U.S. and European officials have begun quietly talking to the Ukrainian government about what possible peace negotiations with Russia might entail to end the war, according to one current senior U.S. official and one former senior U.S. official familiar with the discussions.
An NBC News report, “U.S., European officials broach topic of peace negotiations with Ukraine, sources say” (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/us-european-officials-broach-topic-peace-negotiations-ukraine-sources-rcna123628), said on Nov. 4, 2023:
The conversations have included very broad outlines of what Ukraine might need to give up to reach a deal, the officials said. Some of the talks, which officials described as delicate, took place last month during a meeting of representatives from more than 50 nations supporting Ukraine, including NATO members, known as the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, the officials said.
The discussions are an acknowledgment of the dynamics militarily on the ground in Ukraine and politically in the U.S. and Europe, officials said.
They began amid concerns among U.S. and European officials that the war has reached a stalemate and about the ability to continue providing aid to Ukraine, officials said. Biden administration officials also are worried that Ukraine is running out of forces, while Russia has a seemingly endless supply, officials said. Ukraine is also struggling with recruiting and has recently seen public protests about some of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s open-ended conscription requirements.
The NBC News report said:
There is unease in the U.S. government with how much less public attention the war in Ukraine has garnered since the Israel-Hamas war began nearly a month ago, the officials said. Officials fear that shift could make securing additional aid for Kyiv more difficult.
Some U.S. military officials have privately begun using the term “stalemate” to describe the current battle in Ukraine, with some saying it may come down to which side can maintain a military force the longest. Neither side is making large strides on the battlefield, which some U.S. officials now describe as a war of inches. Officials also have privately said Ukraine likely only has until the end of the year or shortly thereafter before more urgent discussions about peace negotiations should begin. U.S. officials have shared their views on such a timeline with European allies, officials said.
The report said:
A Biden administration official also noted that the U.S. has participated with Ukraine in discussions of its peace summit framework but said the White House “is not aware of any other conversations with Ukraine about negotiations at the moment.”
U.S. President Joe Biden has been intensely focused on Ukraine’s depleting military forces, according to two people familiar with the matter.
“Manpower is at the top of the administration’s concerns right now,” one said. The U.S. and its allies can provide Ukraine with weaponry, this person said, “but if they do not have competent forces to use them it does not do a lot of good”
Biden has requested that Congress authorize additional funding for Ukraine, but, so far, the effort has failed to progress because of resistance from some congressional Republicans. The White House has linked aid for Ukraine and Israel in its most recent request. That has support among some congressional Republicans, but other GOP lawmakers have said they’ll only vote for an Israel-only aid package.
Before the Israel-Hamas war began, White House officials publicly expressed confidence that additional Ukraine funding would pass Congress before the end of this year, while privately conceding concerns about how difficult that might be.
Biden had been reassuring U.S. allies that Congress will approve more aid for Ukraine and planned a major speech on the issue. Once Hamas terrorists attacked Israel on Oct. 7, the president’s focus shifted to the Middle East, and his Ukraine speech morphed into an Oval Office address about why the U.S. should financially support Ukraine and Israel.
The NBC News report said:
The Biden administration does not have any indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin is ready to negotiate with Ukraine, two U.S. officials said. Western officials say Putin still believes he can “wait out the West,” or keep fighting until the U.S. and its allies lose domestic support for funding Ukraine or the struggle to supply Kyiv with weapons and ammunition becomes too costly, officials said.
Both Ukraine and Russia are struggling to keep up with military supplies. Russia has ramped up production of artillery rounds, and, over the next couple years may be able to produce 2 million shells per year, according to a Western official. But Russia fired an estimated 10 million rounds in Ukraine last year, the official said, so it will also have to rely on other countries.
The Biden administration has spent $43.9 billion on security assistance for Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, according to the Pentagon. A U.S. official says the administration has about $5 billion left to send to Ukraine before money runs out. There would be no aid left for Ukraine if the administration hadn’t said it found a $6.2 billion accounting error from months of over-valuing equipment sent to Kyiv.
The report added:
Progress in Ukraine’s counteroffensive has been very slow, and hope that Ukraine will make significant advances, including reaching the coast near Russia’s frontlines, is fading. A lack of significant progress on the battlefield in Ukraine does not help with trying to reverse the downward trend in public support for sending more aid, officials said.
A Gallup poll released this week shows decreasing support for sending additional aid to Ukraine, with 41% of Americans saying the U.S. is doing too much to help Kyiv. That is a significant change from just three months ago when 24% of Americans said they felt that way. The poll also found that 33% of Americans think the U.S. is doing the right amount for Ukraine, while 25% said the U.S. is not doing enough.
Public sentiment toward assisting Ukraine is also starting to soften in Europe.
As incentive for Zelensky to consider negotiations, NATO could offer Kyiv some security guarantees, even without Ukraine formally becoming part of the alliance, officials said. That way, officials said, the Ukrainians could be assured that Russia would be deterred from invading again.
In August U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters, “We do not assess that the conflict is a stalemate.” Instead, Sullivan said, Ukraine is taking territory on a “methodical, systematic basis.”
But a Western official acknowledged there has not been a lot of movement by either side in some time, and with the cold weather approaching it will be tough for either Ukraine or Russia to break that pattern. The official said it will not be impossible, but it will be difficult.
U.S. officials also assess that Russia will attempt to hit critical infrastructure in Ukraine again this winter, attempting to force some civilians to endure a frigid winter without heat or power.
Administration officials expect Ukraine to want more time to fight on the battlefield, particularly with new, heavier equipment, “but there is a growing sense that it is too late, and it is time to do a deal,” the former senior administration official said. It is not certain that Ukraine would mount another spring offensive.
One senior Biden administration official pushed back on any notion of the U.S. nudging Ukraine toward talks. The Ukrainians, the official said, “are on the clock in terms of weather, but they are not on the clock in terms of geopolitics.”
Citing the NBC News report, another media report said:
NBC’s sources also privately warned that Ukraine may only have several months “before more urgent discussions about peace negotiations should begin.”
Publicly, US President Joe Biden has said that Washington would not engage in any talks on the Ukraine conflict unless Kiev wants to. However, while Moscow has never closed the door to negotiations with Kiev, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky signed a decree last year banning all engagement with Russia after four former Ukrainian regions overwhelmingly voted to join the country.
Reported fears about Ukraine’s dwindling military potential come amid Kiev’s counteroffensive, which started in early June but has failed to gain any substantial ground. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said earlier this week that “the Kiev regime is losing,” with its forces suffering heavy losses. Previously, he estimated Ukraine’s casualties at more than 90,000 troops.
Ukraine Has To Make Peace, Says Ex-Zelensky Aide
A media report said:
Ukraine has to “face reality” and admit that it cannot defeat Russia on the battlefield, Aleksey Arestovich, a former aide to Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, said in a series of Telegram posts over the weekend. Instead, Kiev should strive for peace with Moscow in exchange for NATO guarantees, the politician said.
The belief in a “swift and beautiful victory” by Ukraine over Russia is nothing but an “illusion,” Arestovich said. The former presidential administration official was initially quite optimistic about Kiev’s prospects and was making statements to such effect up to the start of the much-hyped Ukrainian counteroffensive this summer. Now, however, he has said the time had come to part with this illusion to avoid a catastrophic scenario for Ukraine.
“The enemy is stronger in the economic, military, mobilizational and organizational sense,” he said, referring to Russia. The Western nations that support Ukraine have no interest in seeing Russia defeated, he added. “Under the current circumstances, a military victory over Russia does not seem possible,” Arestovich maintained.
A simple “belief in victory” is not enough, the former aide said, calling on Ukrainians to “get sober and face reality.”
If Kiev goes on with its “current ‘successful’ policy for another half a year,” Ukraine might “well forget about NATO,” he warned, adding that the nation’s Western backers are supposedly already contemplating providing Kiev with certain guarantees without a full membership.
The politician, who has announced his presidential ambitions, suggested that Ukraine demand NATO accession in exchange for a commitment not to try to win back territories controlled by Russia through military means. “All the talk about returning to the 1991 borders through military actions under the current circumstances can only be lip service,” he said.
The former aide has already offered a series of increasingly grim predictions of Ukraine’s future in recent months. He warned in August that an invasion of Crimea would cost 200,000 Ukrainian lives, and predicted that the conflict between Moscow and Kiev could drag on until 2035.
He also called for a change in leadership. The government led by Zelensky allowed corruption and incompetence to flourish and ultimately failed to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia, Arestovich said in mid-October. Earlier this week, he also said the nation’s political leadership does not take the situation on the ground into account and is chasing symbolic victories instead of pursuing an “adequate strategy.”
Arestovich’s statement came just days after Ukraine’s top military commander, General Valery Zaluzhny, told The Economist that the conflict had reached a World War I-style stalemate but that Russia had an advantage due to its larger population and greater resources.
Von der Leyen Discusses Ukraine’s Accession Path
A report by The New Voice of Ukraine said:
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrived in Kyiv early on Nov. 4 to discuss “Ukraine’s accession path to the EU, financial support to rebuild Ukraine as a modern, prosperous democracy, and how to continue to make Russia pay for its war of aggression.”
Von der Leyen is also expected to address the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament), Ukrainian MP Yaroslav Zheleznyak wrote on Telegram.
The EC president is to provide the ‘final assessments’ of Ukraine’s progress towards starting EU membership talks, Ukraine’s Deputy PM for Euro-Atlantic Integration, Olha Stefanishyna, told Ukrainian TV broadcasters on Nov. 2.
We Would Not Talk To Russia, Says Zelensky
Ukraine is not willing to hold any talks with Russia, President Vladimir Zelensky said on Saturday during a joint press conference with Ursula von der Leyen. He also denied recent media reports that Kiev’s Western backers are pushing it to engage in negotiations.
“Now, none of the EU, U.S. leaders, our partners are putting pressure on us in terms of sitting down with Russia, talking to it or surrendering something to it,” he told journalists. “This is not going to happen,” he added.
Zelensky then said he “does not know” who even publishes such reports. He did admit that he had “got an impression” that the Ukrainian media and Ukrainians themselves are speculating about the idea of potential talks with Russia and about Western nations allegedly pushing Kiev towards such a decision. The president went on to say that he was “surprised” by such sentiments.
Earlier on Saturday, NBC reported that Western officials were holding behind-the-scenes talks with Kiev about the possibility of negotiating with Russia and were even exploring potential concessions Ukraine might agree to in order to end the conflict.
Russia has repeatedly signaled its readiness to engage in negotiations with Kiev but has insisted that such talks should take Moscow’s security interests and the “reality on the ground” into account.
In October 2022, Zelensky also signed a decree banning Ukraine from holding any talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This past September, Putin said that if Kiev is willing to end the conflict it should demonstrate its intentions publicly, including by revoking the 2022 decree. “If their wish to achieve something through negotiations is genuine, let them do that,” he said at that time. “Let the Ukrainians themselves say it… announce it publicly,” the Russian president added.
Citing a report by Interfax-Ukraine, a report by Ukrainska Pravda said:
Zelensky does not think the situation on the front in Ukraine is a stalemate. Zelensky was talking during a press conference with Ursula von der Leyen,
A recent article in The Economist quoted Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine General Valeri Zaluzhnyi as saying that the situation on the front is at a stalemate. Zelensky responded to this by saying there was no stalemate.
Zelensky also denied that Ukraine’s partners were putting pressure on him to negotiate with Russia. “Everyone knows my position, which is the same as the position of the Ukrainian people. No one is putting pressure on me now. That was happening before the war and early on in the war. Now no EU or US leaders are putting pressure [on me] For us to sit down with Russia and talk to it, to make concessions to it – that will not happen.”
John Kirby, White House National Security Council Coordinator, described General Zaluzhnyi’s article in The Economist as one of the important arguments that confirms the urgent need for further support for Ukraine.
Ihor Zhovkva, Deputy Head of the Office of the Ukrainian President, commenting on an article by Zaluzhnyi for The Economist, said that the military should not talk publicly about what is happening at the front.
Lukashenko’s Claims He Warned Zelensky
Another report by Ukrainska Pravda said:
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has claimed that Ukraine “will still be ours”, that Ukraine is already fading into the background as far as the United States is concerned, and that Ukrainian President Zelensky is supposedly preparing to leave the country.
Citing Alexander Lukashenko during a meeting with representatives of the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant’s labor collective and construction workers, social infrastructure workers and residents of the city of Ostrovets, Belarusian news outlet BelTA said: “Ukraine will still be ours. Nobody needs this Ukraine. Trouble is brewing in the Middle East. I warned him when the war started. I called Zelensky and said: ‘Volodya, listen to me, I am an experienced man, I have worked for years. As soon as some trouble begins, you will be forgotten.’ And then what happened? Ukraine is now being overshadowed. You have to use your head before getting the country involved in some reckless scheme.”
Lukashenko backed up his assertion with the example of Afghanistan when the United States left: “They left it out to dry and went away. It will be exactly the same here.”
The Belarusian ruler believes the U.S. is “far away, they are big, they absolutely don’t need this”. He said: “Their policy is to muddy the waters. They like starting something in these muddy waters. You know, it is good fishing in troubled waters. That is their policy. Everything else is expendable, just like Ukraine today. This is why this region [Ukraine] is our region, in the sense that we will be together.”
Lukashenko claimed that sooner or later, “Europe will crawl back to Belarus and Russia” because “the Americans are tearing Europe apart any way they want today. And Europe cannot resist because everything depends on the American market – credit, property, and the rest.”
The Belarusian ruler said that when he looks at Western politicians, he “sometimes wants to weep”. “They do not even think about their people. They go to prison once or twice, they steal, pocket their gains and run away somewhere. Just like Zelensky is getting ready to run off,” Lukashenko claimed, without naming the source of his speculation and rumors.