President Joe Biden’s comments on Thursday that he was open to diplomacy with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine may have been more to signal Western solidarity and strengthen U.S. relations with France than enter into an imminent dialogue with Russia.
Biden made the remarks during an official state visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, whose decision to try to involve Putin in the talks during the course of the invasion it met with little success, other than some frustration from allies such as the United States.
National Security Agency spokesman John Kirby clarified Biden’s comments at a news conference on Friday, saying that although Biden was open to diplomacy with Putin, if Russia comes to the negotiating table with a reasonable position to end the war, that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Russia in particular has not indicated that it is serious about engaging in peace talks; in response to Biden’s comments Thursday, Putin and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov he said Russia would engage in peace talks if Ukraine complies with their list of demands, which includes recognition of territories Russia has gained in southern Ukraine.
During the nearly 10 months since Russia illegally invaded Ukraine, aligning the priorities of US and EU nations has been a key aspect of the Western response to the war, both in terms of material support for Ukraine and of sanctions to cripple the Russian economy.
It hasn’t always been easy, and Russian politicians and media seek to exploit any divisions, perceived or real, within the transatlantic partnership to indicate that not only its will to support Ukraine is faltering, but the entire Western world order. is headed for collapse.
“Russia can and does exploit these disagreements. And they will,” Donald Jensen, director for Russia and Europe at the US Institute of Peace, told Vox of the Russian media and political sphere. “They see everything. Now, sometimes they misinterpret things, sometimes they don’t understand certain things about the West very well, and I think they miscalculated and underestimated the unity of the West behind Ukraine. But they react to everything and talk about everything.
Biden’s comments point towards solidarity with the West
While Kirby clarified Biden’s comments on Thursday, they weren’t fundamentally different from previous positions Biden had held on the peace process with Ukraine.
“There is one way to end war: the rational way,” Biden said during a joint news conference with Macron. For that to happen, Putin has to withdraw from Ukraine, Biden said, “but it looks like he won’t. He is paying a very high price for refusing to do so, but he is inflicting unbelievable, unbelievable carnage on the Ukrainian civilian population – bombing day care centers, hospitals, orphanages. He’s sick what he’s doing.
This sentiment also fits in with Biden’s previous positions on war, especially in the wake of atrocities such as the Bucha and Mariupol massacres committed by Russian troops while occupying those areas.
“I am ready to talk to Mr. Putin if there is actually interest in deciding that he is looking for a way to end the war,” Biden said Thursday. “He hasn’t done it yet.” The two leaders have not spoken since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 this year. according to Reutersalthough US government officials, including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, spoke with their Russian counterparts over the next few months.
For their part, Russians conditions for negotiations I am pretty much as they were in March, when it seemed that Ukraine was willing to negotiate a deal on Russian terms. However, Russia has since lost significant territory and battlefield leverage as Ukraine has successfully retaken parts of Kharkiv Oblast and Kherson.
Perhaps the most surprising development has been Macron’s statement that he would not support negotiations on conditions unacceptable to Ukraine. Macronwho kept an open line of communication with Putin throughout the war, received backlash from NATO allies in Eastern Europe over the summer for his comments that Russia “should not be humiliated” during the process of seeking the peace.
This time, Jensen said, Macron’s message has changed. “France has always wanted to have its own foreign policy profile,” he said, “but frankly a lot of people think [Macron] he has been humiliated by Putin and thus has come to a position closer to the United States, even as he wants to play his role in global politics.”
In response to the question of whether Macron and Biden had talked about pushing Ukraine to negotiate an end to the war, given the strain energy prices are expected to place on European households this winter, Macron reiterated the solidarity of nations against the Russian invasion and underlined his country’s increased military, economic and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Perhaps more importantly, Macron made it clear that “we will never urge Ukrainians to make a compromise that is not acceptable to them.” Furthermore, “if we want a sustainable peace, we must respect the Ukrainians to decide the moment and the conditions in which they will negotiate on their territory and on their future”.
The show of solidarity with Ukraine was important, according to him Nicholas Lokker, a research assistant in the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, as the United States and France are working through disagreements over clean energy provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act.
“I think there have been some concerns about the degree to which this dispute could impact the broader relationship, and potentially even cooperation on things like responding to the war in Ukraine,” he said. “This is a real issue, but at the same time it’s not directly related to the response to war and I think there’s an acknowledgment that you can have individual disputes about particular policies that don’t necessarily have to compromise the whole relationship.”
Keeping a channel open with Russia is important, but don’t expect peace talks anytime soon
Despite Biden’s openness to talks with Putin, the pundits Vox spoke to agreed that Russia hasn’t taken any serious steps toward good-faith negotiations, and Biden himself said he didn’t expect to speak anytime soon. with Putin.
“The Russian position hasn’t evolved at all, except in a more demanding way,” Steven Pifer, a former US ambassador to Ukraine and a fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Vox. “Although Russia has been losing on the battlefield since August, it implicitly increased its claims in September when it said it had annexed Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts, even though it didn’t control all of those territories. So there is no indication that I have seen the Russians ready to moderate their stance.”
Faced with those battlefield disasters, Russia has more and more targeted civilian infrastructurekilling civilians, damaging roads and destroying civilian energy structures, leaving large swathes of the population in places like Kyiv, Odessa and Kherson without electricity, heat or running water. The ongoing attacks, which Russia says are aimed at keeping foreign weapons out of Ukraine, were described by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as war crimes, the Wall Street Journal Thursday reported.
However, some members of the transatlantic alliance have kept the phone lines open with the Kremlin, if only to admonish Putin, as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz did on Friday. During the call, second a chirp from the German mission to the United States, “Scholz condemned Russia’s airstrikes on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and underlined Germany’s determination to support Ukraine against Russian aggression. He urged Putin to withdraw his troops ”.
Chancellor Scholz had a phone call with President Putin. Scholz condemned Russia’s airstrikes on civilian infrastructure in #Ukraine and underlined Germany’s determination to support Ukraine against Russian aggression. He urged Putin to withdraw his troops. pic.twitter.com/T4vuakfMAb
— German Embassy (@GermanyinUSA) December 2, 2022
Even if these lines of communication don’t equate to negotiations over a Russian invasion of Ukraine, they are still critical to mitigating battlefield misunderstandings and miscalculations, Pifer said. “There are those leads that are, perhaps, useful for messaging about, ‘Look, we want to cut things down, we don’t want to escalate.’ I think it’s important to avoid miscalculations,” particularly in a battlefield context where Russia finds itself threatened to use nuclear weaponsas did Putin earlier this year.
But even with lines of communication open, there are serious problems that Russia and the transatlantic alliance desperately need to address and which, Jensen said, Russia is now trying to use as leverage. Scheduled talks on the new strategic arms reduction treaty (A new start) on the sidelines of the COP27 conference in Cairo last week, they were cancelled when Russia has attempted to tie negotiations with Ukraine.
The lack of movement on these sorts of issues, Jensen said, is a good indicator of where US-Russia relations stand. “This is really more indicative of where we are now than something Biden said.”
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images
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