#115 The G|O Briefing, October 27, 2022

#115 The G|O Briefing, October 27, 2022

Negotiating with the devil | The tale of an unofficial Swiss early private peace initiative | Give peace a chance

This is an onsite, slightly edited republication of the complete G|O Briefing newsletter

It is hard to imagine that the war in Ukraine could end soon, but calls for renewing diplomatic efforts are growing as the risk of escalation seems to be increasing every day. Some of these calls now come from Western military leaders. “Military action is ineffective on its own. It’s only truly effective when it's combined with economic and diplomatic efforts. And we're not seeing enough diplomacy,” a Western military source is quoted in the Financial Times as saying. It is impossible to tell if backchannel and mediation efforts are underway: such discussions are almost always kept secret. Public statements, meanwhile, are not reassuring. Last week, Gennady Gatilov, the Russian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, described as “senseless” the idea of a cease-fire. It would be “pointless,” he said to engage now in negotiations. Some of Ukraine's strongest supporters consider that diplomacy would only reward Putin and his regime. In the meantime, the conflict grinds on, bringing untold devastation to Ukraine, and imposing serious economic hardship on Europe and the world as winter looms.‌

Today in The Geneva Observer, an interview with Pierre Hazan, Senior Advisor of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) in Geneva, author of Negotiating with The Devil, in French, English edition forthcoming. A seasoned mediator, Hazan tells me that at this point, the likelihood of bringing the warring parties to the table to discuss peace is indeed totally unrealistic. But he is also somewhat reassured by the recent discussions that took place between Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defense minister, and Lloyd Austin, his US counterpart.

What would the terms of a negotiated peace settlement between the two countries include? Barely a month after Russia's attack on Ukraine, The G|O received an anonymous draft document containing ten proposals for a peace settlement between Ukraine and Russia. Although unofficial and unclaimed, the previously unrevealed document sheds an interesting light on how mediators approach conflict resolution.

‌“Give peace a chance,” writes frequent G|O contributor Daniel Warner, for his part,  in a guest essay inspired by crossing Geneva’s historical square, la Place de Neuve.

With a few briefs, it is all below. We will be back next week. It will mark The G|O's third anniversary if you can believe it. As always, thank you for reading us.


By Philippe Mottaz

Philippe Mottaz: Should we negotiate with the devil? With the war in Ukraine, this is a very timely interrogation. As a mediator, I reckon your answer would be yes, but as of today, do you believe that the warring parties could be brought to the negotiating table?

Pierre Hazan: It seems unthinkable at this stage, at least if we are talking about a peace process. We are clearly in a phase of escalation, where both sides feel they would lose something in talking: Ukraine wants to recover all of its territories, including Crimea, and thus return to its 1990 borders. As for Russia, it is intransigent on what it calls its territorial integrity, which in its eyes includes Crimea and the four regions it has just annexed.

We recently saw, nevertheless, the conclusion of the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI), the result of negotiations in which the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) played a significant role …

Yes, fortunately, the situation does not exclude strictly transactional agreements of various kinds, such as the BSGI or the exchange of prisoners, technical accords like the one about the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, or humanitarian agreements.

Staying with the BSGI, Russia is now threatening not to extend its agreement on grain and fertilizers with the UN. How do you interpret Moscow's position?

Yes, Russia is indeed making statements to that effect. But I think that before dropping out of the agreement—it expires on November 19—Russia will carefully weigh its interests, starting with the fact that these sales bring in foreign currency. Its exports also go to Arab and African countries. I think that Moscow's decision to renew or abrogate the agreement will reveal insights into how Russia views its relationship with the Arab and African world today.

We read that the American administration will do everything to ensure that Joe Biden does not meet Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit. But shouldn't they precisely seize the opportunity to meet?

They won't. But I note that the Russian and American Ministers of Defense, Sergei Shoigu and Lloyd Austin, have spoken to each other and that Shoigu has also spoken to his Turkish, French, and British counterparts. I sense that we are witnessing the establishment of something resembling the "red telephone" of the Cold War between the Kremlin and the White House, a mechanism of exchange and minimal dialogue to minimize the risk of dangerous misunderstanding or uncontrolled escalation. Interestingly, both parties have also made public that they talked to each other, to indicate that this is not the traditional diplomatic “backchannel” way. In this minimal dialogue, they want to show that they are rational because let's admit it, the Western world has every reason to be worried.

More broadly, you write that diplomatic mediation has profoundly changed and that there has been, in your opinion, a tipping point with NATO’s intervention in Libya.

There has indeed been a real fundamental transformation over the last ten years. The 1990s were marked by a series of peace agreements led by the nations and, in most cases, conducted by the UN with the US blessing. This was part of the Pax Americana. But it all ended in 2011 with NATO's intervention in Libya, justified on humanitarian grounds in the name of the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) civilian populations. Russia and China had decided not to oppose this intervention at the UN Security Council. But when the military coalition led by the Western countries toppled Gaddafi, the Russian and Chinese governments considered they had been deceived, that this intervention was from the beginning to bring about regime change, which they viscerally objected to. From that moment on, Russia fiercely opposed any action by the international criminal justice system. It systematically tries to defeat the concept of the responsibility to protect (R2P), the intervention of international justice and human rights mechanisms, believing that the Western world controls them.

Russia's behavior in Syria, bombing civilian populations and infrastructure, foreshadowed what we see in Ukraine.

The geopolitical tensions are now such that the system is paralyzed. What does the Russian president do when António Guterres offers the UN's good offices? He sends two missiles to Kyiv when the Secretary-General is there!

International Geneva has a long tradition of mediation. Do you see a role for Switzerland in this crisis?

Switzerland's position today is delicate. Publicly at least, Russia no longer considers it neutral. It is clearly in the Western camp and could hardly disassociate itself from the Europeans and the Americans without creating a diplomatic crisis with its allies. A part of public opinion in Switzerland would not understand this either. There is, therefore, a real challenge for Switzerland and International Geneva to show that it has not lost its role as a bridge between the two sides. The fact that Geneva is hosting the discussions between Azerbaijan and Armenia is a first encouraging sign, but it is not enough. The challenge for Swiss diplomacy today is to remain at the storm’s center. It is also a guarantee for its protection and its interests.


By Philippe Mottaz

In late March of this year, I received a copy of a draft peace plan for a negotiated peace settlement between Ukraine and Russia. The document was unsigned and written on plain paper. But based on its structure, substance, and formulation, it was clear that its author or authors had expertise and practice in conflict mediation. Unmistakably, it also had all the markings of a Swiss initiative.

The document referred to previous mediation conducted by Switzerland, including Russia’s entry into the WTO over Georgia’s initial objections. Its core proposals called for political and military neutrality for Ukraine, turning the country into a federation and recognizing Ukrainian and Russian as official languages. While admitting that the invasion was a violation of the UN Charter, Ukraine was, under the different points of the proposal, the country that would have to alter its political institutions and its identity. Crimea, for example, would not be returned to Ukraine but benefit from a special status with shared sovereignty between the two countries.

Five weeks into the war, the document’s tone struck me as overly accepting of Russia’s narrative, its preamble talking about Russia’s “wisdom” in what I thought was a denial of the gravity of Russia’s attack on its neighbor, a line often heard in Geneva, where some continue to try to absolve Russia for the invasion. I figured that bringing Putin to the table may require such appeasing language.

A few days before I came into possession of the document, on March 19, Volodymyr Zelensky had remotely addressed a rally in Bern, calling for support. Present at the event coordinated by the Swiss government was Ignazio Cassis, Switzerland’s President, who said that his country was ready to play a mediation role “behind the scenes” or to “welcome negotiations.” However, through a spokesperson the Swiss Foreign Ministry told me it had no knowledge of the proposal in my possession, adding it would “welcome any private peace initiative.” I made a few unsuccessful inquiries to assess the provenance and the status of the document and to track down the source. With disinformation rampant, unable to clearly establish where the initiative might come from, I eventually decided not to publish anything. On April 1, the world discovered the massacre perpetrated by the Russian forces in Bucha, the beginning of a long series of military operations by Russia that make any negotiations between the two parties unthinkable and have, for the West and its allies, turned Putin’s Russia into a pariah state.

Fast forward. Three weeks ago, at a public event, I bumped into someone whom I suspected from the outset of having been involved in the writing of the draft peace plan. “Are you the author?” I asked. They eluded the question without denying being involved. “Many peace plan proposals are floating around,” they answered. I pressed. “The one I am referring to talks about Russia’s ‘wisdom.’ Did you write those words?” “I did,” they admitted, “I am afraid they are not worth much today,” they told me. They had hoped that realizing the folly of his monumental blunder, Putin would try to find a quick way out. “I had mediated conflicts in the past. I felt it was my duty as a private citizen to try to help find a solution. Late one night, I got up and wrote that document. Well, it didn’t take long for it to be condemned to the dustbin of history.”

They admit having allowed it to be posted on the website of Christoph Stückelberger, founder of Globethics.net and professor of ethics at Basel University. Now amended, the words about Russia’s wisdom have been omitted. Who knows? Some of the plan’s elements may, in an unpredictable future, be the beginning of the roadmap toward a successful mediation.‌‌



The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) is suing the British government for its failure to investigate imports of cotton products manufactured in Xinjiang. Hearings on the case took place before London’s High Court on Tuesday and Wednesday. WUC and Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), its legal counsel, said the UK case was the first of a series of lawsuits that will be brought in different countries across Europe to ban the import of forced labor cotton in the UK and on the continent. A ban on cotton products from China’s Xinjiang province is already in effect in the US.


PassBlue reports that “after weeks of negotiations and delayed voting, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) overwhelmingly agreed to sanction Jimmy Chérizier and other gang leaders accused of raping and terrorizing Haitian people. The sanctions were approved on October 21 in a resolution led by the United States and Mexico, one week after a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN mission in Haiti (Binuh) accused the gangs, who control 60 percent of Port-au-Prince, the capital, of using recorded videos of rapes to threaten the families of victims to pay ransoms.”

The Council, however, stopped short of deciding to send a UN force to the country, a discussion we reported on two weeks ago.


Under pressure from civil society, The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) recently confirmed it has an ongoing investigation into the acquisition of COVID-19 vaccines in the EU. The EPPO did not name any vaccines company in its brief statement, adding it would not comment further. But it is widely understood that the prosecutors are mainly looking at the contracts the EU signed with Pfizer. You can listen to the in-depth report—in French—of our colleagues at RTS here. You may also want to take a look at a recent research paper analyzing the political power of Big Pharma in the US.


By Daniel Warner

In a major square in downtown Geneva are two dominant symbols of today’s representation. In the middle of Geneva’s cultural center, Place de Neuve, stands an imposing statue of a soldier on horseback, the General Guillaume-Henry Dufour, a leader of the Swiss army in the 19th century. At the northeast side of the square is a small bust of Henry Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross. Each time I pass the square, I ask myself: Why is General Dufour given the prominent place in the square while the humanitarian has a small recognition as if an afterthought? (Although Dufour had several distinctions—engineer, noted typographer, and a member of the Red Cross founding committee—it is General Dufour on horseback who dominates the square.)

The military dominates more than just Place de Neuve. Defense spending continues to balloon disproportionally to other national budget items around the world, even in neutral Switzerland. Prestigious military academies continue to prepare eager soldiers for battle. Eminent strategic and security studies departments continue to prepare motivated students to enter professions dealing with how to wage war. Heavily funded research and development sections in private companies continue to invent sophisticated armaments for future use. Self-proclaimed experts continue to analyze battle plans in the media to give enthusiastic audiences blow-by-blow descriptions of current battles. Well-researched historians continue to walk battlefields reenacting legendary confrontations.

War and its ecosystem dominate so much of our lives. While today’s war between Russia and Ukraine has significant differences between traditional conflicts—some Ukrainian soldiers are trained out of their country, Russian recruits are hurried into battle with little or no training, artificial intelligence has replaced many of the planners and commentators—the imbalance between war and peace remains the same.

Simple comparisons between resources and interest in war and peace are obvious. Peace does not pay dividends. As an example of peace’s limited resources: The United Nations General Assembly established the University for Peace (UPeace) as a treaty organization in 1980. Its mission is “to provide humanity with an international institution of higher education for peace with the aim of promoting among all human beings the spirit of understanding, tolerance, and peaceful coexistence, to stimulate cooperation among peoples and to help lessen obstacles and threats to world peace and progress, in keeping with the noble aspirations proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations.” How many people have heard of UPeace? Can you name any famous alumni? It’s never listed as one of the world’s top universities. (UPeace’s main campus is in Costa Rica, which abolished its army in 1980.)

Besides UPeace, there are a number of peace institutes around the world, but they cannot be compared to military academies such as West Point, The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, The Institute for the Study of War in China, or the French Military Academy in Saint-Cyr.

Within academia, another example of the domination of war over peace would be the study of war. The study has a long tradition going back to Sun Tzu’s Art of War, dating to the 5th century BC. Machiavelli’s The Prince (1513) or Clausewitz’s On War (1832) are other classics often cited for how one should rule by using force, power and fighting.

What about peace literature and peace studies? Peace studies is a very recent phenomenon compared to Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, or Clausewitz. Johan Galtung, a Norwegian sociologist, is credited with being the creator of the discipline of peace studies. Galtung founded the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) in 1959. He also established the Journal of Peace Research in 1964.

In addition to his role in academia, Galtung has been involved in different peace mediations. His most noteworthy success was in the 1990s, resolving the territorial conflict between Peru and Ecuador. Galtung was able to change the disputed territory into a binational park, ending violence that had erupted between the countries in 1941, 1981, and 1995. While most people can tell which countries won World War II, few can locate Galtung’s Park of Peace in the Cordillera del Condor region in the Andes, that was the scene of conflict between the two countries.

Most people claim they would prefer peace to war. Scenes of death and destruction in Ukraine horrify. So if peace is preferred to war, why aren’t similar resources allocated? There are plenty of Ministers of War or Secretaries of Defense. Why aren’t there Ministers of Peace or Secretaries of Conciliation?

Each time I pass Place de Neuve, I wonder about priorities. Henry Dunant was the founder of an organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize three times (1917, 1944, 1963). Dunant himself won the Prize in 1901. Johan Galtung is a hero. His mediation saved thousands of lives and changed the relationship between two hostile countries. I try to imagine a huge statue of Dunant or Galtung in downtown Geneva, just as I try to imagine a small bust of Dufour somewhere in a small corner off the square. War or peace? Which dominates the other?


(This piece first appeared in Counterpunch)

Today’s Briefing: Philippe Mottaz - Jamil Chade

Edited by: Paige Holt