US and European officials are finally broaching the possibility of peace talks with Russia in conversations with the Ukrainian government, NBC News reported on Friday.
The position marks a notable shift in US policy toward the war as the US and its closest allies have discouraged the idea of peace talks since Russia invaded in February 2022. Before the invasion, the US refused to engage with Russia on its key security concern: the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO.
The NBC report, which cited unnamed US officials, said the conversations “have included very broad outlines of what Ukraine might need to give up to reach a deal.” Some of the talks took place last month at a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a grouping that’s held meetings since the Russian invasion and includes military representatives from about 50 countries.
The talks about negotiations with Russia started due to Western concerns about the situation on the battlefield and the fact that it’s becoming more difficult to keep funding the war.
Recent reports have revealed that Ukrainian officials don’t believe they can win the war, except for President Volodymyr Zelensky. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Gen. Valery Zaluzhny described the war as a “stalemate” in comments to The Economist and said there will likely be no “beautiful breakthrough.”
A close aide to Zelensky told Time Magazine that Zelensky was “deluding himself” into believing Ukraine could win, adding, “We’re out of options. We’re not winning. But try telling him that.”
The Time report also quoted a Ukrainian official who said even if the West provides all the weapons Ukraine needs, they don’t have the soldiers to use them. A source told NBC that one of the Biden administration’s top concerns is the lack of “manpower,” saying that the West could provide Ukraine with the weaponry, “but if they don’t have competent forces to use them, it doesn’t do a lot of good.”
The Biden administration has failed so far to get new funding to continue the proxy war. The Pentagon has about $5 billion left made available by an “accounting error” to ship weapons, but other types of aid have dried up. The administration wants another $61 billion to fund the war for another entire year, but Republicans are prioritizing military aid to Israel.
The NBC report said the administration has no indication that Russia is ready to negotiate at this point as time is on Russia’s side, and President Vladimir Putin believes he can “wait out the West.” One idea being floated by US officials to incentivize Ukraine into negotiating is NATO offering security guarantees short of membership, but that would be a non-starter for Russia as one of its main motives for invading was Ukraine’s alignment with the alliance.
Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine only happened in the early days of the war, in March 2022 and April 2022. At the time, Russia’s main demand was Ukrainian neutrality. But since then, Russia has annexed the territory it controls in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk, and now says any peace deal must recognize those territories as Russian.
The US and its allies discouraged the 2022 peace talks, and there is significant evidence they worked to block a deal. According to Ukrainska Pravda, then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Zelensky in April 2022 that even if Ukraine was ready to sign a deal with Russia, the West was not.
Former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder recently said that he was playing a mediating role in some of the 2022 peace talks and that he believed no deal was reached because of the US. “My impression: Nothing could happen because everything else was decided in Washington,” he said. “The Ukrainians did not agree to peace because they were not allowed to. They first had to ask the Americans about everything they discussed.”