Some US and Western officials believe this winter will provide an opportunity for diplomacy between Russia and Ukraine as they don’t think either side can fully achieve their goals in the war, NBC News reported on Wednesday, citing anonymous sources.
“In the winter everything slows down,” one Western official said. “The potential for talks, we would like to see that happening.” The report said Western military officials don’t believe that Ukraine can drive Russia out of all the territory it has captured.
Also on Wednesday, Russia announced that it was pulling out of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson. US and Western officials told NBC that if Ukraine retakes Kherson, it could put the government of Volodymyr Zelensky in a “better position to negotiate.”
The Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported this week that the US and NATO might think peace talks are possible if Ukraine retakes Kherson. The paper said the Western powers are considering diplomacy due to the threat of tactical nuclear weapons being used and the fact that if Russia is defeated in Ukraine, it may become closer to China.
The officials also told NBC that Russia losing Kherson could make Vladimir Putin’s government less likely to talk, but Moscow reaffirmed on Wednesday that it’s open to negotiations. “We are ready to negotiate, of course, taking into account the realities that are emerging at the moment,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
Throughout the war, the US has maintained that it won’t push Ukraine to the negotiating table. The US and its allies also discouraged peace talks with Russia when a deal was within reach after in-person negotiations between Ukraine and Russia were held in Istanbul at the end of March.
Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson traveled to Kyiv after the Istanbul talks and urged Ukraine not to negotiate with Russia, and the negotiations ultimately failed. But now, there does appear to be a shift in the Western approach, with the US at least exploring the idea of diplomacy.
A Ukrainian official told NBC that when National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan visited Kyiv last week, he broached the idea of when the conflict will end with Zelensky and whether it could include a diplomatic solution. The report said Sullivan didn’t want to pressure Ukraine to negotiate but said Kyiv should change its stance on negotiations to maintain support from its Western backers.
President Biden on Wednesday reiterated the administration’s public stance that it’s up to Ukraine when to negotiate with Russia. “Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,” he told reporters.
Zelensky recently signed a decree ruling out peace talks with Russia as long as Putin is president but appeared to drop that demand this week after the suggestion from Sullivan. Zelensky said he was open to talks with Russia, but he maintained conditions that are non-starters for negotiations, including a full Russian withdrawal and Moscow paying for war damages.
While diplomacy is being discussed, the US and NATO are also making preparations to support Ukraine in its war for years to come, and Russia has been reinforcing its positions after mobilizing 300,000 fresh troops, signaling an offensive may be coming. According to NBC, Congress is planning to pass a fresh aid package for Ukraine worth somewhere between $40 billion and $60 billion.