Vladimir Putin may be meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko for peace talks in Belarus on Tuesday, but the conflict between the two countries, and more broadly between Russia and the West, is in fact escalating, with Russia most recently sending aid convoys and apparent military equipment and armored vehicles into Ukrainian territory. Since April, fighting between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels has killed more than 2,000 people and displaced around 360,000 more. Kiev accuses Moscow of directly and indirectly violating its sovereignty and waging war against it; Moscow accuses Kiev of violently repressing Russian-speakers and creating a humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine.
In an effort to break the impasse, a group of American and Russian experts and former officials—including an ex-director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service and a top Russia advisor to George W. Bush—recently met on an island in Finland. Working privately, in an approach known as “Track II diplomacy,” they developed a plan for a possible high-level diplomatic discussion on resolving the crisis in Ukraine. In a climate of intensifying hostilities, their ideas—among others, establishing a UN-authorized peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine, granting amnesty to combatants who have not committed war crimes, and respecting Ukrainian legislation on the country's "non-aligned" status—chart a path to peace.
The Ukraine crisis remains in a highly dangerous phase. Escalating violence on the ground in Ukraine and fears of a descent into a more intense confrontation between Ukraine and Russia have focused the world’s attention.
Despite these tensions, there is reason to believe that all the major parties to the dispute are open to a non-military solution if satisfactory terms can be devised. However, finding those terms has not been easy. A bitter information war obscures ground truth, deepening the gulf between Russia on the one hand and the United States and Europe on the other. Voices on each side exaggerate the objectives of the other. Meanwhile, the challenges of reconciliation and building a stable, prosperous Ukraine mount the longer the violence continues. People in eastern Ukraine, whatever their political allegiances, suffer, most the innocent victims of disputes and policies in which they have little voice.
The Ukraine crisis will ultimately end with a diplomatic solution. The only question is how much devastation will occur, and how many future grievances will be born and nurtured, before diplomacy will be able to resolve the crisis. As always, a diplomatic solution will require all sides to make concessions and to focus on their essential needs, not on ideal outcomes or unconditional victory.
We are not privy to the confidential discussions between our governments. It would help whatever diplomacy may be underway if the public debate in both Russia and the West were focused not so much on fixing blame and stoking passions as finding ways to reduce the risk of further escalation and end the crisis. In that spirit, a group of high-ranking Russian and American experts with strong experience in executive and legislative branches of power and analysis of international relations—with the generous support of the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO)—recently met outside Helsinki on an island retreat called Boisto to consider the Ukraine crisis and a way forward. What follows is the fruit of that session: a set of issues for a high-level U.S.-Russian dialogue, which should be part of a larger discussion that must include Ukrainian as well as European representatives. The issues could become a framework for resolving the crisis. We think it especially notable that the group focused part of its efforts on the terms for an enduring and verifiable ceasefire with significant international participation. Obviously, much tough diplomacy would be required to reach agreement on all the issues. But it is time to reinforce the diplomatic effort, starting with a ceasefire, as outlined here.
BOISTO AGENDAElements of an Enduring, Verifiable Ceasefire
- Ceasefire and ceasefire-monitoring by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
- Formation and deployment of a UN-authorized peacekeeping mission under Chapter 7 of the UN charter
- Withdrawal of regular Russian and Ukrainian army units to an agreed distance from conflict zones
- Removal of Ukrainian National Guard units from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions
- Establishment of effective border control and halt of illegal trans-border transit of military equipment and personnel
- Agreed limits on significant armed-forces concentration in the vicinity of the Russian-Ukrainian border
- Confidence-building measures under OSCE auspices
- Verified demilitarization of illegal armed groups on both sides under OSCE auspices
- Formation of new Ukrainian law-enforcement forces in the conflict zoneHumanitarian and Legal Issues
- Return of and humanitarian assistance for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)
- Compensation for property losses and reconstruction of housing and commercial property
- Credible investigation of crimes committed during the crisis
- Amnesty for combatants not involved in war crimes during the hostilitiesEconomic Relations
- Preservation of Russian-Ukrainian economic relations, including defense-industry cooperation in view of the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) and other arrangements
- Enhancement of energy-related infrastructure and transportation networks
- International measures against illegal siphoning of gas transit
- Mutual guarantees for current status of labor migrantsSocial and Cultural Issues
- Protection of the status of the Russian language and of traditional cultural ties between Russia and Ukraine
- Free access to mass media and television, including Russian mass media and televisionCrimea
- Discussion of the settlement of legal issues pertaining to the status of Crimea
- Guarantee of uninterrupted water and energy supplies
- Protection of the rights of ethnic minorities
- Discussion of access by Ukrainian companies to development of offshore oil and gas reservesInternational Status of Ukraine
- Mutual respect for the non-bloc status of Ukraine as stipulated by Ukrainian legislation* * *BOISTO WORKING GROUPAmerican Participants
- Thomas Graham–Co-chair of the Boisto Group; managing director of Kissinger Associates; former special assistant to the president and senior director for Russia on the National Security Council staff (2004–2007)
- Andrew Weiss— Co-chair of the Boisto Group; vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; former director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian affairs on the National Security Council staff (1998–2001)
- Deana Arsenian—Vice president of the International Program and director of the Russia Program at the Carnegie Corporation of New York
- Rajan Menon—Anne and Bernard Spitzer professor of political science in the Colin Powell School at the City College of New York/City University of New York
- Robert Nurick—Senior fellow at the Atlantic Council
- Jack Snyder—Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations in the Political Science Department at Columbia UniversityRussian Participants
- Alexander Dynkin—Co-chair of the Boisto Group; director of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO); advisor to the prime minister of Russia (1998–1999)
- Aleksey Arbatov—Head of the Center for International Security at IMEMO; deputy chairman of the Defense Committee of the State Duma of the Russian Federation (1995–2003)
- Vyacheslav Trubnikov—Ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary; member of the IMEMO board of directors; director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (1996 – 2000); first deputy minister of foreign affairs of Russia (2000–2004); four-star general, awarded with Hero of the Russian Federation medal
- Victor Kremenyuk—Deputy director of the Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies
- Artem Malgin—Vice rector of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University)
- Feodor Voitolovsky—Deputy director of IMEMO
- Andrey Ryabov—Editor in chief of the World Economy and International Relations monthly journal