute of Peace’s acting director for inclusive peace processes and reconciliation. Here to talk a little Ukraine. Dr. Diaz, good morning.

Juan Diaz-Prinz: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

Julie Mason: Really good to have you along. A lot of controversy and consternation about the prospects of Ukraine sitting down to negotiate peace. Tell us your theory of the case.

Juan Diaz-Prinz: Well, let's be clear. I mean, Ukraine is the only one that can, or President Zelenskyy is the only one who can, decide whether Ukraine will sit down with the Russians, and the Russians are making really extreme demands at the moment. But the reality is that even if they sat down to talk there, they have nothing to give each other. Russia invaded Ukraine. And Ukraine isn't going to give up its territory. And so, what you have at the moment is like a win-lose situation. And it's going to continue this way for a very long time. And I think the world is in shock. The reality is that the whole European security architecture has been failing for years. And the International, you know, NATO, U.S.-Russia relations have also not been working very well. And so, if you were to sit down with Ukraine and Russia, they're not going to solve the problem by themselves because Russia doesn't really care about Ukraine. It cares about its relationship with the United States, and its position and its standing in the world. So, if you're going to inject any kind of inducement incentive into the negotiation, it's going to have to come with negotiating a new security architecture for Europe, and a new relationship with the United States.

Julie Mason: Who do you think, ideally, would be sitting down with these two countries to work this out? There has to be a third, fourth, fifth party involved.

Juan Diaz-Prinz: So that's a really interesting question. I recently was reflecting on this issue that Turkey has been gaining a lot of credibility. Turkey has a very good relationship with Europe. It's a member of NATO. It has a self-interest in peace in the region. It definitely doesn't want Russia to dominate the region or Turkey. And I think that Turkey would be an interesting candidate to play an honest broker role in the whole multilateral negotiations.

Julie Mason: Turkey does have those interests. But can they be trusted to be an honest broker? I mean, Erdoğan just seems like a troublemaker who's in it for himself to get whatever he can out of this process, including the NATO expansion.

Juan Diaz-Prinz: Sure, I agree with you that politically, it's questionable. You know, theories of mediation always say the mediator should be impartial and not self-interested. But in this particular case, you know, we haven't had any great power conflicts in a long time. And I must say, I think we're all in shock. Right?

Julie Mason: Yes.

Juan Diaz-Prinz: So, we've got to try everything. And we've got to try every avenue until the right one fits. We can't take anything off the table.

Julie Mason: So you write about some essentials for the peace process and a way to draw Putin into this process. As you say, he's not incentivized to participate.

Juan Diaz-Prinz: No, not at all. And, you know, I mentioned something somewhat controversial in my in my article, which is the idea of peacekeepers in Ukraine. It's a standard recommendation you make anywhere else in the world, that if you have belligerent parties, and you need to kind of have a cooling off period, you think about whether a peacekeeping mission might be helpful. Now, I was thinking about this. Russia is not going to give up the territory it's won to Ukraine without getting something substantial from NATO or from the United States. At the same time, Ukraine is not going to give up its territory to Russia. So, if you think about putting for at least for a time, some kind of peacekeeping force, and this is controversial because the first question is who's going to do it? And that's my whole article is about well we need to start thinking about it. If you put peacekeepers in the middle and say, until there's a final solution, you know, these peacekeepers are going to make sure that the line of contact is not so close to each other. If you know a little bit about Ukraine, you know that there's been a line of contact and there's been violations of the ceasefire for years, right? They have been shooting at each other. So, you need to move them a little further back and say, "You know what? Why don't you take a break?" And so, the idea of what kind of peacekeeping mission, we need to start thinking about the potential for that.

Julie Mason: And the U.N. is an obvious choice, but they seem so checked out from this whole conflict, or so irrelevant to it.

Juan Diaz-Prinz: So, yes and no. We're having progress at humanitarian negotiations. You'll find that the U.N. is working with the parties to try to get grain out and things like that. The U.N. does good humanitarian negotiations. And I think the U.N. is an obvious choice. And the question is, who in the U.N. will put up the peacekeepers? And how it obviously can't be the European Union and obviously can't be the United States. Can't be Russia. So, you're running out of countries, right?

Julie Mason: Yeah.

Juan Diaz-Prinz: I don't have a simple answer for you. But my whole argument is, we need to start at least mapping these things out, and seeing how they play out and do some scenario planning, do some, some kind of thinking on it to have some options on the table. Because Russia is not moving. As a matter of fact, right now, it's feeling emboldened because it's won some territory. So we're going to have to think of what else is possible to get Russia to climb down.

Julie Mason: I mean, I'm seeing headlines now about Russia looking to expand its invasion deeper into Europe, that kind of thing. I don't even know if they have the capacity for that. But on the other side, Dr. Diaz, I think there's a legitimate question about when this does wrap up, what is Russia's place in the world? Is it a deeply diminished, rogue, hermit country? Or does it still have a place in Europe? And I wonder if those kinds of considerations could come into the negotiations. Would that be part of the peace negotiations?

Juan Diaz-Prinz: I think so. I think this is the main motivation behind Russia since, probably, since it took Crimea. For a long time, Russia has not played an important role. And it's been complaining and complaining. And we in the West haven't taken Russia that serious. And I think by negotiating a new European security architecture, Russia is not going to go away. I don't think it's going to be diminished. As a matter of fact, I think this will go on for a long, long time, if we don't find a way to integrate Russia. Better the devil you know, right?

Julie Mason: True.

Juan Diaz-Prinz: I definitely think it's not about becoming economically dependent again. I think the Germans woke up to that. I think the Germans realize, "oh no, we don't want to do this again." But the question is, can we find a way for Russia to play a constructive role, and have that respect that it so desperately wants and give up some of these adventures, which is actually causing its demise?

Julie Mason: Well, and in the struggle of not appearing to reward them for what the, you know, this invasion that most of the world has recoiled at.

Juan Diaz-Prinz: And that's it. And that's the trick. We don't want to reward them. And that's why you need three tables. And the idea for this is the idea that, you know, I work on negotiations. You link progress with Ukraine, on progress with the other tables, meaning the European union negotiations, and the negotiations with the U.S. and NATO. And you say, "there is no deal until all three negotiations have come to a successful conclusion." That might incentivize Russia, because it will feel it is beginning to play a role. I don't know if you know, but the European Union and Russia haven't sat down to talk since 2014 when Russia took Crimea.

Julie Mason: Right. That's the same year Russia was kicked out of the G8. So, I know they've been hurting.

Juan Diaz-Prinz: Exactly. We haven't really sat down with Russia in a very long time to talk about geopolitical issues. So, I am a big fan of saying, "talking doesn't mean yes. Talking means, let's keep talking."

Julie Mason: I like that. I like that a lot. Dr. Juan Diaz-Prince, United States Institute of Peace acting director for inclusive peace processes and reconciliation. Dr. Diaz, thank you so much for your time this morning.

Juan Diaz-Prinz: Thank you for having me.

Julie Mason: You too.

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