The Türkiye-brokered agreement proves that there is no alternative to negotiations in a war. The sanctions-happy West must show the same prudence to find a way to end the hostilities.
After intense diplomatic efforts by Türkiye and the United Nations, the Black Sea Grain Corridor has become a major milestone in overcoming a looming global food crisis. Diplomatic efforts achieved the impossible by bringing two warring parties together and making them compromise over a major issue. Some hopefully stated that the deal might be the harbinger of a possible ceasefire down the line.
Although the grain corridor agreement paints a promising picture, it is still too early to hope for a ceasefire. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said recently, "We are still far from the possibility of peace in Ukraine."
Nevertheless, this important diplomatic achievement should be analysed in terms of the main actors, strategies, and interests as a key to understanding the prospects of a ceasefire.
The grain diplomacy spearheaded by Türkiye and the UN constitutes a blueprint for Western countries obsessed with sanctions since the beginning of the Ukraine war. Before delving into the possibility of a ceasefire, it would be rather necessary for them to take some lessons from this episode to keep diplomatic communication channels open and achieve success on the ground. Such an approach goes against those who even imposed sanctions on the artistic works of Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Tarkovsky.
Trust-building is the most important condition for a ceasefire or long-term peace. Türkiye has established an atmosphere of confidence via its balancing act that alienates neither Russia nor Ukraine. Ankara's "strategic connectivity" with both sides is a major lesson in diplomacy.
From Moscow's perspective, Ankara carries out a function similar to that of China. Just as it was mentioned at the beginning of the war that China would be the main "lifeline" to compensate for Russia's large-scale economic losses, Türkiye's position has the potential to become a diplomatic "lifeline" that connects Russia with the Western countries.
Sino-Russia relations that were shaped by the "friendship with no limit" strategy before the war reinforced the hand of Beijing. Accordingly, Moscow has to compromise a lot to guarantee its economic survival. Similarly, as long as Türkiye maintains its mediating stance in the long run, it may evolve into an indispensable diplomatic bridge, which could become the sole pathway to peace.
It should also be noted that sanctions are unsustainable. Their effectiveness is a matter of debate even today. The complex interdependence resulting from the economy-driven integration of countries is a big impediment to effective sanctions. The existing international institutions and regimes, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and SWIFT, make a foreign policy based on sanctions very difficult, if not impossible.
In a complex interconnected world, it is possible to find new partners, new buyers, and new markets for a country subject to sanctions. Western countries thought sanctions would cripple the Russian economy, but this approach backfired. However, sanctions have exacerbated Russian aggression and pushed the country's leadership far away from the negotiating table. A domino effect ensued, paving the way for a global food crisis. At this juncture, Türkiye stepped in despite a heightened atmosphere of resentment and mistrust.
Going back to the outbreak of the war in the Donbass region of Ukraine in 2014, Germany and France, together with OSCE's monitoring, were the "architects" of a planned ceasefire under the Minsk I and Minsk II agreements, which were then routinely violated. Some analysts argue that the Minsk agreements were doomed to fail because they only strengthened Russia's hand by catalysing the territorial disintegration of Ukraine. In short, they drew the lines of prospective diplomatic talks unequally. Ukraine became the party that desperately compromised a lot. Conversely, Russia became the party that laid the foundations of today's war, having a comparable advantage from the onset.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that negotiating a ceasefire seems to be the mission impossible, at least under current conditions. Nevertheless, some points about actors, interests, and expectations must be addressed.
First, the possibility of a temporary or permanent ceasefire depends heavily on the mediators' ability to find common ground for the two warring countries. Türkiye has acted in that sense and has achieved some successes. The most notable feat is the grain corridor deal based on the win-win principle. Ukraine can export grain, fruits, and fertilisers easily.
Russia has the same opportunity to reconnect with the global markets via this Ankara-brokered agreement. The latter stipulates that Russia will benefit from grain and fertiliser exports, previously prohibited by several restrictive measures. While the grain deal is automatically renewed after 120 days, the Russia-UN memorandum will remain valid for three years.
Another benefit of the grain corridor for Russia is the opportunity to rebuild its soft power in Africa and other parts of the world. Russia indeed absolves itself from the blame for exacerbating the food crisis through the grain deal.
The grain deal is a case in point. It shows that a possible ceasefire is unequivocally expected to meet the demands of both Ukraine and Russia. The World Bank has predicted that the Ukrainian economy will shrink by 45 percent in 2022 and the Russian economy by 11.2 percent. It is also hard to suggest that Ukraine is one hundred percent sure about a prospective Western relief for its economic relief, contrary to Russia, which has already found its lifeline in Asia. Both countries, however, will experience dire economic conditions and will ultimately need a ceasefire. The mediators' top priority should be convincing them to have a break and operationalise diplomatic ways of solving the problem.
Second, it is possible to make some tentative predictions about who could be the architects of the future ceasefire. Western countries have already missed this train. A series of sanctions has alienated Russia from the US and European countries so far. It seems they will also not want to show the same willingness as they did during the Minsk agreements. If they do, maximalist retorts from Russia will be likely. As Karl Marx said, "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."
The future architects of a potential ceasefire will be determined by their existing contributions to trust-building in the eyes of Kiev and Moscow. Accordingly, Türkiye and the UN have great potential to push for diplomatic communication and mediation. They have both proved successful so far. Beijing can also be a major architect of the ceasefire if Xi Jinping takes the initiative and uses the quintessential Chinese leverage properly to exert pressure on Moscow to compromise or at least initiate multilateral talks for a ceasefire.
There is no magic recipe to bringing peace to warring nations. Diplomatic successes and failures sometimes offer informative lessons for policymakers who do not want to stumble over the same stone twice.
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