KYIV, Ukraine — Peace negotiations are usually thought to involve two sides brought together by a mediator trying to tease out possible compromises, far from the anger and destruction of the battlefield.
But talks starting in Geneva Monday on the eight-year-old war in Ukraine are different. The conflict — and an overtly threatened Russian invasion that the talks are intended to forestall — is in Ukraine. But Ukraine will be missing from two of the three negotiating sessions scheduled for this week.
Such a limited role for Ukraine in the talks has clearly unnerved the government in Kyiv. Fearing the talks will yield little or nothing, and with President Biden’s statement that the United States will not intervene militarily if Russia invades, Ukraine has quietly pursued its own negotiating track with Moscow.
The latest threat of invasion began last month, when Russia massed more than 100,000 troops along its borders with Ukraine and demanded wide-ranging — and, to Western analysts, impossible — concessions from the United States and NATO on matters of European security.
Those were laid out in two draft treaties proposed by Moscow that the government in Kyiv — because it is not a member of the alliance — has no say over. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia subsequently threatened to launch an invasion of Ukraine if the talks on its proposals should fail.
In effect, that made Ukraine “the hostage,” of Russia, said Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, a former Ukrainian ambassador to the European Union.
Moscow’s sidelining of Ukraine and its demand for direct talks with the United States and NATO were intentional, Mr. Yelisieiev said.
One of Russia’s key demands is that NATO exclude any possibility of Ukraine’s membership in the alliance — NATO has already rejected that demand — and halt all military cooperation with the country. Russia also insisted that the alliance halt all military activities throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
“The issues concern all of Europe, including Ukraine, but Putin suggests discussions between Russia and the United States,” Mr. Yelisieiev said. “Russia in this way made an announcement of a sphere of influence. ‘You leave us the former Soviet space and do what you want elsewhere.’”
A Ukrainian delegation will take part in the third of the three rounds of talks, scheduled for Thursday in Vienna under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The United States has said it is coordinating closely with the authorities in Kyiv.
“No decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine,” the Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, posted on Twitter last week, noting he will also meet with NATO officials in Brussels. “Part of a wide diplomatic effort to deter further Russian aggression.”
The current threat follows eight years of low-level conflict. Russia intervened militarily in Ukraine in 2014, annexing the Crimean Peninsula and fomenting separatist uprisings in two eastern provinces, leading to the deaths of about 13,000 people.
Given the stakes for Ukraine, the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky has decided not to rely wholly on the U.S.-led negotiations….