Will Western tanks put an end to peace talks for Ukraine?

Kremlin vows to ‘burn’ tanks but some hope they will lead to fresh diplomacy

Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to press for fighter jets next
(Image credit: Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he is “not interested” in meeting Vladimir Putin for peace talks, dismissing the Russian leader as a “nobody” who lives in an “information bubble”.

In an interview with Sky News, the Ukrainian president said he was “very thankful” for Germany’s decision to send tanks to help repel Russian forces, but warned that the quantity and timing of their delivery were “critical”.

The Kremlin has also sounded a pessimistic tone on negotiations, saying that “the prospects for stepping on a diplomatic path are not visible at present” and warning that any Western tanks sent to Ukraine “will burn”, said CNN.

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What did the papers say?

As Germany weighed up whether to send tanks to Ukraine, Simon Jenkins suggested the move would “lay the path for a negotiated peace”. Writing in The Guardian, Jenkins said Putin “appears intent on sending his convict army to their Waterloo” this spring, which is “all the more reason” for Chancellor Olaf Scholz to agree to send in his Leopard 2 battle tanks. “Afterwards, there must surely be some sort of negotiated ceasefire,” he insisted.

“Whereas a year ago the talk was of ceasefire negotiations and 2014 frontiers, Russian atrocities have led to any such talk bringing down the wrath of social-media demons,” wrote Jenkins, arguing that there will never be “total victory”.

Those calling for Ukraine to hold peace talks with Moscow “don’t seem to recognise that Russia has not proposed any meaningful talks” and “remains focused on destroying Ukraine militarily”, countered Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, writing for Politico.

Kyiv has “already spent over eight years negotiating with Russia”, he added. Pointing to the Minsk process, which began in 2014 and included Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany, he described those negotiations as “fruitless”.

And “Putin’s word in peace talks would be worthless” anyway, wrote Russian opposition politician Vladimir Milov, for Prospect. Traditional negotiations would be pointless because “there’s no actual ‘dispute’ between the parties involved”, he wrote. “This is probably the first attempt by one nation to openly and completely eliminate and subjugate another since the annexation of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990.”

Putin “won’t negotiate seriously until he feels significant constraints” and so the only way to bring him into sincere, productive negotiations is to “exhaust his capabilities”, he added.

“Now is not the time to talk,” said Jonathan Powell, a former Downing Street chief of staff, because there is no “mutually hurting stalemate” in which “both sides see no path to military victory and cannot sustain the status quo without undue pain”.

Also writing in Prospect, Powell said it is “evident that there will have to be negotiations at some point in the future”. Although there are “formidable obstacles”, there is a “good chance that an opportunity will arise in the coming year” so “it’s time to start preparing”.

What next?

There is “little doubt” that “yet more bloody times lie ahead”, wrote David Pratt for The National. Some military analysts describe the new tanks as a battlefield “game changer”, but others “attest that it will take more than just tanks to speed up” the end of hostilities.

Even if Ukraine “showed a willingness right now to concede territory – which it doesn’t”, he added, “such a proposition could only be enacted for real through negotiations and currently, there are no such negotiations”.

For “stability to prevail”, Ukraine “at a minimum must retake the territory Russia has taken since its invasion”, he insisted.

Meanwhile, Zelenskyy told Sky News that much has to change before peace talks are a viable path. “We hope that once Russia pulls its troops back to their territory, they will admit their big mistakes, and there will be a new government in the Russian Federation,” he said.

“It will be only then that we will be resolving this situation. Then, probably, talks will be possible.”

In the meantime, the arrival of the tanks in Ukraine could present a danger to the West. Putin has hinted at the possibility of nuclear retaliation for Western interference in the conflict and, Lord West, the former head of the Royal Navy, told the i news site, sending tanks was “in a sense, calling Putin’s bluff” and would “increase tensions”.

A related potential peril lies on the horizon for the West. Zelenskyy is “likely to focus now on equipping the Ukrainian air force with more technologically advanced fighter jets”, said the BBC, but “many Western governments remain opposed to such a move – fearing the aircraft could be used to strike targets inside Russia”.

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Chas Newkey-Burden has been part of The Week Digital team for more than a decade and a journalist for 25 years, starting out on the irreverent football weekly 90 Minutes, before moving to lifestyle magazines Loaded and Attitude. He was a columnist for The Big Issue and landed a world exclusive with David Beckham that became the weekly magazine’s bestselling issue. He now writes regularly for The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, Metro, FourFourTwo and the i new site. He is also the author of a number of non-fiction books.