Western officials are starting to broach the idea of peace talks with Russia as the situation on the ground in Ukraine has devolved into a stalemate, according to a major new report from NBC News.
American and European diplomats reportedly used a recent round of talks in Malta to encourage Ukraine to consider what concessions it may be willing to make — a significant shift from the public messaging around the summit, which was largely framed as an opportunity to build support for Ukraine’s maximalist peace plan.
Officials are now privately referring to the situation on the ground as a stalemate, and some “have privately said Ukraine likely only has until the end of the year or shortly thereafter before more urgent discussions about peace negotiations should begin,” the report notes.
A State Department spokesperson denied NBC’s reporting on Tuesday, reiterating the administration line that “nothing should happen about Ukraine without Ukraine” and saying that the U.S. is “not aware of any conversations with Ukraine about negotiations outside of the peace formula structure that you’ve already seen a number of engagements take place on.”
The news comes at a difficult time for Ukraine as the world’s attention has largely turned toward Israel and Palestine, where weeks of intense fighting has left Gaza in a humanitarian disaster. The West’s differing reactions to the two conflicts have further complicated efforts to bolster Global South support for Ukraine.
In the United States, President Joe Biden is now attempting to link $14.3 billion in aid for Israel to an additional $61.4 billion in funding for Ukraine, a move that House Republicans have so far rejected. The chances that there will be a gap in American funding for Kyiv have continued to grow as a potential government shutdown looms later this month.
And in Europe, many leaders have begun to move away from full-throated support for Ukraine given the stalling efforts on the battlefield and the economic impact on the continent. Even Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who has staked out a distinctly pro-Ukraine stance since taking office earlier this year, told Russian pranksters posing as African Union officials that “there is a lot of fatigue” in Europe due to the war.
“We [are] near the moment in which everybody understands that we need a way out,” Meloni added.
None of this guarantees that Russia is prepared for talks. Some experts argue that Russian President Vladimir Putin sees a chance to wait Ukraine and the West out through a war of attrition, a serious possibility given the extent of Ukrainian losses (the average age of a Ukrainian soldier is now reportedly 43 years old) and the relatively low appetite for future funding among Republicans in the U.S.
In fact, Russia appears to have already leaned into this approach with its renewed bombing campaign against Ukrainian energy infrastructure, a move that could cause blackouts across Ukraine during its often brutal winter.
If Russian President Vladimir Putin does end up pursuing his advantage, Ukraine’s strongest boosters may be kicking themselves for ignoring the advice of more skeptical voices, including former Joint Chiefs head Mark Milley, who said late last year that the winter could provide “a window of opportunity for negotiation.”
“There has to be a mutual recognition that a military victory is probably, in the true sense of the word is maybe not achievable through military means, and therefore you need to turn to other means,” Milley said.
As Branko Marcetic recently argued in Compact, the consequences of ignoring Milley’s advice may be severe.
“[J]ust as pro-peace voices had warned, Ukraine is now looking at the worst of both worlds: accepting a far inferior peace deal, while having weathered the tremendous human and economic costs of a prolonged conflict,” Marcetic wrote. “Most perversely, [Kyiv] has been put into this position by those who postured as its most ardent supporters, the hawks who thought of the war as a way of humiliating Russia on the cheap.”
In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:
— The European Union executive recommended Wednesday that Ukraine start formal talks to join the bloc as soon as next year if it completes the necessary reforms for membership, marking one step closer to Kyiv joining the EU, according to Reuters. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the move a “historic step,” though it does not completely clear the way for Kyiv, which will still have to convince holdouts in Hungary and now potentially Slovakia that Ukraine should be permitted to join the EU.
— The foreign ministers of the Group of 7 (G7) reaffirmed their “steadfast commitment to supporting Ukraine’s fight for its independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity” following a series of meetings in Japan on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Al Jazeera. The group, which was keen to swat down the argument that events in Gaza have pulled their attention away from the war in Ukraine, also held a virtual discussion with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. G7 members include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.
— Russia formally withdrew Tuesday from a post-Cold War treaty limiting the deployment of conventional weapons in Europe, drawing condemnation from NATO, which will now suspend its participation in the pact, according to Reuters. Moscow, which said the decision was a result of NATO’s eastward expansion, had already stopped active participation in the treaty in 2015.
— Egypt may give military equipment to Russia after reportedly reversing a decision to sell missiles to Moscow earlier this year, according to the Wall Street Journal. After the missile deal was scuppered, the report says, Russian officials asked Egypt to give back 150 helicopter engines that it had previously sold to Cairo in exchange for forgiving some Egyptian debts and guaranteeing a continued supply of Russian wheat to the country. The report, which cites three people “with knowledge of the incident,” says that Egypt has agreed to the terms and the engine shipments could begin next month.
— On Thursday, Russia struck a civilian ship in a Black Sea port near Odessa, Ukraine, raising questions about the safety of a new shipping corridor that Kyiv put in place following Moscow’s withdrawal from the Black Sea grain deal, according to Reuters. The blast killed one crew member and injured four others. Ukraine played down the incident and said shipping traffic continues “despite Russia's systematic attacks on port infrastructure.”
U.S. State Department news:In a Tuesday press conference, State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel defended Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s decision to delay elections, arguing that Russia’s occupation of large swathes of Ukraine and its continual bombing of civilian targets would make a fair vote impossible. “We also have made clear with our Ukrainian partners our commitment to supporting not just Ukraine in its fight but our commitment to support a careful and constitutional approach to keeping democracy strong in wartime,” Patel said.
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