Rush of diplomacy could be pivotal for Ukraine, Russia

High-level meetings in Washington and New York this week could have wide-reaching implications for the war between Ukraine and Russia, geopolitical hotspots like Taiwan and the South Pacific, and the global economy and international finance.

With Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the U.N. to preside over the Security Council and meet with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, and Guterres then traveling to Washington to visit lawmakers and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, new diplomatic initiatives regarding the 14-month-old war are underway.

Amid that diplomacy, perhaps the most significant development in the war this week was a call Wednesday between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who hadn’t spoken during the conflict so far due to China’s general alignment with Russia.

Guterres was scheduled to meet Wednesday with the top appropriators in the Senate, Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the secretary-general’s spokesperson’s office said. Those were followed by meetings with House appropriators Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and ranking member Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), as well as House Foreign Affairs Committee leaders Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.). Meetings were likely to touch on Ukraine or other topics, like the conflict in Sudan.

The U.S. has been a staunch ally of Ukraine and the top international donor to the Ukrainian war effort since the war began, with more than $75 billion given as of February in military, humanitarian and financial aid to the country. According to the German Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the U.S. spent around $48 billion on military aid, around $27 billion on financial and administrative support, and around $4 billion on humanitarian aid between January 2022 and February 2023.

The meeting between Guterres and Blinken on Thursday was discussed at the United Nations on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Blinken authorized an additional tranche of $325 million in military support for Ukraine that included artillery rounds, rockets, small arms and anti-armor systems.

“We will continue to stand with our Ukrainian partners in response to Russia’s continued war of aggression,” Blinken said in an April 19 statement. “This new security assistance will enable Ukraine to continue to bravely defend itself in the face of Russia’s brutal, unprovoked and unjustified war. Russia could end its war today. Until Russia does, the United States and our allies and partners will stand united with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

A readout of the call between Zelensky and Xi, as reported and translated by China analyst Bill Bishop, cautions against the dangers of nuclear war in the context of the Ukraine war and encourages negotiations.

“Dialogue and negotiation are the only way out. There are no winners in a nuclear war. Regarding nuclear issues, all relevant parties should maintain calm and restraint, truly consider their own and the future of all humanity, and work together to manage and control the crisis,” the Chinese readout of the call says, according to Bishop.

Bishop reported that China will be sending an envoy to Ukraine and other countries in the region to facilitate talks and work toward a settlement.

“Xi Jinping finally held a call with Ukraine President Zelensky, and according to the PRC [People’s Republic of China] readout China will send its special representative on Eurasian affairs to ‘Ukraine and other countries to conduct in-depth communication with all parties on the political settlement of the crisis,’” Bishop wrote in an analysis.

The call between Xi and Zelensky came in the wake of remarkable comments last Friday on French television by the Chinese ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, who questioned the sovereignty of ex-Soviet states. 

Those comments followed remarks earlier this month by French President Emmanuel Macron, who had concluded a state visit to China and cautioned against European overreliance on the U.S. that could obstruct European “strategic autonomy.” Macron’s comments were first reported in English by Politico.

If diplomatic tides in the war in Ukraine are now shifting, they are sure to be felt in the Black Sea, where the future of a trade and humanitarian corridor hangs in the balance. Russian and Ukrainian agricultural products, which are vital to world markets and affect global food prices, have been transiting through this corridor. 

Experts have also noted the symbolic importance of the corridor, which was negotiated under the auspices of Turkey and the United Nations as an indication that international cooperation can still take place during times of war.

“Yesterday, Antonio Guterres told me that on the global markets, there are acute shortages of fertilizer, specifically from the ammonia group. Nobody thought about this up until very recently at the last moment,” Lavrov told reporters at the United Nations on Tuesday.

Lavrov also suggested it was important for his country’s agricultural bank, Rosselkhozbank, to be readmitted to the international bank transfer system, known as SWIFT.

“Either you want to systemically resolve the issue of food shortages on the global market, [in which case] there’s a need simply to bring our bank back into the fold of the SWIFT system. Or you want every time for us and the U.N. Secretary-General to run back and forth and to plead with any given U.S. financial structure for them to be so magnanimous — you understand that cannot work and it will not work,” Lavrov said.

While peace in one part of the world does not imply peace in another, international diplomats often emphasize the importance of de-escalation in general for alleviating regional conflicts.

“We all want the resolution to correspond to a peaceful environment,” Guterres said regarding tensions around Taiwan during a visit to Tokyo last year, as reported by the Japanese publication Nikkei. “It’s very important to appeal, first of all, to common sense, … and then to restrain allowing for the de-escalation.”

Members of Congress have been concerned about how the conflict in Ukraine could reverberate across the world and affect other areas of geopolitical tension, even as far away as the Pacific Ocean.

Updated at 6:47 p.m.

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