On Monday, the State Department signaled that the US is discouraging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky from making concessions to Russia in negotiations that are aimed at ending the fighting in Ukraine.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Zelensky has “made it very clear that he is open to a diplomatic solution that does not compromise the core principles at the heart of the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine.”
When asked to elaborate on his point, Price said that the war is “bigger” than Russia and Ukraine. “The key point is that there are principles that are at stake here that have universal applicability everywhere,” he said.
Price said Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to violate “core principles,” including “the principle that each and every country has a sovereign right to determine its own foreign policy, has a sovereign right to determine for itself with whom it will choose to associate in terms of its alliances, its partnerships, and what orientation it wishes to direct its gaze.”
Putin has made clear that one of his main motivations for the invasion is Ukraine’s alignment with NATO. Leading up to the invasion, he asked the US for a guarantee that Ukraine won’t ever join the military alliance, but the US refused to make the promise even though President Biden publicly admitted Kyiv wouldn’t be granted a membership anytime soon.
Even Zelensky has said that he was told Ukraine wouldn’t be a NATO member. “I requested them personally to say directly that we are going to accept you into NATO in a year or two or five, just say it directly and clearly, or just say no,” he said in an interview with CNN on Sunday. “And the response was very clear, you’re not going to be a NATO member, but publicly, the doors will remain open.”
Instead of pushing Zelensky to declare neutrality, the US continues to arm Ukraine. When asked if the US is counseling Zelensky on the negotiations with Russia, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the US is in touch with Ukrainian officials every day. But she said the role the US can play the most “effectively” in the process is to send more weapons into the warzone.
“The role that we feel we can play most effectively is by continuing to provide a broad range of security assistance, military assistance to them as well as economic and humanitarian assistance to strengthen their hand in these negotiations,” Psaki told reporters. Last week, President Biden announced a new $800 million weapons package for Ukraine, which includes shoulder-fired anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles and armed drones.
The US is also leading a Western sanctions campaign against Russia that Psaki and Price said helps Ukraine’s leverage in the talks with Russia. Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia stopping its invasion wouldn’t be enough for the sanctions to be lifted. He told NPR that it would take an “irreversible” Russian troop withdrawal for Moscow to receive sanctions relief.
Ukrainian and Russian officials have been holding intense negotiations via video link, which continued on Monday. Zelensky and other officials have made it clear that they are willing to discuss neutrality, although they do want security guarantees from the West.
When it comes to Russia’s other demands, the Ukrainians are more stubborn. Russia wants Ukraine to recognize Crimea as Russian and recognize the independence of the Donbas republics. An aide to Zelensky told Politico on Monday that a deal on neutrality would be “easy,” but any talk of Ukraine giving up territory is “not going to go anywhere.”