The stage is set for a meeting between Russia and Ukraine on Monday at the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, near the Pripyat River.
Is this a diplomatic breakthrough or a political parade as Russia continues its offensive in Ukraine?
Let’s be clear what it is not: The meeting is not a summit between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Instead, it is a meeting between delegations from both sides. Zelensky’s office said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko called the Ukrainian president on Sunday and offered him security guarantees, saying Lukashenko had “taken responsibility for ensuring that all planes, helicopters and missiles stationed on the Belarusian territory remain on the ground during the trip, the meeting and the return.”
But can Ukraine accept guarantees from Lukashenko? This is the same leader whose authorities forced a Ryanair flight over Belarusian airspace last year, alleging a “security alert”, and arrested a young Belarusian dissident, sparking an international outcry.
The meeting scheduled for Monday follows a flurry of statements from the Kremlin, which claimed earlier that the Ukrainian side had countered Russia’s offer to meet in Belarus with a proposal to meet in Warsaw, then cut off contact. Zelensky’s office denied claims that they refused to negotiate.
What should we expect from the talks? Zelensky himself set low expectations for the meeting on Sunday, and it’s tempting to guess that the meeting at the border will yield little. But it offers Putin at least some potential leeway for an exit from the war in Ukraine, if his troops continue to suffer battlefield setbacks against Ukrainian forces.
Putin’s offensive is still in its early stages and Russia can devote more combat power to Ukraine. Worryingly enough, Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Kremlin leader of Russia’s Chechnya region, on Sunday called on the Russian military to expand its offensive in Ukraine.
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