The AtlanticThe Atlantic

Why Ukraine shouldn’t talk to Russia—yet

By Hein Goemans and Branislav Slantchev

17 May 2023 · 6 min read

Editor's Note

Calls for peace talks between Russia and Ukraine are well intentioned, The Atlantic writes. But at this point, they are more likely to prolong the conflict and add to the suffering they seek to end.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has been raging for more than a year. And for more than a year, various international leaders—including French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese leader Xi Jinping—not to mention domestic pundits and politicians, have been calling for negotiations to end the bloodshed. Though well-intentioned, these appeals fail to take into account the fundamental nature of war, which requires the fighting to play out before a lasting peace can be a realistic possibility. At this moment in the conflict, any calls for talks are more likely to prolong the war and increase the suffering they seek to end.

War begins with a disagreement: Each side refuses to accept the terms the other is willing to offer, in the belief that fighting will lead to better ones. War ends with an agreement: Each side prefers to accept the terms offered, because it has come to believe that continuing to fight is unlikely to improve them. According to this logic, war is caused by conflicting expectations—about how troops and equipment will perform in battle, how competent the leadership will turn out to be, how ready society will be to bear the costs of war, how resilient the economy and industry will be in sustaining the war effort, how reliable allies and other third parties will prove to be.

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