A forced peace deal in Ukraine may have wider consequences

By Philip Ingram MBE

Reuters has reported that “Two key advisers to Donald Trump have presented him with a plan to end Russia’s war in Ukraine that involves telling Ukraine it will only get more U.S. weapons if it enters peace talks. The United States would at the same time warn Moscow that any refusal to negotiate would result in increased U.S. support for Ukraine.”  The plan drawn up by Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg and Fred Fleitz, who both served as chiefs of staff in Trump’s National Security Council during his 2017-2021 presidency, would see a ceasefire based on prevailing battle lines during peace talks.  However, would this bring an end to the war and what are the implications?

Bloomberg reported that “before heading off to North Korea last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a “peace” offering to Ukraine. He pledged an immediate cease-fire and peace negotiations if Ukraine withdraws from four partially occupied regions and abandons its bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. His other stipulation, of course, is that the West lift sanctions.” Without seeing the detail, the Kellogg and Fleitz and Putin plans seem to be in the same ballpark, Ukraine ceding territory for a signed peace agreement.

The problem with international agreements is that Russia doesn’t have a good history keeping them and the West has an even worse history in enforcing them.

Matthew Bunn wrote in a paper for the Harvard Kennedy School titled, “Budapest Memorandum at 25: Between Past and Future,” in March 2020. “On December 5, 1994, leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation met in Budapest, Hungary, to pledge security assurances to Ukraine in connection with its accession to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapons state. The signature of the so-called Budapest Memorandum concluded arduous negotiations that resulted in Ukraine’s agreement to relinquish the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal, which the country inherited from the collapsed Soviet Union, and transfer all nuclear warheads to Russia for dismantlement. The signatories of the memorandum pledged to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and inviolability of its borders, and to refrain from the use or threat of military force.”

We then get into the Minsk agreements named after the capital of Belarus and were signed there in 2014 and 2015. They were an attempt to secure a ceasefire between the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed separatists in the east of Ukraine. They set out a roadmap for elections in the occupied regions on Luhansk and Donetsk and a plan to reintegrate the territory back into the rest of Ukraine.  However, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised the independence of the self-proclaimed republics in the run up to his reinvasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Putin does not have a good history in keeping to international agreements he has signed, and the West has an equally poor record in holding Russia to those agreements. It is those two points that would set any peace negotiation with Russia where Ukrainian territory was ceded to Russia that may, in the short term, temporarily end a very bloody conflict but would likely lead to a global conflict within a few short years.

What could the signing of a peace deal with Putin result in? The answer is really simple, the impact is potentially catastrophic. Initially it would probably bring an end to the bloodshed in Ukraine but both sides would feel unfulfilled. Rebuilding could start but the impact of what has happened would be felt for generations. The Zelensky government would fail, and any successor would have eyes on rebuilding Ukraine but the potential for corruption to come back and grow bigger would be huge given the effort Putin would put into influencing any new government and the money involved. The west would likely rein back and any Ukrainian accession plan to the EU or move towards joining NATO would be delayed and delays would keep creeping in.

Putin would keep his defence industrial base on its current footing but would be able to capitalise on the relationships he has been developing with Iran and China, alongside the lessons he will have learned from the battles in Ukraine, the Russians are very adaptable, and it is highly likely that they would capitalise on better Sino-Russian defence cooperation to capitalise on operational lessons learned, rebuild a more modern and capable Russian military whilst enhancing the Chinese PLA and increase influence, pushing to domination in the Middle East. The quid pro quo for China would be increased Russian support for Chinese dominance in SE Asia.

Tensions in the South China Seas have been growing for some time. In 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague ruled in favour of the Philippines and invalidated China’s claim in the strategic waters, Beijing refused to accept the ruling. Those disputed waters are in what China refers to as the nine-dash line, which overlaps the exclusive economic zones of rival claimants Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The nine-dash line, (also referred to as the eleven-dash line by Taiwan), is a set of line segments on various maps that accompanied competing claims of rights of control and include the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, the Pratas Island and the Vereker Banks, the Macclesfield Bank, and the Scarborough Shoal. Certain places have undergone land reclamation by the PRC, ROC, and Vietnam.

With thanks to DW

This is in addition to the growing tensions between China and Taiwan.  Taiwan has been governed independently of China since 1949, but Beijing views the island as part of its territory as part of its one China Principal and recognition of this through a one China Policy has been the bedrock of Sino-US relations. However, Beijing has vowed to eventually “unify” Taiwan with the mainland, using force if necessary and tensions have increased dramatically as US and other global leaders increasingly talk of Taiwan outside Chinas language of it one China Principal.

Tensions are rising. The Democratic Progressive Party, whose platform favours independence, won a third consecutive term in 2024, while Beijing has ramped up political and military pressure on Taipei.  Xi Jing Ping of China will be weighing up the potential impact of a reaction from the international community should he decide to take Taiwan by force. If he sees the West capitulate to Putin over Ukraine, he could easily decide that China, with its economic power, could ride out the impact of Western displeasure, especially if it saw an opportunity to further impact western economies and create opportunities for China, or a China, Russia or a China Russia Iranian Pact, possibly underpinned by the BRICS group of countries.

Bloomberg’s description of BRCS is, “The BRICS group of emerging-market nations — the acronym stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — has gone from a slogan dreamed up at an investment bank two decades ago to a real-world club that controls a multilateral lender. It doubled in size in 2024, pairing several major energy producers with some of the biggest consumers among developing countries and potentially enhancing the group’s economic clout in a US-dominated world.”

Of course, in the region we have tensions on the Korean Peninsula. It is widely reported and has been consistently reported for almost two years that rising tension on the Korean peninsula is eroding the safeguards set up by both countries against the risk of confrontation. There are regular incidents in the de-militarised zone and with North Korea’s sabre rattling. Increased cooperation with Russia will give the Kim Jong Un regime a boost economically and psychologically and will likely embolden Kim Jong Un which is never good for an unpredictable dictator with nuclear weapons. He could use any sign of weakness in the West as an opportunity.

SE Asian tensions don’t stop here. Russia and Japan have been at loggerheads since the end of the Second World War when the Soviet Union occupied four islands off the northeast coast of Hokkaido, Japan’s second-largest island, the Kuril Islands. Japan claimed that the Soviet Union incorporated them “without any legal grounds” and refused to sign a peace treaty. The Russians view the Kuril Islands as reward for the sacrifices of the Soviet people during the war.  Japan over recent years has changed its constitution from purely defensive to allow offensive operations to protect its territories and has been changing its military to include offensive capabilities.  Defences on the disputed Kuril Islands have been reduced to send military capability to Ukraine. Japan may decide the time has come to take them back.

Should tensions rise to conflict in SE Asia, that that conflict could easily be stimulated by the international community being seen to give in to Putin, then Putin would see any focus to that region by the international community as an opportunity to restart his ambitions to capture the whole of Ukraine and turn it into a Belarus like puppet state, as well as other surrounding states, no matter what peace deals had been signed. Of course, both China and Russia have their relationship with Iran to ensure Middle East tensions remain high. The potential for conflicts in the three separate regions is high and growing and the potential for them to join to a globally impactful conflict is growing also.

So, those who are calling for Ukraine to cede land to Putin in exchange for peace need to understand exactly what the implications are and how that could be a trigger for other conflicts to start.  To have any hope of deterring this we would need to be ready for a conflict on a scale that could be bigger than the Second World War and that means defence expenditure at levels countries haven’t begun to imagine yet.