Russian President Vladimir Putin believes Kiev was unwilling to accept a peace deal in March because of pressure from Washington. Putin joins a growing list of sources who say the war nearly ended after a month, but Western influence prodded Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky to keep fighting.
Kremlin Spokesperson Dimitry Peskov said, “[a]t the same time, [Putin] emphasized that, well, it is obvious that such a reluctance to negotiate and a rejection of already agreed understandings occurred clearly by decree. By decree of Washington, this is quite obvious.”
In March, Turkey hosted diplomats from Ukraine and Russia for talks. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the two sides almost reached an agreement that would lead to a ceasefire and a withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. However, talks fell apart shortly after.
On April 5th, the Washington Post reported that some NATO members preferred a protracted war to weaken Russia. "That leads to an awkward reality: For some in NATO, it’s better for the Ukrainians to keep fighting, and dying, than to achieve a peace that comes too early or at too high a cost to Kyiv and the rest of Europe," the outlet reported. Later that month, while meeting with Zelensky in Kiev, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said one of Washington’s goals was "to see Russia weakened."
Commenting on the breakdown of talks, Cavusoglu blamed NATO members "who want this war to continue." "But, following the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting, it was the impression that… there are those within the NATO member states that want the war to continue, let the war continue and Russia gets weaker. They don’t care much about the situation in Ukraine," Turkey’s top diplomat added.
In May, Ukrayinska Pravda reported that then-UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson traveled to Kiev and pressured Zelensky not to accept the proposal that had been brokered by Turkey. "Johnson brought two simple messages to Kyiv. The first is that Putin is a war criminal; he should be pressured, not negotiated with. And the second is that even if Ukraine is ready to sign some agreements on guarantees with Putin, they are not," the outlet reported.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Kiev had made a proposal at the Istanbul talks that was acceptable to Moscow. "These negotiations at some point at the end of March … led to a result that gave hope to all of us, thanks to the fact that the Ukrainian side for the first time put on paper a position that suited us as a basis for work," Lavrov said.
Further confirmation that the March agreement negotiated in Istanbul nearly resulted in a Russian withdrawal comes courtesy of Washington. In Foreign Affairs, Fiona Hill wrote, "Russian and Ukrainian negotiators appeared to have tentatively agreed on the outlines of a negotiated interim settlement. Russia would withdraw to its position on February 23, when it controlled part of the Donbas region and all of Crimea, and in exchange, Ukraine would promise not to seek NATO membership and instead receive security guarantees from a number of countries."
Hill, the former Senior Director for Europe and Russia on the U.S. National Security Council, accused Russia of systematically attacking America’s democratic institutions in 2016. At Donald Trump’s first impeachment, she testified that it was Russia’s goal to weaken the US.