The Biden administration is quietly encouraging Ukraine to publicly show a willingness for negotiations with Russia in order to calm fears in some countries over the broader fallout of the grinding war, the Washington Post reported Saturday, citing officials familiar with the developments.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said repeatedly that his country won’t enter talks to end the conflict as long as Russian President Vladimir Putin remains in power.
According to the report, while Washington is not trying to persuade Ukraine to open negotiations, it hopes to preserve continued support for Kyiv from countries that fear the consequences of a lengthy war.
Officials said Washington agrees with Ukrainian officials that Putin is not serious about negotiations, but Zelensky’s ban on holding talks has worried some countries in Europe, Africa and Latin America that are feeling the impact of the war on rising food and fuel costs.
“Ukraine fatigue is a real thing for some of our partners,” one US official told the newspaper, speaking on condition of anonymity.
South Africa abstained from a recent UN vote condemning Russia’s annexation of some Ukrainian territory it holds and instead called on the global community to bring about a ceasefire and political solution. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the newly elected president of Brazil, has in the past said Zelensky is just as much to blame for the war as Putin.
Last month Zelensky turned down an offer to help with negotiations from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying he would not talk with Putin but did commit to “peaceful settlement through dialogue,” according to a statement from his office. Israel also offered to mediate between the countries shortly after the start of the Russian invasion.
In the US, rising inflation has been tied to the war, according to the report.
Polls have shown that support to continue financing Ukraine’s war effort is dropping among Republicans in Washington, and midterm elections this week could result in pushback against further aid packages that have already amounted to over $18 billion since the war started in February.
A survey published Thursday by the Wall Street Journal found that 48 percent of Republicans think the US is doing “too much” to help Ukraine, compare to just six percent in March.
Some progressive Democrats have also called for diplomacy to avert a drawn-out conflict.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan was in Kyiv on Friday, where he declared the administration intends “to ensure that the resources are there as necessary and that we’ll get votes from both sides of the aisle to make that happen.”
He also placed responsibility for ending the war with Moscow, saying “Russia could choose to end it by ceasing its attack on Ukraine, ceasing its occupation of Ukraine, and that’s precisely what it should do from our perspective.”
A spokesperson for Zelenksy did not respond to a Washington Post request for comment.
The White House National Security Council did not comment on the report, Reuters reported, while a US State Department spokesperson said: “Actions speak louder than words. If Russia is ready for negotiation, it should stop its bombs and missiles and withdraw its forces from Ukraine.
“The Kremlin continues to escalate this war,” the spokesperson said. “The Kremlin has demonstrated its unwillingness to seriously engage in negotiations since even before it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”
After Russia first invaded, Zelensky had proposed a peace plan that included Ukrainian neutrality in return for Russia handing back territory it had captured, but in the months since, Kyiv has taken a less compromising position.
When Putin annexed some occupied Ukrainian territory in September, Zelensky said he will only negotiate with a new Russian president.
And his presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak warned Friday: “Any ‘concessions’ to Putin today — a deal with the Devil. You won’t like its price.”
“If Russia wins, we will get a period of chaos: flowering of tyranny, wars, genocides, nuclear races,” he said according to the Post.
Ukrainians also point to a failed 2015 peace agreement between Ukraine and Russia.
Yet US officials said they still believe that Zelensky would back negotiations and even accept some compromise, as he was willing to do in the past. The approaching winter, which is expected to slow down military activity, could create an opportunity for talks, according to the report.