The US is privately asking Ukraine to show that it is open to negotiations with Russia
The discussions illustrate how complex the Biden administration’s position on Ukraine is, as US officials publicly vow to support Kiev with huge sums of aid “as long as it takes” as they hope for a resolution to the conflict that has taken a punitive toll on the global economy and stoked fears over the past eight months. since nuclear war.
While U.S. officials share their Ukrainian counterparts’ assessment that Putin is not, for now, serious about negotiations, they acknowledge that President Volodymyr Zelensky’s ban on talks with him has raised concerns in parts of Europe, Africa and Latin America, where the war has had disruptive effects on availability and cost. food and fuel are most acutely felt.
“Ukraine fatigue is a real thing for some of our partners,” said one US official who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive talks between Washington and Kiev.
Serhiy Nikiforov, Zelensky’s spokesman, did not respond to a request for comment.
In the United States, polls show weak Republican support for continuing to fund Ukraine’s military at current levels, suggesting the White House could face pushback after Tuesday’s election as it seeks to continue the security assistance program that brought Ukraine the largest such annual sum since the end of the Cold War.
During a visit to Kiev on Friday, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States supports a just and lasting peace for Ukraine and said US support will continue regardless of domestic politics. “We fully intend to make sure the resources are there as needed and we will get votes from both parties to make that happen,” he said during the briefing.
Desire for a potential resolution to the war has intensified as Ukrainian forces have retaken occupied territory, moving closer to areas valued by Putin. They begin with Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, and include cities along the Sea of Azov that now provide it with a “land bridge” to the Ukrainian peninsula. Zelenski promised to fight for every inch of Ukrainian territory.
Veteran diplomat Alexander Vershbow, who served as the US ambassador to Russia and deputy secretary general of NATO, said the United States could not afford to be completely “agnostic” about how and when the war ends, given the US’s interests to ensure European security and deter further aggression by the Kremlin beyond Russia’s borders.
“If conditions become more favorable for negotiations, I don’t think the administration will be passive,” Vershbow said. “But in the end it’s the Ukrainians who are fighting, so we have to be careful not to assume them.”
While Zelenski was presenting proposals for a peace agreement In the weeks since Putin’s February 24 invasion, including Ukraine’s neutrality and the return of areas Russia has occupied since that date, Ukrainian officials have hardened their stance in recent months.
In late September, following Putin’s annexation of four additional Ukrainian regions in the east and south, Zelensky betrayed decree declaring it “impossible” to negotiate with the Russian leader. “We will negotiate with the new president,” he said in a video address.
The shift was fueled by systematic crimes in Russian-controlled areas, including rape and torture, along with regular airstrikes on Kiev and other cities, and a decree annexing the Kremlin.
Ukrainians have responded with anger when foreigners have proposed ceding parts of their country as part of a peace deal, as they did last month when billionaire Elon Musk, who has helped supply the Ukrainian military with satellite communications equipment, published a proposal on Twitter that could allow Russia to consolidate its control over parts of Ukraine through a referendum and give Crimea to the Kremlin.
In recent weeks, Ukrainian criticism of the proposed concessions has grown sharper, as officials denounce “useful idiots” in the West who they accuse of serving Kremlin interests.
“If Russia wins, we will get a period of chaos: the flourishing of tyranny, wars, genocide, nuclear races”, presidential adviser Mihail Podoljak he said Friday. “Any ‘concessions’ to Putin today — a deal with the devil.” You won’t like its price.”
Ukrainian officials point out that a 2015 peace deal in the country’s eastern Donbass region – where Moscow backed a separatist campaign – only gave Russia time before Putin launched his full-scale invasion this year. They question why any new peace deal should be any different, arguing that the only way Russia will be prevented from returning for further attacks is by defeating its military on the battlefield.
Russia, faced with a poor position on the battlefield, has proposed negotiations, but in the past has shown itself unwilling to accept anything other than a Ukrainian capitulation.
“Cynically, Russia and its Western supporters are holding the olive branch. Don’t be fooled: an aggressor cannot be a peacemaker,” wrote Andriy Jermak, the head of the Ukrainian president’s administration. a recent op-ed published by The Washington Post.
Ukrainian officials are also wondering how they can negotiate with a Russian leadership that fundamentally believes in Moscow’s right to hegemony over Kiev.
Putin has continued to undermine the notion of a sovereign and independent Ukraine, including in comments last month when he once again claimed that Russians and Ukrainians are one people, and argued that Russia could be “the only real and serious guarantor of Ukraine’s statehood, sovereignty and territorial integrity.” .”
While Western officials also have deep skepticism about Russia’s goals, they are angered by Ukraine’s harsh public rebuke because Kiev remains entirely dependent on Western aid. Officials say attacking donors and rejecting talks could hurt Kiev in the long run.
The maximalist remarks from both sides have heightened global fears of a years-long conflict spanning the life of the 70-year-old Russian leader, whose grip on power has only tightened in recent years. The war has already deepened global economic problems, helping to drive up energy prices for European consumers and causing commodity prices to rise that have exacerbated famine in countries including Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan.
In the United States, rising inflation, partly related to the war, strengthened the headwinds for the president Biden and his party are ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections and have raised new questions about the future American security aid, which since the beginning of the war amounted to 18.2 billion dollars. According to poll published by the Wall Street Journal on November 348 percent of Republicans said the United States is doing “too much” to support Ukraine, up from 6 percent in March.
Progressives within the Democratic Party are calling for diplomacy to avoid protracted war, releasing but later letter withdrawal urging Biden to redouble efforts to find a “realistic framework” to end the fighting.
Speaking in Kiev, Sullivan said the war could easily end. “Russia decided to start it,” he said. “Russia could decide to end it by ceasing the attack on Ukraine, ceasing the occupation of Ukraine, and that’s exactly what it should do from our perspective.
Concerns about a longer conflict are particularly pronounced in countries that have already been reluctant to throw their weight behind the US-led coalition in support of Ukraine, either because of ties to Moscow or reluctance to fall in line with Washington.
South Africa abstained from a recent United Nations vote condemning Russia’s annexation decrees, saying the world must instead focus on facilitating a ceasefire and political resolution. The newly elected president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said that Zelenski did as responsible for the war like Putin.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has tried to maintain good relations with Moscow and Kiev, offered help in peace talks in a meeting with Zelensky last month. The Ukrainian leader rejected him.
Zelensky told him that Ukraine would not conduct any negotiations with Putin, but said that Ukraine is “committed to a peaceful solution through dialogue,” according to a statement released by Zelensky’s office. The statement states that Russia has deliberately undermined dialogue efforts.
Despite the Ukrainian leaders’ refusal to talk to Putin and their vow to fight to get everything back Ukraine, US officials say they believe Zelensky would likely support negotiations and ultimately accept concessions, as he indicated he would do at the beginning of the war. They believe Kiev is trying to consolidate as many military gains as possible before winter sets in, when there could be a window for diplomacy.
Zelenski faces the challenge of appealing to both domestic voters who have suffered immeasurably at the hands of Russian invaders and foreign audiences who are giving their forces the weapons they need to fight. To motivate Ukrainians domestically, Zelenskiy promoted victory over settlement and became a symbol of defiance that motivated Ukrainian forces on the battlefield.
While members of the Group of Seven industrialized nations last month seemingly threw their weight behind Ukraine’s vision of victory, backing a plan to “just peace” including potential Russian reparations and security guarantees for Ukraine, some of the same countries see a potential tipping point if Ukrainian forces move closer to Crimea.
Reports of Russia’s withdrawal from the southern city of Kherson have raised questions about whether Ukrainian forces could eventually march on the strategic peninsula, which US and NATO officials believe Putin views differently from other Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine, and which is likely all-out. fighting for Crimea would mean for supporters of Kiev in the West.
Not only has Crimea been under direct Russian control longer than the areas seized since February, it has long been the site of a Russian naval base and home to many retired Russian military personnel.
Illustrating Russia’s rise to Crimea, the Kremlin responded to the explosion last month a bridge connecting the region to mainland Russia — a symbol of Moscow’s hold on the peninsula — by launching a barrage of missiles about Ukrainian cities, including Kiev, ending a long period of peace in the capital.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s leaders continue to telegraph their intention to pursue total victory, not only to their beleaguered citizens but also to Moscow.
Zelensky he told the interviewer on Wednesday that the first thing he would do after Ukraine wins the war would be to visit the recaptured Crimea. “I really want to see the sea,” he said.
Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.
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