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  • Writer's pictureMats Paulsen

How Mediation and Talks Fail

Updated: Jul 8, 2022

A couple of hours after the outbreak of war on February 24, Pope Francis went to the Russian Embassy in Rome to propose mediation. A myriad of non-profit organizations and community functions started similar so-called "back-channel negotiations". Thousands of conversations were springing up, some substantiated by psychological and social knowledge to understand “the others” on a deeper level.

Shortly afterwards, mediation meetings were started by powerful players such as President Macron, Chancellor Scholz, and others. High-altitude negotiations were supported by hordes of lawyers and diplomats. A mixture of offers and threats as a basis for a legal agreement, a "deal". Today most doors for talks seem to be closed.

This is explained by Peter Coleman, professor and conflict researcher at Colombia University. He advises UN mediators and US government agencies. He writes and researches mediation, conflict resolution and conflict intelligence. Not ripe for talks Peter Coleman describes an accepted theory that may be an explanation for the failed mediations. - Two basic conditions are needed to make the parties want to meet. Both parties must suffer sufficiently and both parties must see opportunities to gain benefits from talking. It is called "ripeness theory", says Peter Coleman. But the pain the West is trying to inflict on Russia does not currently hurt enough to make them want to negotiate. Shutting out Russians from academia, sports, culture, non-profit organizations etc. does not seem to have any effect. Russians active in many areas are excluded from talks and sent home. - In a dictatorship with limited freedom of speech, it is difficult to gain a foothold for opinion formation from below. To exclude ordinary Russians from talks in an attempt to make life miserable does not seem to work to influence Putin, Coleman says.

Fruitless hunt for oligarchs The financial sanctions have not worked so far either. It's not enough for McDonald's and alike to close its restaurants in Russia. It might look spectacular in the media to seize oligarchs' luxury yachts, but it's a drop in the ocean. Literally. Since the war began at the end of February, the EU has bought Russian gas and oil for almost 35 billion euros. "Compare that with the one billion euros we have given to Ukraine in arms," ​​EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said in a recent statement via the AFP news agency. Russia gets its billions for energy. The Western world pays small but increasing amounts of financial support to Ukraine and the soft symbolic sanctions and information wars do not bite. Thus, there is no evidence that Russia is suffering enough that they want to meet, according to "ripeness theory". Those who suffer are the Ukrainians. But they can hardly negotiate with themselves.

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