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How to Prepare for Peace Talks in Ukraine

Ending a War Requires Thinking Ahead. Ending a war occurs in three phases: prior preparations, pre-negotiations, and the negotiations themselves. Da Foreign Affairs.

Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine continues unabated. Seesawing military actions alternate with on-again, off-again interest in peace negotiations. But no clear end is in sight. Neither side has a realistic expectation of military victory or unconditional surrender.

All parties to the conflict have made clear that they believe it is too soon for diplomacy. But at some point, the time will come for negotiations, and it is essential that the United States plans carefully for that day. Failure to do so will condemn Washington to a hurried and poorly thought-through approach to ending the war—a mistake the United States has made in every serious conflict it has become embroiled in since 1945. 

No war ends without political consequences. Either the United States engages to shape those consequences to serve its interests, or others will shape the consequences in its stead.

Ending a war occurs in three phases: prior preparations, pre-negotiations, and the negotiations themselves. The first phase involves resolving internal differences of opinion and opening communications among the parties: each party irons out its own disagreements and reviews the other parties’ positions and attitudes to determine priorities and strategy. The second involves laying the groundwork for official negotiations, including by determining where and when they will take place and with whom participating. And the third involves the direct talks that most people associate with diplomacy.

Each phase of peacemaking involves choices. No process is a template for others. Decisions lead to forks in the road, which open some possibilities and close off others. Political circumstances, leverage, and changing military realties all influence preparations. Like battle plans, peace plans may not survive first contact with the enemy, but the groundwork laid in advance of negotiations will still inform decision-making and improve the odds of a favorable outcome.

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