Is Putin Really Looking For An Exit Strategy?

Only a week ago, Reuters reported indications that Russian President Vladimir Putin might be ready to negotiate a ceasefire with Ukraine. Sources close to Putin stated that the country does not desire ‘eternal war’. Moreover, whilst Putin is prepared to fight on, he is also ‘ready’ to negotiate a ceasefire “based on the current battlefield lines” and “the realities on the ground”.

As it stands Russia occupies about 18% of Ukraine. To capture further ground, Putin would need a second nationwide mobilization. This would be challenging for Putin to practically achieve as his popularity dropped several points during the first mobilization in 2022.

However, some world leaders have questioned Putin’s commitment to a genuine dialogue, with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stating there is much reason to doubt that Putin is interested in serious discussions. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister has also stated his belief these comments were “phony signals” to distract from the upcoming Switzerland peace summit in June – a summit that Russia is not attending. The Swiss summit, instigated by Ukraine, seeks to bring nations together to discuss paths towards a just and lasting peace. Whilst more than 160 nations have been invited, most of the confirmed participants are from Europe. China, Brazil, and India are likely to only send junior officials.

Worryingly,  Russian troops in Ukraine have made further advances in recent weeks, capturing two more villages in Eastern Ukraine; with  Ukrainian forces tiring, and  running out of ammunition, resources, and soldiers. In 2022, the average Ukrainian soldier was in their 30s, now the average age is mid-40s. What’s more, Ukraine is struggling to attract ongoing attention in a Western media cycle, which is increasingly dominated by contemporary domestic issues, and the conflict in the Middle East.

A significant win for Ukraine would be the presence of US President Joe Biden at the Switzerland summit. However, Biden’s attendance is unlikely due to a clashing fundraising event with George Clooney and Julia Roberts. Australia too has a diary clash with an expected visit from Chinese Premier Li Qiang. Given the importance of Australia-China relations, both the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Penny Wong have prioritized this over the Switzerland summit. Nonetheless, on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called Albanese to express his gratitude for Australia’s ‘unwavering support’.

 Image Credit: @AlboMP, X (formerly Twitter), 29 May 2024

Zelensky has encouraged all allies to attend the summit and has pushed for allies to use ‘all means’ to force Russia into genuine peace talks.

1 June 2024 | Authored by Connor Andreatidis, Consultant, Precision Public Affairs

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