From Winning to Not Losing Everything-- Russia's evolving search for a way out of the War
The reports of the progress in talks between the Russian and Ukrainian negotiating team are very promising. Even Russian FM Lavrov sounds cautiously optimistic, as does Ukrainian President Zelensky (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/16/peace-talks-russia-ukraine-lavrov-zelensky/)
However if these reports are correct, there has been a significant shift in the Russian position, perhaps because of the realization about how untenable the situation in Ukraine is on the battlefield. Faced with severe supply problems, questionable morale, dilapidated equipment and facing a determined foe armed with virtual endless supplies of modern western weapons, the Russians appear to have rethought their negotiating position. It seems to have moved from winning the war and achieving their objectives, to not losing everything
Russia no longer wants "decapitation" of the regime (Moscow backed away from denazification demand last week, which was equivalent to a demand for regime change). The Russians still talk about neutralization, but now along the lines of Austria or Sweden (which suggests disarmament is also off the table). This position also suggests the acknowledgement that whatever emerges Ukraine will be firmly part of the West (interestingly a truly neutral model would have been Finland during the cold war, but that was not mentioned). This is a FAR cry from creating a subservient Ukraine in the orbit of Russia. This all from the head of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinsky.
Also if Mykhailo Podolyak, Ukraine’s lead negotiator is right that “we will have a cease-fire in coming days” then this signifies a great shift in the Russian position compared to two weeks ago, which demanded that neutralization, a pledge for disarmament, recognition of the annexation of Crimea and the independence of the DPR and LPR, occur prior to a cease fire (https://en.as.com/en/2022/03/07/latest_news/1646687780_921749.html). This is a major concession.
Acknowledging that Ukraine will be part of the West (albeit not formally part of NATO) and armed, suggests that Russia has shifted from seeking victory, to trying not to lose everything. The best they can get out of this bad situation now is recognition of their annexation of Crimea and MAYBE a UN sponsored referendum on independence for the DPR and LPR, but I think that is about it (something I suggested in an earlier post).
Ultimately, whether the Russian people believe that these “achievements” were worth the economic chaos that sanctions have caused in Russia, remains to be seen. Watch the opposition take this up in attacking Putin after the fighting stops (particularly the Communists). They will claim that the resolution they sponsored called for recognition of DPR and LPR independence (and eventual annexation) not this disastrous war, and will bash Putin for his "hare brained" folly.