Last weekend the French president Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had a phone call meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The purpose of the call was to try and push for a détente in the hopes to get both of the countries to sit down and try to open another dialogue. While it is unlikely that anything will come of this, the talks of reopening the grain shipments out of Ukraine as well as other negotiations about arms shipments were discussed.
The Bargaining Chips
As we have covered in previous articles Ukraine and Russia have often served as the breadbasket of the world exporting huge quantities of the world’s food stores including grain and oils. This disruption has caused the food distribution networks all over the world to be seriously impacted. Knowing how important this is to the world’s stores as well as to the Ukrainian economy this has become a way for Russia to negotiate with the rest of the world. This lack of supply has led to massive increases in food prices, that rapidly took affect especially on countries that are teetering already with a highly unstable food supply. Many of these countries situated in Africa have relied heavily on this route from Ukraine.
Since the beginning of the conflict this has been one of the ways that Russia tries to strangle out the Ukrainian economy, by blocking their access to the Black Sea in which all of their exports are based. To do this the Russian navy has essentially blockaded all the Ukrainian coast to keep them land bound. Ensuring this with naval vessels and mining has left most ships trapped in port for months now, cutting off this supply of grain. Included in this have been foreign ships who have been trapped in Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict. This was also part of the negotiations with Russia as they are essentially stranding neutral powers in the ports of Ukraine. This has been one of the few successes of the Russian invasion as they do hold sway in the sea. If you control the Black Sea, you control Ukrainian sea power.
Further than this the Russian military has taken thousands of prisoners both civilian and military since the beginning of the war. How they have been treated is unknown but reports from both sides suggest that prisoners of war have not been held to the conditions outlined in international law. While the exact number is not verifiable, a spokesperson to the breakaway state of Luhansk has claimed 8,000 Ukrainians have been captured according to a telegram post. While this number is likely exaggerated, more than two thousand Ukrainians had surrendered after the fall of Azovstal steel plant making the number not entirely unbelievable.
France and German Negotiations
In a call between the French, German, and Russian leadership discussions were made about both ending the conflict in Ukraine as well as easing up the aggressiveness on both sides. The French and German side has asked for Russia to allow the export of grain from the Ukraine in regard to the international demand and the lack of needed resources in developing countries. Since the Russian government holds the ports, its in their best interest not to allow this. The concessions they made were based around trading this valuable international product for a removal of sanctions placed upon Russia. This an unrealistic expectation because Russia has been sanctioned for their inability to be a good actor in international affairs. Through this then if Russia is holding grain that is needed for areas of the world that are on the verge of famine, all they are doing is proving that they cannot be trusted to become a good actor in the international world. While it does not seem like this is going to happen, it does show in some ways that Russia may be willing to negotiate opening up Ukrainian markets to the outside world.
Further than this the Russians demanded that the arm shipments to Ukraine cease, or the situation would “further destabilize,” according to a report in France24. What this means is unclear, other than that it is likely a threat for Moscow to ramp up the invasion of Ukraine. This is concerning considering the claims of crimes against humanity coming out from eastern Ukraine. With the large number of prisoners taken by both sides in the conflict, the French and German demands to release Ukrainian prisoners is also unlikely given the present circumstances. The most obvious reason being that any prisoner released will likely go back to fighting, just adding more manpower to the opposition. To combine these two together it comes as a worry that the Putin regime may be trying to hold POWs as bargaining chips and hostages against the west.
While these negotiations seemed to go nowhere, it is a step in the right direction for finding some solution to the conflict. Any previous attempts at talks between the two countries had fallen apart with an advisor to the president of Ukraine and its chief negotiator told the Russians “Do not offer us a ceasefire - this is impossible without total Russian troops withdrawal,” on his Twitter. Although so far nothing has come from these talks it seems that the international community is hoping that this will open up some kind of communique between two nations. Turkey has become the likely place in which these two will meet, and try to end this month’s long conflict.