Italy isn’t exactly known as an international diplomatic heavyweight. Generally speaking, the Italians like to work through the European Union on major diplomatic initiatives, not go their own way.
The war in Ukraine, however, is of such consequence to the European security architecture that Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has submitted a four-point peace plan to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. He hopes it will eventually gain traction if and when end-of-war negotiations resume.
The details of Italy’s peace plan are tucked away somewhere in the Italian Foreign Ministry, but the broad outlines have been reported by the Wall Street Journal. According to the plan, the first step involves a ceasefire between Russian and Ukrainian forces and the demilitarization of the front line. The second stage would involve a more general discussion about adopting neutrality for Ukraine, which would foreclose NATO membership for Kyiv but simultaneously provide the Ukrainians with international security guarantees. Third, the status of Crimea and the Donbas would be tackled. If reports are true, both areas would remain a part of Ukraine but essentially be autonomous territories running their own affairs. Finally, a more comprehensive security arrangement between Europe and Russia would be arranged, in conjunction with a phased withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine.
The Italians have managed to bring Russia and Ukraine together — both hate the draft peace proposal. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov waved it away as an unserious bid by a man, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, more concerned with elevating his political profile than serving as a statesman. Ukraine hasn’t commented on the proposal directly, but given its refusal to consider concessions that would allow Putin to brag about a win, it doesn’t take a genius to assume their opposition. Last week, Oleksiy Arestovych, one of Zelensky’s senior advisers, lambasted those in Europe who were urging the Ukrainians to give goodies to the Russians in order to end the war. "No one is going to trade a gram of our sovereignty or a millimeter of our territory,” Arestovych said. "Our children are dying, soldiers are being blown apart by shells, and they tell us to sacrifice territory. Get lost. It's never going to happen."
The Italian plan, of course, doesn’t go as far as to ask the Ukrainians to sacrifice chunks of territory to placate the Russians. Realistically, it’s difficult to see any Ukrainian president even considering such things. The Ukrainians don’t trust a word the Russians say, and Kyiv is highly concerned Putin would merely pocket the concessions and use any cessation of hostilities as an opportunity to rearm his forces for a bigger offensive sometime in the future. Given the number of times Russian troops have violated evacuation agreements near Mariupol during the fighting there, it’s not hard to see why the Zelensky administration is opposed to a land-for-peace deal.
Unfortunately, Zelensky may not have much of a choice as time goes on. While the Ukrainians continue to kill a lot of Russian troops and turn a lot of Russian military equipment into steel carcasses — a senior U.S. defense official told reporters on May 26 that Russia has lost 1,000 tanks, 350 artillery cannons, 50 helicopters, and three dozen warplanes over the course of the three-month war — Ukrainian officials aren’t disputing Russia’s recent gains. The last several days have been brutal for the Ukrainian defenders in Severodonetsk, with Russian troops nearly surrounding the city and Russian artillery strikes pounding the remaining transportation routes available for reinforcements and resupply. Russian officials, confident of their control in Ukraine’s southeast, are talking about the eventual reunification of the area with Russia proper.
If the trend lines continue (who knows if they will), the Ukrainian government will have to contemplate whether their position of putting all of their eggs in the military basket remains the right strategy. It will be an emotionally fraught debate, indeed.
Daniel DePetris (@DanDePetris) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. His opinions are his own.