The Italian PM argued that Narendra Modi could play a central role
At a G20 summit in India at the end of last week, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni made a statement that would have drawn the attention of Ukraine’s Western allies. Speaking in New Dehli, the PM said that she hoped her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi “can play a central role in facilitating negotiations towards a ceasefire and a just peace” in Ukraine during India’s G20 presidency this year.
Meloni’s decision to talk about negotiations marked a significant departure from the usual Western insistence on clear Ukrainian victory. It was doubly surprising given that, notwithstanding deep divides on the issue within her coalition government, Meloni is one of the West’s staunchest Ukraine backers.
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More striking still was her choice to highlight India’s potential role as a peacemaker. India refuses to condemn the invasion, last month abstaining from a UN resolution calling on Russia to “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all its forces from the territory of Ukraine.”
Perhaps Meloni was acknowledging that if there is ever to be a negotiated settlement, it will have to be brokered by a non-Western power that has played a more neutral role during the war. This may pose fresh problems as political momentum for peace negotiations quietly builds. A potential defence pact for Ukraine, floated by the UK and backed by Germany and France, has been interpreted as an attempt to make Kyiv consider possible terms for negotiations; discussing the proposal, a French official cited fears of a forever war as “no one believes they will be able to retrieve Crimea”.
Even hawkish European leaders express similar doubts. Czech President-elect Petr Pavel got into a heated exchange with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at last month’s Munich Security Conference after urging “caution in setting goals for how this conflict should play out” and warning of the dangerous potential of a “collapsed Russia”. Kuleba angrily retorted that allies must simply “trust Ukraine” to set its own war goals.
But such blind faith will become harder to sustain as European politicians are confronted with the harsh realities of public opinion on the war. A year on from the start of Russia’s invasion, a poll by German public television found that more than half of the country thinks not enough is being done to end the war through diplomatic means, while only a third of Italians are in favour of sending arms to Ukraine.
Except in the Baltic states, politicians’ dreams of Churchillian popularity stemming from their Ukraine support may, therefore, be misguided. While Estonia’s pro-Ukraine Prime Minister Kaja Kallas easily won parliamentary elections held last night, other countries are seeing the opposite phenomenon, with soaring support for isolationist parties — the favourite for snap Slovak elections to be held in September is a Left-wing populist party which is strongly opposed to Ukraine support and whose leader has been blacklisted by Kyiv as a spreader of “disinformation”.
If Ukraine can’t soon give twitchy Western politicians reason to believe that their investment in total victory will pay off, negotiations will look increasingly tempting. But as Meloni’s overtures to Modi suggest, the West may already have ruled itself out of setting the agenda if peace talks ever do take place.