Ukrainians aren’t the only ones worried about giving up too much in peace talks.
Putative talks over a potential peace deal between the two countries led to an outcry among a vocal core of Russians against anything other than Ukraine’s unconditional surrender.
“A peace agreement with Ukraine will not only be a mistake, but it will be a betrayal,” Igor Korotchenko, a member of the civil council of Russia’s Ministry of Defense and a commentator, wrote on Telegram this week.
Many, including Korotchenko, compared any agreement with Ukraine at this stage to the Khasavyurt Accord, which brought the first Chechen war to an end under Boris Yeltsin in 1996. That agreement saw Russia agree to withdraw its forces from Chechnya in exchange for its capital, Grozny, being demilitarized.
Three years later, Russia invaded Chechnya again, with then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announcing the start of the land war. Putin gained massive public support during the course of that war, and took over from Yeltsin as President at the end of 1999.
Sasha Kots, a war reporter for the pro-Kremlin Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid, made the comparison explicitly.
“If we’re about to sign another Khasavyurt agreement, then you have to remember that the Second Chechen war followed next,” he said. “And the main thing is to be offended on behalf of the fallen.”
It’s not clear how real the willingness is on the Russian side to negotiate with Ukraine, but what emerged from the talks in Turkey was a proposal that some Russian negotiators said would be acceptable. Ukraine would renounce its NATO ambitions and agree to take the questions of Crimea and the proxy republics off the table for the foreseeable future.
Egor Kholmogorov, a Russian nationalist pundit, wrote on Telegram that a peace deal would be “recognizing the defeat of Russia and victory of Ukraine in a ‘war of independence.'”
“The consequences of such an agreement for Russia will be catastrophic,” he added.
Others who have been directly involved in Russian military operations have made similar critiques.
Igor Strelkov, a former FSB officer who briefly acted as Minister of Defense for the Donetsk People’s Republic in 2014, said:
They will not stop mobilizing, not stop receiving weapons, and will win time. … And in half a year…they will be ready to talk to the Russian Federation in a completely different tone if military activities are stopped over these months.
Strelkov has been on the outside since 2014, and much of his criticism appears laced with the desire to return to a position of authority.
But he offered a detailed critique of Russian progress in the war, which largely matches up with the bleak picture painted by military analysts in D.C. think tanks.
“In general we’re at the same positions we were in the last hours of February,” he said, adding that the army lacked the necessary troops. “Russian forces cannot take Kyiv. Cannot take Kharkiv. Cannot take Mykolaiv.”
“I express doubt that, having lost the golden month, the first month, our forces will be able to encircle and destroy the Donetsk grouping of forces,” he added.
Meduza, an independent Russian outlet based in Latvia, published a report on Thursday suggesting that news reports on state television about the impending “capture of Kyiv” had unleashed a process that it could not completely control.
“What do you say after that? That we changed our minds about taking Kyiv?” the outlet quoted a source close to the Russian presidential administration as saying. “Yes, there aren’t that many real, convinced supporters of war to the end, but it’s a very loud part of society, and it’s already started to make noise.”
All this paints a picture of an impasse, with Russia’s next steps remaining deeply unclear. But pressure on the regime to continue fighting remains strong.
“It would be Khasavyurt and the Brest-Litovsk peace taken together, only much worse,” Korotchenko, the military pundit, said of a potential peace deal, referring also to the 1918 agreement that saw Russia cede the Baltic states and much of Ukraine. “The special military operation must be conducted until Ukraine is routed, and then the capitulation of the Nazi regime. And a new Nuremburg trial for the main Ukrainian war criminals.”