U.S. and European officials have begun low-key talks with the Ukrainian government about what potential peace talks with Russia to end the war might include, according to one current and one former senior U.S. official familiar with the discussions, NBC News reported.
The talks included very broad outlines of what Ukraine could give up to reach a deal, the officials said. Some of the talks, which officials described as sensitive, took place last month during a meeting of representatives of more than 50 countries supporting Ukraine, including NATO members, known as the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, officials said.
The discussions are a recognition of the dynamics in military terms on the front in Ukraine and in political terms in the US and Europe.
The talks have come amid concerns by US and European officials that the war has reached a stalemate, as well as the possibility of continuing aid to Ukraine. Biden administration officials are also concerned that Ukraine does not have enough forces, while Russia has a seemingly endless supply, the sources said. Ukraine is also struggling to recruit soldiers and has recently seen public protests against some of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s demands for indefinite military service.
The US government is troubled by the fact that the war in Ukraine is attracting far less public attention than the war between Israel and Hamas that began nearly a month ago, officials say. Officials fear this change could make it more difficult to secure additional aid for Kyiv.
Some US military officials have taken to talking about a “stalemate” to describe the current battle in Ukraine, which some say could come down to which side will be able to sustain military forces longer. Neither side is making major gains on the battlefield, which some US officials are already describing as a “war of inches”. Officials also believe Ukraine likely only has until the end of the year or shortly thereafter before more active discussions on peace talks begin. US officials have shared their views on such a schedule with their European allies, the TV sources said.
“Any decision to negotiate depends on Ukraine,” National Security Council spokesman Adrian Watson said in a statement. “We are focused on continuing to provide strong support to Ukraine as it defends its freedom and independence against Russian aggression.”
The administration representative also noted that the U.S. has participated with Ukraine in discussing the peace summit framework, but said the White House is “not aware of any other talks with Ukraine about negotiations at this time.”
President Joe Biden has focused intensely on Ukraine’s dwindling military forces, according to two people familiar with the matter. “Manpower and funds are the primary concern of the administration right now,” said one of them. The U.S. and its allies can provide Ukraine with weapons, he says, “but if they don’t have competent contractors to use them, it doesn’t do much good.”
Biden has asked Congress to approve additional funding for Ukraine, but efforts have so far stalled due to opposition from some Republicans in Congress. In its latest request, the White House tied aid to Ukraine and Israel. That found support among some Republicans in Congress, but other GOP lawmakers said they would only vote for an Israel-only aid package.
Before the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, White House officials publicly expressed confidence that additional funding for Ukraine would be approved by Congress before the end of this year, while acknowledging concerns about how difficult that might be.
Biden has been assuring US allies that Congress will approve more aid to Ukraine and has planned a major speech on the issue. After Hamas terrorists attacked Israel on October 7, the president focused on the Middle East, and his speech on Ukraine turned into an Oval Office address on why the US should financially support Ukraine and Israel.
Is Putin ready to negotiate?
The Biden administration has no indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin is willing to negotiate with Ukraine, two U.S. officials say. According to Western officials, Putin still believes he can “wait out the West” or continue the war until the United States and its allies lose domestic support for funding Ukraine or the struggle to supply Kiev with weapons and ammunition becomes too expensive, the officials said.
Both Ukraine and Russia are struggling to keep up with military supplies. According to a Western official, Russia has ramped up production of artillery shells and could be able to produce 2 million shells a year in the next few years. But Russia fired about 10 million projectiles into Ukraine last year, the official said, so it will have to rely on other countries as well.
According to the Pentagon, the Biden administration has spent $43.9 billion on security assistance in Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022. A U.S. official says the administration has about $5 billion more to send to Ukraine. before the money runs out. The funds would have run out if the administration hadn’t said it had discovered a $6.2 billion accounting error from months of overstating equipment sent to Kiev, NBC recalled.
Public support is waning
Progress on the Ukrainian counteroffensive has been very slow, and hope that Ukraine will achieve a significant turnaround, including reaching the coast near Russia’s front line, is fading. The lack of progress on the battlefield in Ukraine is not helping efforts to reverse declining public support for sending more aid, the sources said.
A Gallup poll released this week showed declining support for sending more aid to Ukraine, with 41 percent of Americans saying the U.S. is doing too much to help Kiev. That’s a significant change from three months ago, when 24 percent of Americans held that view. The poll also found that 33 percent of Americans think the U.S. is doing enough for Ukraine, while 25 percent say the U.S. is not doing enough.
Public attitudes towards providing aid to Ukraine are beginning to change in Europe as well.
As an incentive for Zelensky to consider talks, NATO could offer Kiev some security guarantees even without Ukraine officially becoming part of the alliance, officials said. In this way, they argued, Ukrainians could be sure that Russia would be deterred from invading again.
In August, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters: “We do not appreciate that the conflict is at a stalemate.” Instead, Sullivan said, Ukraine is taking territory on a “methodical, systematic basis.” But one Western official acknowledged that there hasn’t been much movement on either side for some time, and as the cold weather approaches, it will be difficult for Ukraine or Russia to break that pattern. The official says it won’t be impossible, but it will be difficult.
U.S. officials also believe Russia will again try to hit critical infrastructure in Ukraine this winter, trying to force some civilians to endure the cold winter without heat and electricity.
Administration officials expect Ukraine to ask for more time to fight on the battlefield, especially with new, heavier weaponry, “but there’s a growing sense that it’s too late and it’s time for a deal,” the former senior U.S. official said. the administration.