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To negotiate or not to negotiate with Putin? The dilemma in the West over Ukraine after the Russian withdrawal from Kherson | International | The USA Print

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Ukrainian flags are already flying in Kherson, troops from kyiv have entered the area and, although the situation in the city is still not safe and living conditions are difficult, its population continues to celebrate. Russian troops have withdrawn to the eastern bank of the Dnieper River. The resounding defeat of President Vladimir Putin’s forces for maintaining control of this town, which Moscow had declared part of its territory, represents one of Russia’s greatest setbacks in the war. And it has reopened the debate in the West about when a peace negotiation should come.

Despite the “strategic failure” – as British Foreign Secretary Ben Wallace has described it – of the Russian army in Kherson, the only initial objective in the invasion that Moscow had managed to take, the Kremlin remains firm in its positions. The territory continues to be “a subject of the Russian Federation”, stressed Putin’s spokesman, Dimitri Peskov. “Nothing has changed”.

Ukraine, for its part, wishes to continue the offensive that it has sustained with continuous success for two months. “We are on the right track to win the battles on the ground. But the war continues”, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba declared this Saturday after a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Cambodia.

Having recaptured thousands of miles of Russian-occupied territory, kyiv reckons it still has a lot to gain. And for months he has closed himself to a negotiation with his aggressor, at least while Putin continues in power. In October, after the referendums on the Russian annexation of four Ukrainian provinces —including Kherson—, a decree by President Volodímir Zelenski prohibited any contact with the current tenant of the Kremlin.

The US administration of President Joe Biden shares kyiv’s analysis: this is not the time to seek dialogue with Moscow. Ukraine can still make military gains and increase its advantage in a future negotiation. While, as Peskov’s statements indicate, the Kremlin shows no signs of being willing to compromise on anything. “Insisting on annexation is not exactly a sign of seriousness for negotiations. As long as Russia maintains the position that it can simply seize as much territory as it wants by force, it is hard to see them as a bona fide negotiating partner,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said over the weekend.

Internal debate in Washington

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But in Washington there is an internal debate about how to proceed. The head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, defends the convenience of a diplomatic solution to take advantage of Ukraine’s achievements on the ground and the arrival of a winter that will mark a natural break on the battlefield. “We must mutually recognize that military victory is probably, in the true sense of the word, unattainable by military means. So other options have to be taken,” he declared at a conference in New York. “When there is an opportunity to negotiate, to achieve peace, you have to take advantage of it.”

Some US officials agree to explore the avenues of a possible diplomatic avenue. The consensus has always been that the war will have to be settled sooner or later at a negotiating table, and the Biden Administration wants to be ready for when that time comes. And he encourages Zelensky to be more open to resuming the path of talks, closed since a tepid attempt in the first weeks of war. The most recent diplomatic contacts, including a trip by Sullivan to kyiv last week, have been intense.

Ukrainians from Kherson, who fled to Odessa due to the conflict, celebrate in this city the advances of kyiv in their region.
Ukrainians from Kherson, who fled to Odessa due to the conflict, celebrate in this city the advances of kyiv in their region. STR (EFE)

Washington is concerned about some “donor fatigue” among some allies that could worsen during the winter, when the cold will test energy supplies in Europe. Other countries such as India or Brazil have been reluctant to side with the Ukraine, either because of the importance of their relations with Russia or because they attribute part of the responsibility for the war to kyiv.

The Biden Administration also needs to reassert its domestic supporters. Last month, a group of progressive lawmakers sent, and retracted, a letter to the White House calling for more support for the diplomatic track with Russia. A survey published by The Wall Street Journal at the beginning of November it indicated that 48% of Republican voters believe that the United States has become too involved in the war, compared to only 6% who thought so in March. Kevin McCarthy, the potential leader of the House of Representatives if the Republican majority in that institution is confirmed after the legislative elections, has promised greater control over US assistance to Ukraine.

Sources from the Ukrainian Executive acknowledge the contacts and also the conversations, but point out that they have not been “pressures”. “There has been talk of the importance of Ukraine showing the world that we do not close each and every door [a la diplomacia] as long as Russia leaves the occupied territories, ”say sources from the Zelensky government.

The Ukrainian leader, who maintains constant contacts with the governments of the EU, the United Kingdom and the United States, opened that gap for the first time on November 4 to talk in an interview with EL PAÍS, in which he did not fully rule out sitting down with Putin, as he had done until then. “If they withdraw and admit that they are terribly wrong, then we can find a format for dialogue,” he said, although he also assured that the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian territories “nullifies” any possibility of talks.

Decision in kyiv

The White House has made it clear in any case that it is not in favor of favoring any initiative from which Putin could benefit. A pause in the offensive would give Russian troops room to reorganize and receive reinforcements. Nor does Washington want to give the impression that it is imposing its views on Ukraine. It should be kyiv, top US officials insist, who decides if and when it wants to negotiate. In a press conference on Wednesday, Biden himself insisted on the possibility of a dialogue in which “that will depend on the Ukrainians. Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.”

Washington reiterates its mantra: that it will support Ukraine with whatever it needs “for as long as it takes.” His contribution already amounts to 18,000 million dollars since the invasion began and is the largest since the end of the Cold War. This week it announced an additional $400 million, which will go towards ammunition, winter equipment, vehicles and, for the first time, Avenger air defense systems.

In Russia, some circles close to the Kremlin interpret the withdrawal from Kherson — a political decision, not a military one, made by Putin, who has so far refused to do so — as a small sign that Moscow could eventually open up in the not-so-distant future. to a negotiation. But although the Russian propaganda apparatus has prepared public opinion for days to withdraw from that city, there are no signs that it is doing so for a negotiation. There are also no signs that the Kremlin, in a hypothetical search for a way out of the war, is sowing the rhetoric that it has already achieved its objective to conclude what it still calls a “special military operation.”

Yes, there are some symptoms that leave gaps on the dialogue – although this is only to see if a dialogue can be established. Some comments made by spokesmen for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And, above all, the leaks that Sullivan has had contacts with Nikolai Patrushev, his counterpart in Moscow and Putin’s trusted person (a former KGB like him and without whom the Russian leader would not have come to power) and with the adviser to Putin’s Foreign Policy. Washington, however, assures that these contacts have not been to talk about Ukraine.

In Brussels, many voices also believe that the war will probably end at a negotiating table, but they agree with the Biden administration that this is not the right time to start thinking about it. Community sources agree with senior US officials that kyiv can still achieve strategic advantages. Both on the front and in diplomacy. And the Kremlin could take advantage of the break to resupply and regroup while waiting for the arrival of new mercenaries and mobilized to the front. Although some countries – Hungary, Cyprus, Italy – whisper that perhaps this could be the moment, others – led by the Baltics and Poland – stress that not only is it not the ideal point, but that Ukraine must decide.

With the recovery of Kherson and the settlement of Russian troops in positions on the other side of the river and trying to consolidate what has been conquered in the Donbas area, the war will enter a decisive moment. Hence, military strategy analysts point out that this is not the time to negotiate. The steps that Ukraine takes in the coming days will be key to drawing the possible lines, says a Western intelligence official. Also how to face winter. The head of the Kremlin seeks to play the patience card, inflicting suffering on the Ukrainian population with attacks on heating, electricity and water infrastructure throughout the country. The same letter of patience in which he has trusted in the face of the European Union, where he believes that support for Ukraine will end up suffering.

However, for the Russian troops the winter will also be very hard. Intelligence sources affirm that the Kremlin army is not prepared to face the low temperatures. It is not well equipped, as it has not been during the entire invasion. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian forces have received equipment and technical clothing from Western partners.

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Mark NT
Mark NT
Mark NT was born and raised in the India. He worked at a literary development company as a publisher. He is a creative website writer for teens and a good book reviewer.

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