Senior US officials have urged Ukraine in recent weeks to signal its openness to diplomatic talks with Russia, amid concerns that public support for the country’s war effort sees no end to the conflict and an unwillingness to begin peace. interviews, sources familiar with the discussions told CNN.
The discussions are not about pushing the Ukrainians to negotiate now, but rather the US wants to convey more clearly to Kyiv that it wants to find a solution to the conflict and that Ukraine has the moral high ground, the sources said.
Officials including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan began pressuring the Ukrainians to change their rhetoric after Ukrainian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree in early October ruling out any negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This decree was a response to Russia’s annexation of the eastern territories of Ukraine.
“We are ready for dialogue with Russia, but with another Russian president,” Zelensky said last month.
Sullivan discussed the issue directly with Zelensky during a trip to Kiev last week, the sources said. He expressed the US view that categorically rejecting any talks with Putin plays into the Russian leader’s hand by feeding the Kremlin’s narrative that Ukrainians refuse to talk.
On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said Russia is “open” to negotiations with Ukraine but “at the moment we don’t see that possibility, because Kiev became law. [their decision] not to continue any negotiations.”
The Washington Post first reported that the US is asking Ukraine to be open to talks.
Ukraine’s advice also comes ahead of what could be a tough winter for Europe, which is facing rising energy costs linked to Russia’s invasion and has warned of possible blackouts and gas rationing as a result of energy cuts.
“I don’t think they are naive that now is the time to have conversations. Talking more about the talks,” a Western official told CNN, referring to the White House. “They recognize that there is no clear signal from the Russians that they are open to serious negotiations.”
“You can agree on everything in principle, but the devil is in the details,” the official added.
Back in the US, Republicans have also begun to signal that they may be willing to help Ukraine financially and militarily if the GOP regains control of the House of Representatives.
“I think there needs to be accountability going forward,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told CNN. “You always need, not a blank check, but make sure the resources go where they are needed. And make sure that the Congress, and the Senate, have the ability to debate openly.”
Sullivan has also spoken with Russian officials, including his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev and Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov, about toning down the Kremlin’s rhetoric about the war, the sources said, and about the consequences that could lead Russia to use nuclear weapons.
Zelensky has repeatedly said during the last eight months of the war that Ukraine is ready for diplomatic talks with the Russians, and the US understands why it would not want to sit down with the man who is bombing his country every day. US officials have therefore not tried to push Ukraine to the negotiating table, the sources said, mainly because it is clear that Russia has also shown no willingness to negotiate.
Instead, the U.S.’s most immediate goal has been to try to change Ukraine’s messaging strategy, the sources added, so that the country can maintain its international coalition of financial and military support for as long as needed.
“The United States will stand with Ukraine in this fight as long as it takes,” Sullivan said last week in Kiev. “As we move forward there will be no hiding, no flags, no flinching in our support.”
After Sullivan left Kiev, Zelensky said in his nightly remarks: “We are ready for peace, a fair and just peace, the formula of which we have expressed many times. The world knows our position. This is respect for the UN Charter, respect for our territorial integrity, respect for our people and responsibility for terror; this is the punishment for all the guilty and the full compensation for Russia is compensation for Russia.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price said any diplomatic solution would have to be worked out by Ukraine and Russia and declined to comment on what the negotiations might look like. But when asked if there could be a diplomatic solution without regime change in Russia, Price said that regime change is not the goal of the US, nor of the Ukrainians.
The debate also comes as some U.S. officials question the ability of Ukraine’s armed forces to completely remove Russia from all occupied territory in Ukraine — a concern the U.S. has kept private for months.
Zelensky has stated that Kiev’s goal is to liberate all of Ukraine, including Crimea, and the Ukrainian military has repeatedly exceeded most Western expectations. But Russia has been preparing defensive lines designed to slow Ukraine’s advances, and Ukraine’s counteroffensives in the east and south are still relatively small compared to the size of the occupied territories, although they have retaken thousands of square kilometers.
The rapidity of the initial advances has given way to a slower and more brutal battle, with less and less movement on the front lines each week. And with winter fast approaching, one defense official says the battlefield will be more static and more dynamic. This could create a window for diplomacy, as a military victory for Russia or Ukraine becomes highly unlikely.
The outcome of the fighting around Kherson in southern Ukraine could be clear in the next two to three weeks, the official added.
This is not the first time that the US and Ukraine have disagreed over messages about the war. US officials have urged Ukrainian officials, including Zelensky, to appear outwardly grateful for the help they have received from the West.
In a phone call with US President Joe Biden in June to discuss another $1 billion aid package for Ukraine, Zelensky listed additional equipment and weapons that Ukraine still needed; He is already doing everything he can to help the country, a source familiar with the conversation said.
As CNN previously reported, tensions also ran high between Zelensky and Biden administration officials in the weeks leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, amid disagreements over how to interpret US intelligence assessments and publicly communicate that Russia might be preparing a large-scale attack. Ukraine