The peace talks seem to continue for the time being, despite the terrible events in Bucha (07/04/2022). From a structural point of view there are mainly four issues:
1) the neutrality of Ukraine (and a prospective EU membership) and the nature of its armed forces;
2) the legal status of Donbass;
3) The status of Crimea (actually annexed by Russia);
4) The land corridor from Donbass to Crimea.
The Ukrainian side talked openly about war reparations, possibly through Russian frozen assets, but for the moment this aspect has not emerged from the talks.
Apparently, there are already drafts circulating, but the gaps between the counterparts are considerable. Russia wants legal guarantees over a non-NATO status and a change of constitution, armed services with no long-range offensive capabilities, plus the recognition of the independence of Donbas unrecognised “republics” and of Crimea’s annexation. Ukraine wants hard security guarantees on its neutral status, the complete withdrawal of Russian troops, a political resolution on disputed territories (even after a possible 15-year reflection delay), normal armed services and absolutely no territorial losses. Talks are at least stalled for a week due to the atrocities.
Unfortunately, each country has its own serious problems both in continuing the war and in arriving to a difficult peace. Just as an example, Mr Zelensky has to get for a neutral status a 2/3 majority in the Rada and then to win a referendum with all the delays that this may impose, not taking into account other obstacles. On the other hand, Mr Putin has to convince himself and its inner circle, especially the siloviky (the member of armed and security bodies), that the war was all in all a gain.
The brunt of a first arrangement rests is clearly born by both counterparts. Is it possible that the UN may later contribute to a further development of the peace dynamic?
The way countries voted in the General Assembly (UNGA) the 2nd of February in condemning the invasion of Ukraine shows what are the possible constellations shaping future decisions. More that the debate West vs the Rest or East vs West, the 35 countries abstaining have their own potential and interests (national, economic and even strategic) to represent in a UN action.
With a consensus in the Security Council, the UN may offer a reasonable implementation framework to a bilateral agreement especially on tricky issues like keeping the cease-fire, monitoring the staged retreat of troops, refugees’ return etc. Of course, the perception of the war in Ukraine as a watershed could lead to a quite polarised international community.
The EU, provided its economy is not excessively battered by the double ongoing economic crisis from 2006 onwards and the pandemic, and by direct and indirect sanctions’ effects, may have a crucial role in a reconstruction plan in Ukraine or at least to keep its economy somehow viable.
Finally, the OSCE, having done all what was possible and allowed by the parties during the eight-year long Donbas conflict, could still be very useful either as substitute for an unattainable UN consensus or complementing confidence-building and monitoring measures in the long after-war period.