Is the US Serious About Negotiations on Ukraine?

The U.S. president’s remarks about territorial compromise could be a sea change, but is the White House serious about negotiations? asks M.K. Bhadrakumar.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivering remarks on the war in Ukraine in April. (White House, Erin Scott)

By M.K. Bhadrakumar
Peoples Dispatch

The midterm elections in the U.S. witnessed tight races and saw the Senate remain Democratic hands and House of Representatives being taken over by the Republicans.

Last Wednesday, President Joe Biden told a press conference that:

“I’m prepared to work with my Republican colleagues. The American people have made clear, I think, that they expect Republicans to be prepared to work with me as well. In the area of foreign policy, I hope we’ll continue this bipartisan approach of confronting Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.”

When asked whether U.S. military aid to Ukraine will continue uninterrupted, Biden merely replied, “That is my expectation.” He contended that the U.S. hasn’t given Ukraine “a blank check” and only equipped Kiev to have “the rational ability to defend themselves.”

Biden avoided giving a direct answer when asked whether the Russian evacuation from Kherson City would give Kiev the leverage to begin peace negotiations with Moscow. But he didn’t refute such a line of thinking, either. He said:

“ … at a minimum, it (evacuation) will lead to time for everyone to recalibrate their positions over the winter period. And it remains to be seen whether or not there’ll be a judgment made as to whether or not Ukraine is prepared to compromise with Russia.”

Biden said that on the sidelines of the two-day G20 summit at Bali that got underway on Tuesday, there might be consultations with world leaders, although Russian President Vladimir Putin himself was not going to be there.

Some sort of diplomatic messaging is going on.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, with President Vladimir Putin in 2017. (The Kremlin)

Biden took a second question on Kherson developments to say furthermore that the Russian evacuation will not only help the sides to “lick their wounds” but “decide whether — what they’re going to do over the winter, and decide whether or not they’re going to compromise.”

Notably, Biden has spoken twice about “compromise” (read territorial concessions) by Kiev, which seems to be a major shift from the U.S. stance that the Russian forces should get out of Ukraine. Biden concluded: “That’s – that’s what’s going to happen, whether or not. I don’t know what they’re going to do. And — but I do know one thing: We’re not going to tell them [the Ukrainians] what they have to do.”

[In a video address to the G-20 Summit in Bali on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “reiterated 10 conditions for ending the conflict … among them a complete withdrawal of Russian troops and full restoration of Ukrainian control of its territory,” euronews reported.] 

Taken together, Biden’s remarks are consistent with NBC News reporting last Wednesday, citing informed sources, that during National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s unannounced visit to Kiev last week, he studied Ukraine’s readiness for a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

The NBC channel reported that Sullivan was exploring options for ending the conflict and the chance of starting negotiations and raised the need for a diplomatic settlement during meetings with Ukrainian authorities.

It said some U.S. and Western officials increasingly believe that neither Kiev nor Moscow can achieve all of their goals, and the winter slowdown in hostilities could provide a window of opportunity to start negotiations.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaking to reporters in August 2021. (White House/ Erin Scott)

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said, “We are still open to negotiations, we have never refused them, we are ready to conduct them – taking, of course, into account the realities being established at the moment.”

Russian authorities maintain the evacuation of their forces in Kherson stems purely out of security considerations. The onus has been put on the recommendation by Army General Sergey Surovikin, the commander of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. The general claimed in a televised speech that the evacuation from Kherson creates stronger defensive lines for the troops and will save the lives of soldiers and civilians.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s presence in Bali is of pivotal importance. Presumably, he had contacts with Western counterparts. Indeed, Biden’s remarks about territorial compromise signal a possible sea change in the calculus.

Also, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while opening a discussion with the Economic Club of New York last Wednesday about the possibility of peace between Ukraine and Russia, confirmed that there is indeed “a window of opportunity for negotiation” moving forward.

The general urged, “When there’s an opportunity to negotiate, when peace can be achieved, seize it. Seize the moment.” To be sure, he spoke with an eye on the Russian military command.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during Senate hearings in June 2021. (DoD, Chad J. McNeeley)

The White House, however, pushed back on Miley’s remarks, sending mixed messages about the possibility of a negotiated settlement of the war. The U.S. “wasn’t undercutting its goal of expelling the Russians,” according to senior Biden administration officials, Politico reported.

With the Republicans now in control of the House of Representatives, Biden may have to negotiate decisions on Ukraine with the GOP leadership, though there has been strong bi-partisan support for Ukraine until now.  

The cascading economic crisis in Europe also holds explosive potential for political turmoil, especially if there is another refugee flow from Ukraine in the harsh winter conditions.

The blowback from sanctions against Russia has lethally wounded Europe, and bluster aside, there is really no replacement for the inexpensive, reliable, abundant Russian energy supplies via pipelines.

All this is becoming hugely consequential for Western unity. The recent visit of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to China shows that dissent is brewing.

Above all, the massive Russian mobilization threatens to give a knockout blow to the Ukrainian military, but there is no appetite among Europeans for a confrontation with Russia.

The U.K., Washington’s steadfast ally in Ukraine, also is under immense pressure to disengage and concentrate on the domestic crisis as the new government tackles a funding hole of the order of £50bn in the budget.

The notions of regime change in Moscow that Biden had once espoused publicly and the neocon project to “cancel” Russia has hit a wall and crumpled.

That said, the U.S. can draw comfort that the Russian pullout from the west of Dnieper implies that Moscow is not intending to make any move on Nikolaev, let alone Odessa — at least, in the near term.

On the other hand, if the Ukrainian forces surge and occupy Kherson and threaten Crimea, it will pose a big challenge for the Biden administration. 

For now, it is premature to estimate that Moscow only took the bitter decision to abandon Kherson City, which was founded by a decree of Catherine the Great and is etched deeply in the Russian collective consciousness, with a reasonable certainty that Washington will restrain Kiev from “hot pursuit” of the retreating Russian army to the eastern banks of the Dnieper river. Russia denied reports on Tuesday that such a Ukrainian attack on the east bank had taken place.

M.K. Bhadrakumar served for more than 29 years as an Indian Foreign Service officer with postings including India’s ambassador to Turkey and Uzbekistan.

This an updated article from Peoples Dispatch.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

16 comments for “Is the US Serious About Negotiations on Ukraine?

  1. robert e williamson jr
    November 17, 2022 at 12:10

    Actions speak much louder than words. One does not have to investigate to deeply to see cracks in the credibility of the U.S. Government in recent history.

    When one individual makes the unilateral decision to terminate what have been accepted as biding treaties and agreements. This has happened more than once and by more than one president. Inevitably that particular individual entity’s credibility is sure to suffer and a government that doesn’t address this behavior losses credibility. Not a good look for the so called leader of the free world.

    Someone explain to me why, after the last thirty five or forty years, other countries might have become reluctant to merrily join in with the U.S. Government policies when the credibility of Washington’s word has become suspect.

    Big money is all about big money making even more big money. A government running on greed soon becomes a danger to itself and others. Look around!

    I would assume by now, considering the most recent conduct of the U.S. Government, everyone who has a stake in world peace might respond much more aggressively to concrete actions to bring peace to the planet instead of war.

    Maybe D.C. would get the drift of what I’m saying here if their continued war mongering cost them and the establishment something other than bullshit pole ratings.

    As far as I can tell President Joe Biden has “way” overplayed his hand with the using US military might and he damned well needs to reconsider what he has accomplished so far.

    I mean, ” serious about negotiations on Ukraine”? Biden needs to rejoin the real world and get out of that Foreign Policy Poker game where every0ne is cheating. His poker playing is killing the country.

    Once again I feel I’ve failed at resisting to state the obvious.

    Thanks CN

  2. Bill Legge
    November 17, 2022 at 01:40

    When a (neo-)colonising empire can no longer expand, it must decline. When it must recruit barbarians from across the border to fight its battles, it announces its own weakness. When its ability to unequivocally impose its will upon its provinces fails, it faces disintegration.

  3. WillD
    November 16, 2022 at 21:32

    How can anyone possibly believe that the US is serious about negotiations when it has repeatedly said it is aiming for a) Moscow regime change, and b) a break up of Russia into smaller pieces? This has been its goal for a long time – and it hasn’t made much of an effort to hide the fact.

    All of the statements, posturing and so-called diplomacy is meant for show – to convince a war-weary public that their overlords aren’t as aggressive as they seem. But the US and its European allies have run out of weapons to send Ukraine, so with Russia’s mobilisation soon to dramatically change the direction and pace of the conflict, the US may be seeking a ‘pause’ of some sort while it tries to find other ways to cripple Russia.

    There are no ‘good’ intentions from the US here. None. It is a ruthless and aggressive power , not known for its willingness to save lives and seek peace. It is known for the opposite, its willingness to sacrifice the lives of its proxies regardless of the cost an suffering.

    Biden rarely ever tells the truth, and clearly has limited real power. His regime’s neocons appear to dominate. These negotiations, if they are even that, are a sham in my view. Not real, and certainly not sincere.

  4. Lou Cassivi
    November 16, 2022 at 16:09

    Let’s just hope Putin and Russia remember history and ignore all that American horseshit about “negotiations,” “compromises,” “conditions”, “concessions” and simply finish their goal: annhilate Ukraine’s military and nazis.

  5. Hernonymous
    November 16, 2022 at 14:51

    You forgot to mention that the decree signed by Catherine the Great was after they had annexed the territory. That last bit of information is pretty important given the context of the conflict.

  6. Joe Dragnet
    November 16, 2022 at 13:02

    Recent news is about the Biden-Xi meeting. But, one must ask the question of whether anything Joe Biden says is worth the hot air it floats in.

    First, one must wait for the un-elected handlers to emerge from the White House and tell us all what the name on the ballot actually meant to say. What the elected official actually says is frequently contradicted by the unelected officials.

    Then of course, even if Joe is not corrected by his handlers, is he lying?

    For example, there was a Biden-Xi video meeting a few months back. During it, Biden promised to respect the Nixon-Kissinger One China formula, and said he did not want confrontation with China. A week later he was sending an aircraft carrier to back up Nasty Nancy’s trip, in violation of the Nixon-Kiss One China agreement, which all appeared to be a major confrontation and provocation of China.

    Which leads to the question, why would anyone listen to, or try to hold a conversation with Joe Biden? What’s the point?

    World powers used to be very cautious with their ‘credibility’, and hired respected diplomats to maintain it. American arrogance has led these fools to throwing credibility into the trash can. In their arrogance, they don’t think they’ll ever need it for negotiations to end their defeat in a war.

  7. Vera Gottlieb
    November 16, 2022 at 09:14

    Not even with a 10 ft pole would I trust the Yanx. Too many years with too many lies.

  8. peter mcloughlin
    November 16, 2022 at 08:58

    What cannot be compromised on is the need to avoid world war. History strongly signals that will happen – the conflict everyone wants to prevent.
    A free ebook: The Pattern Of History and Fate of Humanity

    • Joe Dragnet
      November 16, 2022 at 14:16

      “the conflict everyone wants to prevent.”

      Not everyone.
      Joe Biden does not. The rest of the ‘American government’ does not. Both have been constantly escalating the conflict. I know the difference between escalation and de-escalation, and Biden and the Americans have been constantly on the side of escalation. De-escalation is a dirty word in America in these times. Both at home and abroad.

      Not only escalation, and more weapons, death, destruction, and torture in Ukraine, but working hard to spread the world war to Iran and China. There is not anywhere in the world where the USA is not pushing for war, war and more war. Israel is bombing Syria and threatening to bomb Iran. Biden wants his Arab NATO for his Middle East front. And Nasty Nancy did not go to Taiwan, backed by Biden sending an aircraft carrier and its nuclear weapons, in search of de-escalation and peace.

      As such, anyone who just voted Democrat is also on the list of people who don’t want to prevent this Global Nuclear War. The chant of the Democrats ever since 2016 has clearly been “We want nuclear war! And we want it now!” They impeached Trump, not for his fascism, but for failing to support Ukraine strongly enough to start WW3 on schedule. And the Republicans seem to still love war, and money for weapons, just that they don’t like Biden so they kinda, sorta, vaguely are voicing some opposition. BTW, I voted write-in as best I could.

      From the 2020 Presidential election, of the voting public, Americans appear to be 99% in favor of this conflict, and only about 1% opposed. There was one antiwar candidate in the Dem primaries, and she only got about 1% of the vote. The old anti-war left in the Democratic Party is now deceased, no more, dead. Now the ‘left’ is the Pro-War Gressives sending all the money off to war and weapons and death.

      I hope I’m wrong, but those seem to be the facts about this nation. I don’t see too many “Good Americans” trying to oppose this. Even though I’m sure they’ll come out of the woodwork and claim they were always opposed, if somehow we survive. That’s something else we learned from the “Good Germans” after the last cycle of this …

      I really hope that American people will prove me wrong. But, I’m waiting, and waiting, and …

      • Hernonymous
        November 16, 2022 at 14:55

        Well placing Ukraine into a conundrum by both sides doesn’t help either. Ppl advancing the discussion of Russia being reasonable in regard to Ukraine haven’t taken the time to study Ukrainian history which has a rich history of being under the control of either Russia, Poland or the Ottoman Empire. There isn’t much love for their Russian neighbor

      • robert e williamson jr
        November 16, 2022 at 16:52

        I think this is great that you give both dimmo’s and repugniklans hell here. Great stuff.

        The American “Ship of State” is loaded to the gunwales with very wealthy Fools and it shows. You seem to clearly recognize the condition based on what you have written here. Hey, a ship of fools is a ship of fools now matter how much money they have they damned sure need to stop drilling holes in the hull of their only way out of this mess.

        Joe D. I can’s say how many shit lists I might be on and at may age I could care less. Except for the fact that monsters that work for our government might take out their angst and anger on members of my extended family. That said I think it is always a great idea to let you senator know exactly where you stand as an individual.

        I like writing to my senator or any senator for that matter, there are fewer of them which makes it more difficult for them to hide in the crowd.

        The question is how do you let these aloof %&$s *& *&^%#@!s know they are in trouble with the constituency? Gotta be careful or your drive might fill with black suburbans you know.

        Regardless I still contact senators by email, something that might work if enough folks did the same.

        These people, far too many of them have been listening to their own voices for too long and seem to be completely unaware the rest of us plainly see how much money they are making while in office.

        You could say they are not involved in public service but more like the fleecing of the public!

        Thanks CN

  9. Frank
    November 16, 2022 at 04:58

    The US appears to be attempting to prepare the American public for the defeat in Ukraine that the rest of the world sees coming and has seen coming for quite a while. I would be surprised if the Russians took any negotiations with the Americans at face value after the Minsk fiasco.

    • Jams O'Donnell
      November 16, 2022 at 14:40

      Russia would be crazy to trust anything the yanks come up with. Russia is not crazy, and recognises that the west is ‘non-agreement capable’. They will take more of the Ukraine when the ground freezes, including Odessa and the rest of the Black Sea coast. Meanwhile, the Ukraine is losing more power (and thus banking) services, men, machinery etc. every day, plus refugees going to the EU. A final collapse will also come eventually. Meanwhile, Turkey is entering the rush to join the SCO, (with Iran and Saudi Arabia), and will have to leave NATO to do so, and that will be the end of NATO

  10. Realist
    November 16, 2022 at 02:18

    Any prognostications of Russia’s intended war strategy by Washington during the coming months are inherently worthless as they are based on endless lies, propaganda and false narratives to dupe a lazy and biased American public. To learn the actual motives and strategies used by the Russian forces in what till now has been an extremely restrained and limited police action rather than a full-blown war, one would be better off listening to actual Russian sources at RT, or Sputnik News, or unbiased American analysts, such as Major Scott Ritter or Colonel Douglas Macgregor, or the Russian analysts Andrei Raevsky (“the Saker”) or Andrei Martyanov, or even the German “Bernhard” at the “Moon of Alabama” blog. Then there are the free-lancing reporters ensconced at the battle front for the duration of this conflict, such as the American Gonsalo Lira, who report actual facts rather than US government fantasies. Even some biased but fiercely independent American analysts such as Paul Craig Roberts give a more accurate if “less enthusiastic” appraisal of Russia’s limited actions inside the borders of Ukraine (he wants more fighting and ferocity on the part of the Russians to preclude any temptation of Washington to deploy nukes for a quick “fix”).

    Russia’s alleged endless “losing streak” and non-stop retreats claimed by the NYT, WaPo, the WSJ, all of Murdoch Fantasy Land and the entirety of the Western mass media are the farthest things from the truth, in fact the diametric opposite of the truth, which invariably sees a Russian route whenever their commanders order quite logical and appropriate redeployment of forces to avoid casualties and maintain the focus of their mission rather than to win spectacular battles and waste manpower. The tiny tracts of land that may be fought upon one day and left behind with no particular utility the next are speciously portrayed as great prizes racked up by an essentially under-performing and almost suicidal Ukrainian Nato-trained force. Kiev is willing to trade lives for questionable news headlines.
    Moscow is not. The consequences are casualty rates ten times higher amongst the Ukie troops and their ubiquitous foreign mercs (mostly Russophobic Poles squandering their lives to serve hatred). Have no doubt, venues such as Kharkov and Kherson will be re-taken and occupied when necessary. Until then, also have no doubt that the redeployed troops didn’t just run away but are off frying bigger fish at the moment–mostly solidifying Russia’s hold across the entire Donbas.

    Russia COULD have fought this conflict the way the US always does–with shock and awe tactics employed to terrorize the civilian population. In fact, Nato-trained Ukie troops have been the ones employing terror, targeting of civilians, and destruction of infrastructure. Since that is all the West seems to want and understand, going forward that “hard way” of achieving a peace is how the Russians now realise they must function to prevail. No more Mr. Nice Guy. And so, as soon as winter arrives, the ground freezes and mechanized vehicles are not impeded by the ubiquitous Ukrainian mud of Autumn, the Ukies will no longer be availed of using the “easy way” to achieve peace through surrender and negotiations. The frozen substrate will facilitate Russia’s new scorched earth policy, since it is what both Zelensky and his Western puppet masters demand. The main danger is that Washington will start shooting off nukes once they start to conspicuously lose their latest proxy war. They might do it simply out of pique, because their very existence is not at risk however this war that THEY provoked may turn out. It is NOT existential for them as it is for the battlefield combatants they have so cruelly set up.

  11. rgl
    November 15, 2022 at 20:28

    Winter has usually been Russia’s wartime ally. Winter – and significant Russian resistance – has stopped both most recent invasions by Napoleon and Hitler. I expect that when the ground freezes enough, the Russians will not sit in bivouac but go on the offensive. The Ukraine is under extreme duress with its army greatly lessened in both personnel and morale. All the western wunderkind weapons will as foreign minister Mr. Lavrov has said. will only succeed in extending the conflict. However, time will tell …

    • Joe Dragnet
      November 16, 2022 at 13:16

      As soon as I heard the summary of that piece from the New York Fishwrapper, I was laughing. It could only be nameless officials who know nothing about Russia and Russian history, talking to idiot reporters who know nothing about Russia and Russian history.

      Russia is very aware of its history. They are very aware that twice before Europe has united against them and invaded seeking their destruction. They are very aware that in both cases, winter was a major part of their victory. The notion that now the Russians, once again facing a hostile, united Europe, would let the winter just pass by while camping out is quite silly. Might make sense to people who vaguely have heard of Valley Forge, but it makes no sense at all to people who’ve heard of Operation Uranus. (And for those who don’t recognize the term, it was the late November offensive that surround Hitler’s 6th Army and 250,000 soldiers at Stalingrad, which is recognized as a key turning point in the defeat of the last time Europe united and tried to destroy Russia.)

      The Russians speak of ‘General Winter’ or ‘General Frost’ as a key ally to their military. It is unthinkable that they would not try to use General Frost in this campaign. Plus, since this is at much an economic war as a kinetic war, the Russians would also know that this winter, with angry, cold, and much poorer Europeans paying the price for their leader’s war is greatly to their advantage.

      Also, their moves with their partial mobilization indicate a timing that says ‘lets be ready for the winter campaign.’ Knowing their own history, they would know that this has been the ‘muddy’ season, where things usually slow down. But that this is followed by General Frost’s arrival on the battlefield. The timing of their moves appears to show this, and that they’ve been laying back waiting for the General.

      I usually laugh at the New York Fishwrapper. But this one was exceptionally funny, even for them.

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