Ukraine’s Offensive Could Set Stage for Diplomacy With Russia, U.S. Officials Say

Ukraine’s deliberate counteroffensive in opposition to Russia has overshadowed discuss of a possible negotiated settlement within the battle, however some U.S. and European officers say the following part of the conflict might create momentum for diplomacy.

It is unclear how the officers will outline success within the counteroffensive, which might final many months, or how its final result would possibly have an effect on their strategy. Opinions vary broadly amongst army strategists about whether or not Ukraine is more likely to regain territory after greater than a yr of conflict.

For now, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has proven no indicators of desirous to make concessions or have interaction in significant dialogue.

And U.S. officers stay cautious of any calls for an instantaneous cease-fire or peace talks, particularly these coming from China. Beijing persists at attempting to play peacemaker, regardless of its apparent strategic alignment with Russia. Foreign Minister Qin Gang has been touring throughout Europe this week to attempt to promote the notion that China can shepherd negotiations.

Some European officers assembly with Mr. Qin have expressed skepticism. And in Washington, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met together with his counterparts from Britain and Spain this week to shore up commitments to army assist to Ukraine, sending a message that battlefield positive factors are the precedence.

Mr. Blinken mentioned on Tuesday at a information convention with James Cleverly, the British international secretary, that the Ukrainians have “what they need to continue to be successful in regaining territory that was seized by force by Russia over the last 14 months.”

Like Mr. Blinken, Mr. Cleverly didn’t point out diplomacy with Russia in any respect, as a substitute specializing in army assist: “We need to continue to support them, irrespective of whether this forthcoming offensive generates huge gains on the battlefield, because until this conflict is resolved and resolved properly, it is not over.”

Ukrainian leaders additionally say they won’t comply with talks till they’ve pushed again Russian forces.

Still, President Biden’s aides have been exploring potential endgames, attempting to determine an final result that might be acceptable to each Kyiv and Moscow if actual peace talks started, U.S. officers say.

“I know that senior-level administration officials are regularly having conversations about what peace ultimately would look like with our Ukrainian counterparts,” mentioned Representative Adam Smith of Washington, the highest Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, “while at the same time having conversations about how to arm them and win back as much territory as possible.”

Mr. Biden’s aides and European officers say their greatest hope is for Ukraine to make substantial positive factors throughout the counteroffensive, which might give it extra leverage in any negotiations.

But no matter its leaders might imagine, American officers say that the majority Ukrainians have little urge for food for compromise with their Russian attackers.

And U.S. officers concern that even when Russia’s army suffers extra setbacks this summer time, Mr. Putin should still imagine he can win a conflict of attrition.

Avril D. Haines, the director of nationwide intelligence, mentioned in congressional testimony final week that whereas Mr. Putin was “scaling back his near-term ambitions” in Ukraine, the prospect of Russian concessions at any negotiating desk this yr “will be low.”

Another senior U.S. official mentioned that it doesn’t matter what success Ukraine achieves, the Russian chief might merely order a wider draft mobilization to rebuild a few of his army energy.

Mr. Putin might additionally profit because the 2024 presidential marketing campaign gears up within the United States, with former President Donald J. Trump the early Republican front-runner. Mr. Trump and several Republican politicians have known as U.S. assist for Ukraine wasteful and harmful.

China has pushed for a mediator function because it unveiled a obscure peace initiative in February. Though Mr. Blinken and a few high European diplomats say they’re open to the potential of China enjoying a useful function sooner or later, they criticize Beijing for not publicly recognizing Russia because the aggressor within the conflict. They insist {that a} nation unwilling to try this can’t be trusted to be a dispassionate mediator.

Xi Jinping, China’s chief, made a state go to to Moscow in March and voiced continued assist for his nation’s partnership with Russia, which the 2 governments mentioned had “no limits” simply earlier than Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. China’s particular envoy for its peace initiative, Li Hui, was the ambassador to Russia for 10 years and received a medal from Mr. Putin.

U.S. and European officers are additionally suspicious of calls for peace talks that don’t embody a requirement that the Russian army first withdraw from Ukrainian territory, which is the place of President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. China has not taken an express place on Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and U.S. officers say China and Russia would possibly use the pretense of talks to freeze the entrance strains — and Russian positive factors.

In her congressional testimony, Ms. Haines mentioned Mr. Putin might use a cease-fire to attempt to regain strength whereas “buying time for what he hopes will be an erosion of Western support for Ukraine.”

She added that “he may be willing to claim at least a temporary victory based on roughly the territory he has occupied.”

Mr. Blinken recently said it was “a positive thing” that Mr. Xi had lastly spoken to Mr. Zelensky final month, however he was “still not sure” China was keen to simply accept that Ukraine was the sufferer. Annalena Baerbock, the German international minister, mentioned practically the identical factor on to Mr. Qin at a information convention on Tuesday: “Neutrality means taking the side of the aggressor, and that is why our guiding principle is to make it clear that we are on the side of the victim.”

The fundamental argument for a larger Chinese function in diplomacy is the truth that the nation is Russia’s strongest accomplice, and Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin share a private bond. Russia’s conflict has roiled the worldwide financial system, creating issues for China.

“As a matter of principle,” Mr. Blinken mentioned, “countries — particularly countries with significant influence like China — if they’re willing to play a positive role in trying to bring peace, that would be a good thing.”

The White House mentioned on Thursday that Jake Sullivan, the nationwide safety adviser, talked about Ukraine with Wang Yi, China’s high international coverage official, throughout a two-day assembly this week in Vienna.

The debate in Washington over potential peace talks is amorphous and paradoxical. There are even competing arguments primarily based on the identical hypothetical final result: If Ukraine makes substantial positive factors, which may imply it’s time for talks, some officers say — or it might imply Ukraine ought to put diplomacy on the again burner and maintain preventing.

If Ukraine is unable to grab vital territory, some U.S. and European officers would possibly need to nudge Mr. Zelensky towards a negotiated settlement.

“The dynamic will shift even if Ukraine makes marginal gains,” mentioned Mr. Smith, the Democratic lawmaker. After a number of extra months of conflict, he predicted, either side will probably be exhausted.

But some officers and analysts in Washington warning in opposition to such pondering.

“There’s always been a desire among some people in Washington to say, look, if Ukraine doesn’t make gains — or if they do — it might be time to have a conversation about Ukraine looking for a settlement,” mentioned Alina Polyakova, the president of the Center for European Policy Analysis.

“I personally find that shocking,” she added. “Territorial concessions would validate Russia’s aggression, which sets a global precedent for China and others that such means work. Two, it would also mean that the West would have to accept the moral implications — accepting war crimes and condoning continued human rights abuses.”

Among high U.S. officers, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been essentially the most outspoken on the necessity for Ukraine and Russia to contemplate negotiations, arguing {that a} extended conflict would end in many extra casualties. Mr. Blinken has taken a unique place. “There has to be some profound change in Mr. Putin’s mind and in Russia’s mind to engage in meaningful diplomacy,” he mentioned final week.

The secretary of state and different American officers have made obscure statements on what they see as a viable finish to the battle.

At least twice up to now a number of months, Mr. Blinken has referred to the necessity for Ukraine to reclaim territory “seized by force by Russia over the last 14 months,” as he put it on Tuesday. But this conflict is a continuation of an earlier one: Starting in 2014, Russia seized efficient management of lots of of sq. miles of jap Ukraine and annexed its Crimean Peninsula.

It is unclear whether or not Mr. Blinken is deliberately drawing a distinction between these swaths of territory. Ukrainian leaders insist their purpose is to reclaim each inch of their land taken since 2014, together with Crimea. But many U.S. officers and analysts imagine that Mr. Putin would take extra drastic measures to retain his grip on the peninsula.

Some U.S. officers have raised the potential of no less than forcing Russia to demilitarize Crimea, in order that it can’t be used as a staging floor for future assaults on Ukraine. But that final result might be nearly as troublesome for Mr. Putin to simply accept. The Russian Black Sea Fleet relies on the Crimean metropolis of Sevastopol.

Mr. Blinken mentioned final week {that a} “just and durable” peace plan “can’t ratify what Russia has done, which is the seizure of so much of Ukraine’s territory.” Nor can it enable Russia to “simply rest, refit and reattack six months later or a year later.”

Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting from Washington, and Steven Erlanger from Brussels.

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