In early May 2022, Ukrayinska Pravda broke the story that March 2022 peace talks between Ukraine and Russia held in Istanbul were derailed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Right after the Ukrainian and Russian negotiators agreed on the design of a future possible agreement based on the outcome of Istanbul, Johnson made a surprise visit to Kyiv to relay a message from Ukraine’s Western backers. According to one of Zelensky’s confidants, “Johnson brought two simple messages to Kyiv: Putin is a war criminal, he should be pressed, not negotiated with. And secondly, if you are ready to sign any guarantee agreements with him, then we are not.”2
A series of Ukrainian officials which were part of the negotiations team have since come forward with details confirming a peace deal was in effect agreed, and just needed signatures.
Veteran Ukrainian diplomat and member of the Istanbul delegation, Ambassador Oleksandr Chalyi stated at a Geneva security policy event in early December 2023 that “we were very close at the end of April to [ending] our war with some peaceful settlement.”3 He said in his opinion, one week into the war Putin realised he had made a mistake, and that Putin “tried to do everything possible to conclude an agreement with Ukraine.” Chalyi emphasised that Ukraine and Russia had managed to find a very real compromise, and that Putin personally approved the agreed text known as the Istanbul Communiqué.
This is a far cry from the line subsequently promoted by the liberal press, the NATO establishment, and the likes of Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, that “In Putin’s mind, any compromise is a weakness” and he only understands the language of force.4
Ambassador Chalyi’s comments corroborate statements by parliamentary leader of Zelensky’s Servant of the People party and head of the Istanbul negotiating team, Davyd Arakhamia. In an interview last November Arakhamia emphasised Russia was ready to end the war if Ukraine would agree to “neutrality and made commitments that we would not join NATO. This was the key point.”5 Arakhamia pointed to two obstacles. First, Ukraine would have to change the constitution to withdraw the commitment to join NATO enshrined in 2021. Given Zelensky’s public pronouncements in March 2022 – that Ukraine had “cooled down” on the question of NATO because “NATO is not prepared to accept Ukraine”6 – this shouldn’t have been a problem. The second obstacle was security guarantees. The Ukrainian government outlined details of this security mechanism on their official website on 29th of March 2022. It specified this mechanism “must be an international treaty signed by all countries.”7 What is becoming increasingly clear is it was these bilateral security guarantees Boris Johnson said Ukraine’s NATO allies were not prepared to provide if any peace deal was signed with Russia. To quote Arakhamia, “when we returned from Istanbul, Boris Johnson came to Kyiv and said we would not sign anything with them at all, and let’s just fight.”8
Just days before the peace talks Zelensky said “Security guarantees and neutrality, the non-nuclear status of our state: we’re ready to do that. That’s the most important point . . . they started the war because of it.”9 The 180-degree switch on the peace deal only makes sense in light of threats by the West, namely: keep fighting or we will abandon you to Russia.
Hundreds of thousands of working class Ukrainians and Russians are dead, hundreds of thousands more maimed for life. Ukraine’s former Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko claims Ukraine is now losing 30,000 soldiers a month.10 The conscription age is being lowered to 25 as thousands of “draft-dodgers” are rounded up and forced to the front.11 Zelensky says his military chiefs are asking for 450,000-500,000 people to be mobilised, which gives an indication of how many have been lost.12
Ukraine and Russia wanted peace but NATO wanted war. NATO, the EU, the Irish state, our political class, the media, the pundits, and armchair generals all promoted the lie that there was only one way out: Ukrainian victory. Blood is on their hands. It’s increasingly clear they are coming down to the last Ukrainians and we must, now as ever, pressure and demand for peace.