In the early days of the war in Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was open to negotiating a peace. The United States was not. State Department spokesman Ned Price explained, oddly, that the midst of a war is not the time for diplomacy. “This is not real diplomacy,” he said, “Those are not the conditions for real diplomacy.”
A month later, the State Department was still rejecting a negotiated end to the war, even if the negotiated settlement met Ukraine’s goals, because “this is a war that is in many ways bigger than Russia, it’s bigger than Ukraine.”
That same month, then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was talking to both Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin, attempting to mediate negotiations that he said had “a good chance of reaching a ceasefire.” But, once again, according to Bennet, the United States “blocked it.”
In April 2022, promising negotiations in Istanbul produced a “tentatively agreed” upon settlement. A negotiated end to the war seemed to be within reach. But, once again, the United States and United Kingdom put a stop to it. Then-UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson rushed to Kiev to gain control of Zelensky, telling him that Putin “should be pressured, not negotiated with.” He added that, even if Ukraine was ready to sign some agreements with Russia, the West was not. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Numan Kurtulmus, the deputy chairman of Erdogan’s ruling party, have both said that “Zelensky was going to sign,” but “the United States…want[s] this war to continue.”
The U.S. has consistently prevented peace talks while pouring weapons into Ukraine and pushing for war, leading a frustrated Brazilian President Lula da Silva to complain, “The United States needs to stop encouraging war and start talking about peace.”
With the fall of Bakhmut, the massive loss of Ukrainian life and artillery and the Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian Patriot and other air defenses as well as Ukrainian ammunition storage sites, it is conceivable that those denied diplomatic solutions could have offered a result more favorable to Ukraine than the one that is shaping up on the battle field. Ukrainians may come to wish that Zelensky had listened to saner counsel.
But the United States is no longer the only power offering counsel. Other poles are emerging from this war larger. And those poles are pushing for peace.
BRICS is an international organization made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and growing, that does not seek to confront the United States but to balance its hegemony and foster a multipolar world. Brazil has suggested that BRICS could help negotiate an end to the war.
Lula has insisted that negotiations are “the only viable way out of the crisis” in Ukraine and has proposed a joint effort, or a “peace club,” that could include BRICS members China, India, Brazil and possibly Indonesia. Indonesia has been a leader in the nonaligned world. They have declared their interest in joining BRICS and were recently welcomed as a guest at the BRICS Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.
India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has also offered “to contribute in any way towards peace efforts.”
However, Lula’s determination to broker a peace may have suffered a set back in Zelensky’s intransigence. There was hope that Zelensky and Lula, who have not spoken yet, would meet on the sidelines of the recent G7 meeting. That meeting collapsed, though, when Zelensky did not show up. Zelensky explained that the two did not meet because of scheduling difficulties. Zelensky said that he met almost all the leaders and that “all of them have their own schedules, that is why we couldn’t meet with the Brazilian president.” But Lula rejected that explanation, saying that he had scheduled a meeting with Zelensky for 3:15pm on Sunday. Lula says, “I had an interview, a bilateral one with Ukraine here in this room at 3:15 p.m.” He says that he “waited” but that Zelensky “did not show up.”
Brazil has also backed China’s efforts to broker a peace. Brazil says that they “positively received the Chinese proposal, which offers reflections conducive to the search for a peaceful way out of the crisis.”
On February 24, China, another BRICS member, published its Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis, which pledged that China is willing to assume “a constructive role in this regard.” The position paper calls for “ceasing hostilities” and “resuming peace talks.” It stresses that “[t]he sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively upheld.” But, to the concern of the United States, it also objects to “military blocs” and “the Cold War mentality” and insists that “[t]he security of a country should not be pursued at the expense of others.” It also says, “China opposes unilateral sanctions unauthorized by the UN Security Council.”
China recently began to actualize their diplomatic role. Special Representative of the Chinese Government on Eurasian Affairs Li Hui has traveled to several countries to initiate the talks. But, in a demonstration of the new multipolar world in which the United States is no longer essential, according to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Li Hui will travel to Ukraine, Poland, France, Germany and Russia for communication on a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis.” China will negotiate with Russia, Ukraine and Europe: the U.S. is not invited.
Though the Chinese efforts at mediation are indicative of the new multipolar world, it may yet be difficult to leave Washington out. Though China is a superpower who would provide strong assurance to any agreement, and though Russia trusts China, Russia may not trust an agreement absent from assurances from the United States. Russia has seen already that Ukraine may be unwilling or unable to implement an agreement without American pressure to ensure that they do so. Had the U.S. pressured Ukraine to implement the Minsk agreement – which they did not – the current war may never have happened. Russia may only trust an agreement that has the signature of Ukraine’s patron.
Completing the BRICS entries into diplomatic negotiations is the appearance of South Africa. On May 16, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that he had held phone calls with Putin and Zelensky, who both agreed to separately receive a delegation of African heads of state in their capitals to discuss a possible peace plan to end the war. Joining South Africa in the delegation will be Senegal, Uganda, Egypt, the Republic of the Congo, and Zambia.
South Africa’s membership in BRICS makes it perhaps the only important international organization in which an African country has an equal voice. The insertion of Africa into the negotiating arena is an important announcement of Africa as an independent pole in the newly forming multipolar world.
The U.S. pole has not only declined to push for peace negotiations in favor of continuing to feed the war with the constant flow of weapons, but it has forcefully blocked other countries from encouraging them. But the United States may no longer be the world’s only pole. A new multipolar world, led by the BRICS nations, is attempting to compensate for the American refusal of peace talks and to take the lead in trying to start negotiations toward a peaceful resolution of the horrible war in Ukraine.
Ted Snider is a regular columnist on US foreign policy and history at Antiwar.com and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets.