Prospect Podcast

Can Ukraine negotiate with Russia?

February 17, 2023
© Kremlin Pool / Alamy Stock Photo
© Kremlin Pool / Alamy Stock Photo

Most conflicts end through negotiation. But how can Putin be trusted given the horrors of his war in Ukraine? Jonathan Powell, who represented the UK government in forging the Good Friday Agreement, and Vladimir Milov, who was Russia’s Deputy Minister of Energy in 2002, join Ellen Halliday to discuss whether peace talks will ever be possible.

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The following is a transcript of the episode:

Ellen Halliday: Hello and welcome back to the Prospect Podcast, where we speak to the brightest minds and talk about the ideas that matter in politics, arts, and society. I'm Ellen Halliday, deputy editor at Prospect, and today we're going to be speaking about an idea with very serious implications for the world and specifically for the people of Ukraine: the idea that peace talks will eventually have to be part of the process that ends Russia's war.

To discuss that idea, I'm joined by two fantastic guests with somewhat differing views on the subject. Jonathan Powell is Director of Inter Mediate and is working on resolving armed conflicts around the world, and he was also chief negotiator representing the UK government in the forging of the Good Friday Agreement.

And joining us from Vilnius is Vladimir Milov, who was Russia's Deputy Minister for Energy in 2002, and is now a sharp critic of the Kremlin. Welcome to both of you.

First of all, let's take stock of the status of the war in Ukraine, about one week shy of the anniversary of Russia's invasion.

Overall, we know that the Ukrainian army has defied expectations of many in the West and indeed in Moscow, in not only resisting the Russian invasion, but doing great harm to Russia's military along the way. At the same time, we've heard concerns that Russia may be launching a spring offensive, and we've seen, in recent hours and days, airstrikes being launched by Russia on Ukraine, some of which have hit their targets, and some of them have been stopped along the way. So, Vladimir, maybe if I can first come to you. It feels like this war is far from over, doesn't it?

Vladimir Milov: Unfortunately, it's clearly evolving into a protracted conflict, because both parties have means to continue fighting for quite a long time and even make some gains. And, neither party seems to be having a willingness to end this conflict. There's decisiveness on both ends to continue with their own goals.

For Ukraine, to liberate its illegally occupied territories. For Putin, to still achieve something – because from a standpoint of Russian public opinion and views in the elite, Russia has hardly gained anything worth it in the past year. So I think Putin will be desperate. You talked about an offensive, we might see something more, he will be desperate to achieve some more gains before he declares that this war is at least temporarily over. So we probably enter, a stage of a protracted conflict. You probably remember the Iran, Iraq war of the 1980s. It lasted for, unfortunately, about a decade, with lots of casualties, lots of losses. I see this war evolving somewhere in that direction.

Halliday: Jonathan, what about you? You've been an observer of many conflicts around the world, across many decades now, do you agree with Vladimir that we're still potentially in the early days of this war?

Jonathan Powell: I don't think we know. It's quite possible that Vladimir is right, and certainly Putin is putting out a message to make people think it's going to be a long war. He may be doing that to frighten us, we simply don't know. It could be that an opportunity for negotiations occurs this year. It could be, as Vladimir says, a decade. We just don't know.

Halliday: So, in the current issue of Prospect, both of you wrote pieces addressing the question of whether negotiation could be part of the way to end this war. And as I said, you have slightly different views on that subject. Jonathan, do you think that Kyiv and its allies should have one eye on ending the war through negotiations with Putin at this moment?

Powell: Well, as I say in the Prospect piece, this is clearly not the time for negotiations at the moment. Both parties are about to embark on offensives and both of them will want to see how those go. But equally, there are some who say we must just get victory, and nothing short of victory will do. But they don't think about what victory means, nearly all armed conflicts, unless they end in complete defeat of the other side and the occupation of their country, as in the Second World War, end in negotiations.

And it is very like that this will end in negotiations too. Ukraine will have to live alongside a much larger and much better armed Russia indefinitely, and they'll need to have relations to ensure no repetition of this kind of invasion. So, I'm pretty certain there will be negotiations, but as we say, we don't know when those will take place.

But what you do need to do is prepare for those negotiations. What happens too often is people suddenly are surprised into negotiations and not prepared, and therefore don't do as well in negotiations as they should, as the Ukrainians did last time. In the Minsk talks, they were comprehensively out-negotiated by Vladislav Surkov from the Kremlin, who thought through all sorts of complicated issues the Ukrainians had simply not thought through.

Halliday: Vladimir, I'd love for you to respond to that because this is the crux of the difference between your perspectives, as set out in Prospect. You think that negotiations are more or less impossible, is that right? And can you tell us a bit about why?

Milov: I'm all for ending, this conflict as soon as possible. And if it's possible to switch from all these things that happen on the battlefield to negotiating temple table, that would be great. However, the conditions are not there. So, what I'm against is speaking about negotiations in the most abstract, hypothetical way, ignoring the actual context on the ground. First, I think what is so special about this war is that there was no real actual pretext for it. When, we talk about resolution of multiple wars and conflicts through negotiations, usually there was an interest and position of one country or tribe versus the positions and interests of another, and they did not match so it took negotiations to bridge them. Here Russia never had any problem with Ukraine before the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and before this very invasion a year ago. Putin and Russian officials actually were saying things which would confirm that there was not a problem with a sovereign, independent Ukraine and they recognised the internationally respected 1991 borders and so on. So all this pretext for the war from Russia’s side is totally artificially invented. That's a very, very bad quality of material for minimising the differences. Because actually there are no differences, it's just Russia's intent to grab land.

How do you minimise it? Through losses at the battlefield. And also, what I argue in my article is that the one major impediment to the idea of negotiations is the very low credibility of Russia as a treaty party. So, Russia's signature in the current circumstances is worth next to nothing. Meaning that if you even make Russia and Ukraine sign something and achieve a ceasefire, it means that Russia under Putin will most likely disrespect its commitments, use the opportunity to buy time, regroup, replenish, and strike again as they did, with the Minsk agreement.

So, my question to those calling for negotiations is: can you guarantee that some sort of temporary settlement will not make things worse? Because, as we saw after Minsk, Russia was clearly planning this invasion in advance, and using this temporary ceasefire agreement to just simply buy time.

Halliday: Jonathan, I'd love for you to come back on that point.

You’ve been involved in negotiations before where both sides of that negotiation have felt entirely unable, you would imagine at the outset, to trust one another. So how do you build that trust between parties that are so fundamentally at odds?

Powell: Vladimir is absolutely right that this is not the time to be calling publicly for negotiations or asking Ukraine to back down or anything like that, that would be quite wrong. Equally, he's right when saying that there is no justification for this aggression. Unfortunately, quite a lot of wars are started by unjustified aggression.

The question here really comes to, as you say, trust. Is it possible to build trust with Vladimir Putin personally or with a Russian government that replaces Vladimir Putin? Now, that is usually the problem in a negotiation of this sort of an armed conflict because both sides don't trust each other. The British government and the IRA did not trust each other after nearly 35 years of war; terrible things had happened terrible things had been done, and both sides thought the other was completely untrustworthy. Or in Columbia between President Santos and the FARC. There was no trust.

What the negotiation is essentially about is trying to build that trust, trying to build some belief that the other side will actually implement what it promises to do at the negotiating table. And interestingly, the trust doesn't get built just by the negotiations themselves because when you end up with a piece of paper, as Vladimir says, at the end of a negotiation, you have that because the two sides don't trust each other, but it doesn't actually make them trust each other anymore. It's when you build, into that, very clear implementation provisions and measures to actually monitor and make sure that both sides do what they're promised to. And the case of Vladimir Putin, it would be very hard to trust him. But then it was very hard for us to trust the IRA after the terrorist acts that they had committed during the troubles.

So that is always the art of the negotiation. Is it possible to build trust or is it not possible to build trust? At the moment, we find it really hard to conceive that. If anyone had asked someone in Britain in 1985, whether it was ever going to be possible to negotiate seriously with the IRA, Mrs. Thatcher would certainly have said no, and yet it became so over time.

Halliday: What kind of measures are you talking about that you build in? Or in past negotiations that you have built in? What kinds of things are we talking about there?

Powell: Well, in terms of the implementation, if you think for example of the Oslo Accords in the Middle East, we had a lengthy negotiation, a secret negotiation that built trust between the negotiators. Then when the agreement was announced, the Oslo Accords, there's great celebration on both sides, but neither side actually implemented the accords that they'd signed up to, and they collapsed back into the Second Intifada. Things were actually worse than they had been before.

With a Good Friday Agreement, in 1998, that did not solve the problem. There were another eight years of difficult negotiations to actually get them implemented and up and running until we had the Chuckle Brothers of Ian Paisley and Martin McGinnis sitting alongside each other, having been at war for all that time, having been co-responsible for starting the conflict, here they were actually sharing power in government, something one never would've believed, and it wouldn't have happened if you'd built into it, this implementation machinery.

The example of Columbia, where again, the FARC had been at war for 50 odd years, nearly a quarter of a million people have been killed. You had to build into very detailed provisions of when the weapons would be given up, how they'd be given up, how the fighters would be reintegrated, and then you needed the UN, in that case the UN security council, to monitor the implementation and accredit it when it happened. You need those kinds of things built in.

Again, it's very hard to imagine that when we're dealing with someone like Putin. But you will have to do it in the same way as we have in the past if you're going to get to a successful agreement.

Milov: I think these cases, which Jonathan is mentioning, are remarkable because they also illustrate that approach to peace and peace negotiations become possible after leadership dramatically changes in one of the negotiating parties.

The Good Friday Agreement: it was signed under Tony Blair. I don't think there would've been a possibility if Margaret Thatcher was still around. Sorry, I don't want to interfere in the complicated politics of the British Isles, but still.

Also the same with Oslo Accords and Yitzhak Rabin. When he appeared, this became possible, when he was assassinated, effectively this process was dead.

And Colombia, pretty similarly, if there was President Uribe still in charge, there would be no peace agreement. I think he fiercely criticized these negotiations. So, leadership change in one of the negotiating parties is essential, and we have to understand that Vladimir Putin, at first, he's unrestrained in his actions, neither by his elite, nor by his society. Okay, he has some resource constraints now, which are mounting because of sanctions and that's the problem. But he still feels that he has the resources to continue to wage the war, and there is basically nobody challenging him in power. So, there are no preconditions, for the peace talks in the, at least, medium term period of time, as long as Putin stays in power. This is no Colombia, this is no Good Friday Agreement, and he's no Yitzhak Rabin.

So all these analogies work in the most abstract way, but the reality on the ground is that we are dealing with an unrestrained, one of the most brutal dictators in history, who is committed to achieve his goals at any cost, including some absolutely nefarious things like releasing the the murderers and prisoners to send them to fight in Ukraine and giving them amnesty.

So, we’ve really got to appreciate what kind of a difficult man we have in power in Russia so that, all these analogies about negotiations or the past, I don't think they simply work in this situation.

Powell: Vladimir is course right that all of these conflicts are quite different. I wouldn't compare, Vladimir Putin to Rabin or Santos or even Tony Blair, but the, I'd compare more with Gerry Adams or someone like that, who has committed pretty major crimes, but who it was possible to make peace within the end.

Now, the thing about Putin is that we would certainly like to have some different leader than Putin, but we're in no position to do anything about it. It's the Russian people who are going to have to decide how and when to replace him. It certainly would be easier to negotiate with a successor, or at least we think it would. It depends on who succeeded him. But we have to remember that even opposition leaders in Russia believe that Crimea belongs to Russia. So it would still have to be a negotiation with them.

Milov: Actually, no, Jonathan, I have to make a correction. You had some factual mistake in your peace, because, Russian opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, never called for Crimea to be part of Russia. We all, including Navalny in principle, adhere to the internationally recognised 1991 Borders and Navalny condemned the Crimea annexation on day one when this referendum, sham referendum, was held in March 2014.

So, I just wanted to avoid confusion here. No, we don't want Crimea, we want Russia to be within its internationally recognised borders. And that's it.

Powell: You are absolutely right, he condemned the annexation. He has said in interviews that he does regard Crimea historically should have been… But you're right. I think the problem with Putin is a different problem, which is that problem, but it's an additional problem, which is that he has committed war crimes of a very major sort. The difficulty is how do we negotiate with people who have committed war crimes? How do we actually live with a leader in place who has done terrible things? Or are we going to fight until there is another Nuremberg trial in which Putin is brought to trial in the Hague? That is a very difficult decision that's going to face all of us in the West and elsewhere. Is that something that we are prepared to keep fighting to do, or not?

In the case of the Balkans, we didn't fight until Milosevic was brought to to trial. We fought in Kosovo until he withdrew from Kosovo, and then it was actually the Serbian people who brought down Milosevic, and then it was possible to bring him to trial. So that's the problem we faced with Putin. We can't remove him. We do not have the ability to do so. If the Russian people do, we are all going to be in a much better position, but we may have to live with Putin in par for a very long time. And in those circumstances, we need to think about how we're going to do it.

Halliday Vladimir, if one of the key elements of making a negotiation possible is that question of leadership, and as Jonathan said to some extent, the Russian people, the future of that story lies in their hands. Is there anybody in Russia who could be, in that hypothetical situation where the Russian people decide to remove Putin, who could be that trustworthy face?

Are, are there Russians behind the scenes who would be able to have those kind of negotiations in a way that Kyiv could trust?

Milov: I think we need to look at what happened before the war, and there's a very clear connection between the total destruction of organised opposition in 2021, in a year that preceded the war with imprisonment of Navalny and many other opposition leaders, or forcing them into exile and what is important, declaring their position activity fully illegal. This is not something that happened in the previous 20 plus years under Putin. Navalny’s organisation was declared an extremist network. With up to a 15-year prison term for those who participate in it.

What happened before the war is that Putin's approval ratings had plunged to historic lows. He was universally condemned across the country for major failures of his policies, and we had these major street rallies, protests, demonstrations across the country, demanding change. So opposition was not a marginal force by any means. It was the biggest political force in the country in terms of the potential of bottom-up popular mobilisation. So we need to restore that moment, we need to put the pressure on Putin's regime. Not only from the side of Ukrainian military resistance and Western sanctions, but we need also to bring back the third biggest player, which might be a decisive player in this regard, Russian society, where there's a strong momentum against Putin, but it is being currently very strongly oppressed.

People face 15 years in prison for criticising the reactions of the Russian army in Ukraine. So that's the menu you have for breakfast. You choose which actions you can get a long prison term. However, what I see is that this fear might be receding over time, so we need to reach out to the Russian civil society, work with it, and encourage it to defend their rights, defend their ability to stop their leadership from waging this aggressive war. I think it would be a game-changer.

Putin feels unrestrained by public opinion only because he doesn't see any problems so far. But everybody's talking about him calling a second wave of mobilisation after the effects of the first expired. He's not doing that because his approval severely plunged after the mobilisation announced in September. So to a certain extent, he does care about what Russians think and do. So again, we need to wake up that sleeping giant, to create restrictions for Putin's aggression at home. Before that happens, while he feels unrestricted, I believe he will continue to wage the war, and in his inner circle, there's basically no one to challenge him. He cleaned that out a long time ago. There's been decades of negative, selection. These people are too loyal, incapacitated, or scared to do anything, so we need to reach out to Russian society.

Powell: Can I just ask a question to Vladimir? Because I think this is a fascinating subject about the chances of replacing Putin. Is there really no chance of the elite turning him over? Is there no chance of the people around him or the oligarchs or the military leaders who have suffered, or even from the military hard liners, the so-called military bloggers, is there no chance that they will throw him out?

Because it seems at the moment Russian society is so badly repressed, it's very hard to see how they could rise up unless there was a general uprising of 1917 sort that would overthrow him.

Milov: If we are choosing between the elite and the society who will overthrow him, I'm with the society part, because the elite is extremely weak. I used to work in the government for six years. I know, personally, a lot of people who are still in there and continue to communicate with them somehow.

First, they're extremely afraid of being monitored and watched. What folks are saying to me is that we cannot have a one-on-one conversation about how bad a guy Putin is and how his policies are wrong, because we fear that this will be recorded by the FSB and reported. So, a meeting of three, four, five, six people discussing ousting Putin is impossible. Question number one is nobody's sure who's going to snitch on you and report it to Putin.

The other thing is that Putin over years has been building a system of defending himself against any potential coups. When Khrushchev and Gorbachev were ousted, they were cut from communications. So, what Putin did, for the first time ever, he transferred secret communications from FSB, the security service, to his personal presidential guard, the federal guard service. So, FSB cannot cut him off, nobody can. When generals are allowed into Putin's room, they are being disarmed a couple of miles away. And moreover, it makes no sense anymore to roll tanks into Moscow because Putin is not in Moscow. Nobody knows where he is. He's got a dozen residences, so you roll tanks where? This is very classified information about his actual whereabouts.

Oligarchs, since the financial crisis of 2008 were gradually deprived of economic power. They are mostly dependent now. They, they depend on state aid or benefits given by the state. Putin can destroy their business in 24 hours. So, I don't believe that this elite will be capable of doing something. The past year, I think proves me right.

But society has great potential. If you look at what happened before the war, we had actually a decade of major protests across the country, including not just Moscow and St. Petersburg, but up to 200 cities, places you never saw in the Russian political map before. So that potentially is still there, it’s just suppressed by extreme repression, but it will wake up. I feel I have a lot of communications with my audience back at home, and I feel a deep anger that is awakening. At some point, people will overcome fear, so I think it's the society that is most likely to wake up and restrain Putin.

Powell: Vladimir, could you say how you think the mobilisation will play out, if Putin does try and mobilise another 500,000 men? How will society react to that do you think?

Milov: Absolutely negatively. We already saw a glimpse of that in the autumn. There was a sharp plunge, of approval to Putin. It'll be even more so because, during the first wave of mobilisation last autumn, Putin actually gathered the cream of the crop, the most capable and ready people who had less objections to be sent to the war.

Whoever he hasn't mobilised yet are much stronger against being sent there. So there will be definitely a very serious backlash, much bigger resistance, which is why he is hesitating. A lot of experts have been saying that after New Year there will be another round of mobilisation, but we are approaching the end of winter and it's not coming, and there are serious restraints, for Putin in doing that, which is good news.

Halliday: The other part of that, that story of pressure alongside military pressure, by the Ukrainian army in Ukraine, the popular pressure from the Russian population is the role of the West and the tools that are in the Western hand, mainly economic sanctions. Jonathan, could you say a little bit about what role you think they have?

Powell: Sanctions tend to be what governments reach for when they're not prepared to take military action. We've left Ukraine to fight by itself. We've provided them with equipment, thank God, and large amounts of it which have been very helpful, but we're not in the end prepared to fight with them, for their freedom and indeed for our freedom. So we tend to reach for sanction those circumstances.

My observation about sanctions around the world is that they have effect, but it's mainly the threat of sanctions that have effect. Once you put sanctions in place, people find ways around them and particularly leadership. Just in the way that Saddam Hussein found ways around it for himself, it's the Iraqi people who suffered, but not Saddam himself.

And I fear that will be the same with Putin. Putin isn't going to have fewer palaces because of our sanctions or less food. It's the Russian people that will, and maybe the Russian people will then put pressure on Putin. But that's quite a long-term project.

Milov: I don't think we need to look at sanctions as some magic silver bullet - the one thing that will change everything. Sanctions should be considered in a broader context as part of the number of tools to influence Putin, of which Ukrainian military resistance, obviously is key. And we wouldn't have been sitting discussing the course of the war now, if Ukraine actually totally surrendered to Putin like he had expected a year ago. So it's actually a great thing that they have this willingness to resist and defend their land. And it's great that the West, have coordinated to supply them with weapons, maybe not as we want to see it, but still there was a great progress achieved.

Sanctions is the second important part, and yes, they have an impact. I have been writing about this extensively, including my January piece in the Foreign Affairs magazine, but the bottom line is, they are having a devastating impact, and Russian society feels that being unplugged from global systems is not a very pleasant thing. So the third part, Russians in mass will have to understand that you cannot wage aggressive wars like that. It's not Ukraine's fault. It's not Nato's fault. It is our fault that Russian soldiers have set foot on Ukrainian soil without any reason for it. And Russia will have to pay for it or reconsider. Many people in Russian society are beginning to realise. If you look at opinion polling data, it's clearly shifting in the opposite direction than Putin wants it to. Support for the war plunges, realisation that war causes more problems than doing Russia any good is increasing, and moreover, more and more people learn about the atrocities, war crimes and what we are actually doing there, not what they're being told on Putin state television. So, unfortunately, all this military resistance, sanctions, changes in Russian public opinion does not happen fast. This does not happen at a wave of magic wand. But it still is important to understand that we need to go down that road, however long it takes.

Halliday So for you, would you say that the key criteria to make negotiations possible is popular resistance in Russia leading to a change of leadership? Is that the only way?

Milov: We will see when Putin feels that he's restrained. Currently, I think he has a lot of illusions about it, but he feels he's unrestrained. He has this resource supremacy, unlimited manpower, territory, oil and gas, weapons, military enterprises, steel makers and so on. He’s a global player at the agriculture and food market. He feels that he's got a lot of leverage to still influence the situation, and more importantly, outlast and outwait the West.

He thinks that the West is weak because you are subject to popular democratic elections and the public will get worn out, tired of this war, of inflation, of rising energy costs, whatever. But when he will feel restraint, sanctions are really biting Ukraine, regaining more territory, domestic public opinion changing, he might change his behaviour. We don't know when this tipping point will come, but it will definitely come because his resources are no match to the resources of the collective free world.

Halliday: Jonathan, I'd love to hear your response on that. How best can Putin be rapidly and effectively restrained to get to the point that Vladimir is speaking about?

Powell: I think that as Vladimir says it's not something that happens rapidly. Clearly what Putin is trying to do is to try and outlast the West, to show patience where he believes that we have a short attention span, that we will crumble under pressure, that the West will divide.

I have to say, so far he's been disappointed. That hasn't happened. We've been through a quite difficult winter. We're nearly coming out of it and actually, Germany and the other countries have not broken away from the others. No one is actually calling for immediate surrender by Ukraine or a settlement.

So I think we'll have to wait to see how public opinion impacts on Putin and it hasn't so far. One would like to hope that it will, but it would have to be quite dramatic. And once you remember the 1917 revolution only happened three years into the First World War, it took a long time for most appalling defeats and pressure militarily to impact on the leadership. So we couldn't expect that to happen overnight.

I want to go back to one thing that Vladimir said earlier on, which I think we agree on. One of my worries is that what Putin will try and do is call for a ceasefire at some stage. He'll suddenly, if he gets a bit more of Donetsk, and say he can get almost to the outlines of the Oblast, he may then declare a unilateral ceases far and say, okay, I'm ready to stop, and then try and push on Germany and other members of Nato and say, look, you've got to persuade the Ukrainians to stop too. And my worry in those circumstances is we’d end up in 2014 again with a worse situation. A frozen conflict Putin able to use that as leverage against the Ukrainian government to stop it developing in the EU direction, to regroup and be ready to attack again in worse circumstances.

And I do think, although that's not the absolutely worst outcome, that would be one of the worst outcomes if we tip back into a frozen conflict. I think we do need to settle this once and for all.

Milov: I totally agree on this because knowing Putin and the Russian leadership, I can definitely say that they have accumulated a lot of experience with the past 12 months of the war. They now know what their mistakes have been. So, if they are given a period to buy time, regroup and prepare for another offensive, next time the offensive will be a much more dangerous and probably much more effective one for Putin on the background of Ukraine being significantly weakened economically. That's another impact of the current war, which is pretty tragic. Their economy had contracted dramatically because there's this risk of the war. Investors will not go in. Ukraine will heavily depend on international financial aid. This will be obviously limited because the West does not have endless money in the pocket and so on. So when Putin strikes next time, being more prepared more experienced in how to particularly do it, I think that will be really the worst outcome of the potential frozen conflict, which means that frozen conflict, I agree, is one of the worst scenarios.

Halliday: And how in that situation should Kyiv prepare for such a possibility?

Milov: I think the best way is to continue to return and reoccupy as many more lands as possible before we reach that tipping point with Putin. Putin is gradually weakened by all these developments that we discussed. So, to act quickly, to retake more of the occupied lands as quickly as possible. That's a strategy to go forward, to negotiate with Putin, if negotiations are ever to happen, when Putin is in the weakest possible position and Ukraine is on the move, on the offensive. That will be the best set up for negotiations. Right now, when we saw some kind of a stalemate on the battlefield for the past few months the frozen conflict in the present shape will clearly give Putin the upper hand.

Halliday: Whilst trying to regain that territory, do you think that Kyiv needs to have one eye on the possibility that they're asked to negotiate, to come to the table and try and resolve what would then be a frozen conflict? Do they have the capacity, and should they be thinking about that?

Powell: I think the answer from my experience elsewhere is that what they should try and do is concentrate on fighting and talking in those circumstances. In other words, they should not accept a ceasefire because that will put them in the danger of having a frozen conflict. They'd be better off still fighting, as Vladimir says, still trying to regain territory. But they may come under such pressure that they need to actually enter negotiations, if that is what Putin is offering and they've set out their peace plan, their 10-point piece plan, which they can then pursue in such negotiations.

What I think is important is that we support them in those circumstances militarily, absolutely. But also, in helping them in negotiations because I had bitter experience of the 2014 circumstances when they found themselves being boxed into a corner in the negotiations of Minsk and finding themselves agreeing to a sequence they could never possibly implement,  where they were required to accept referenda on Ukrainian territory whilst still occupied by the Russians, which can never be accepted by the Ukrainian people.

So I think it's really important that: A, they don't go into a ceasefire in those circumstances, because of the risk of enabling Putin and B, that they are helped in negotiations as they have been in war. When we eventually get into serious negotiations, which may, as Vladimir says, still be some way off.

Halliday: Vladimir, just to give the final word to you before, before we wrap up, does that situation of fighting and talking, not giving up the battle to reclaim land, continue to put pressure on the Russian military, but at the same time having conversations about a way to end the war, does that sound like a plausible future for Ukraine to you?

Milov: I'm all for having conversations and negotiations to end the war. What I'm against is arguing for negotiations as a way to end the conflict now, in the most abstract and hypothetical way, ignoring the actual context and ignoring the consequences of potential ceasefire in some observed period of time in the next few months or so.

Many of this is not Jonathan. I agree with most of what Jonathan has to say about this, and we have to think about the possible negotiating strategy. But this is not much being shaped so far at the moment because of the unwillingness of parties to negotiate, because of low credibility of Russia as a negotiating party. Because of Putin's stubbornness.

So, I'm for discussing an approach to negotiations in a very practical way assessing the reality on the ground and the dangers of a frozen conflict, which we spoke about. What I'm against is waving this flag of negotiations as an alternative for Ukrainian resistance and retaking the occupied lands. Many of those people, like Henry Kissinger's style who speak about this, they're really ignoring the actual context. It might produce monsters further down the road. I think we already have enough experience with this after the Minsk agreements and the post-2014 frozen conflict in the Donbas. We need not to repeat that mistake.

Halliday: Well, thanks so much to Vladimir and to Jonathan for joining. It's been a really fascinating conversation, and really interesting to hear you both respond to each other's arguments that, you'd already set out in Prospect. So, thank you so much for taking the time, I really appreciate it, and if you at home did enjoy listening to this conversation, then pick up a copy of the magazine or go to our website where you can read Vladimir and Jonathan's arguments in full and figure out what you, yourself think. In this issue, you'll also find writing from comedian Rosie Holt, architecture expert, Deyan Sudjic, environmental campaigner, Bill McKibben, and many more.

But that's all that we do have time for this episode. So thanks very much for listening and look out for another episode of The Prospect Podcast next week.