John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, said Sunday that the US will not push Ukraine to reach a negotiated settlement with Russia even if the Biden administration thinks it’s the right thing to do.
Kirby, who recently joined the NSC after serving as the Pentagon’s spokesman, said that the US will continue to support Ukraine in its war and that it’s up to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky if and when to pursue negotiations with Moscow.
“[Zelensky] gets to determine how victory is decided and when and on what terms. And [what] we’re going to do is continue to make sure that can succeed on the battlefield so that he can succeed at the table. But even President Zelensky will tell you that the time is not now for those discussions,” Kirby said in an interview with Fox News.
Kirby’s comments came after CNN reported that White House officials privately doubt that Ukraine can retake all the territory Russia has captured since it invaded on February 24. Zelensky has maintained that his goal is to drive Russia out of those areas, but the report said US officials are debating if they should push Zelensky to change his goals as Russia continues to make gains in the east.
While Kirby said it’s up to Zelensky whether or not Ukraine will negotiate, the West had pressed him to stop talking to Russia earlier in the war. According to a report from Ukrainska Pravda citing sources close to Zelensky, Johnson told the Ukrainian leader during his visit to Kyiv on April 1 that Russian President Vladimir Putin should be pressured, not negotiated with.
The report said that Johnson told Zelensky that “even if Ukraine is ready to sign some agreements on guarantees with Putin,” Kyiv’s NATO backers are not ready. The report said Johnson’s position was that of the “collective West,” which felt at the time that Putin was not as strong as they initially thought and saw the war as an opportunity to “press him.”
The exact details of the Ukrainska Pravda report haven’t been confirmed, but Johnson later told French President Emmanuel Macron that he “urged” the Ukrainians not to negotiate with Russia. Earlier peace talks between the warring sides that, according to Russia, showed some promise have since stalled.
The Biden administration has shown no interest in pushing for peace talks to end the fighting and has continued to dump billions of dollars worth of weapons into the war zone. The administration has also abandoned diplomacy with Moscow altogether. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hasn’t spoken with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, since February 15.