The stage is set for a meeting between Russia and Ukraine Monday on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, near the Pripyat River.
Is this a diplomatic breakthrough or a political sideshow while Russia continues its offensive in Ukraine?
Related: Ukraine calls for a meeting with Russia on the Belarusian border as Moscow’s troops draw closer to Kyiv
Let’s be clear what this isn’t: The meeting is not a summit between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Instead, it’s a meeting between delegations from both sides. Zelensky’s office said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko called the Ukrainian President Sunday and offered safety guarantees, saying Lukashenko had “taken responsibility for ensuring that all planes, helicopters and missiles stationed on the Belarusian territory will remain on the ground during the Ukrainian delegation’s travel, meeting and return.”
But can Ukraine accept any guarantees from Lukashenko? This is the same leader whose authorities forced down a Ryanair flight over Belarusian airspace last year, alleging a “security alert,” and arrested a young Belarusian dissident, prompting international outcry.
Monday’s planned meeting follows a flurry of statements from the Kremlin, which claimed earlier the Ukrainian side had countered Russia’s proposal to meet in Belarus with a proposal to meet in Warsaw and then dropped contact. Zelensky’s office denied claims they refused to negotiate.
What the meeting might produce: Zelensky himself on Sunday set low expectations for the meeting, and it is tempting to guess that the meeting on the border will yield little. But it does offer Putin at least some potential room for an exit from the war in Ukraine, if his troops continue to encounter battlefield setbacks against Ukrainian forces, CNN reported.