Ukraine is not directly involved in these talks, despite the US commitment to “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine”. US and Ukrainian officials said the United States did not pressure Ukraine to commit to a certain plan or directly push them to sit down with the Russians.
Yet there is some confusion about what kind of framework the United States would consider appropriate to bring to the Ukrainians for further discussion.
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas Greenfield told reporters earlier this week that the Italian framework is “one of those initiatives that we would certainly like to see put an end to this horrible war and the horrible attacks on the Ukrainian people”. But two U.S. officials told CNN the U.S. actually does not support the Italian proposal.
Either way, US and Western officials told CNN there is growing concern that if the Russians and Ukrainians don’t come back to the table and come to an agreement, the war will drag on – potentially for years.
Subtle language change
Moscow has also shown little interest in serious talks, officials say. At present, Ukraine remains focused on securing a decisive military victory in the east and south in order to put itself in a superior negotiating position, the sources said.
“We can come up with any plans we want, but Kyiv is unlikely to agree to anything that cedes territory at the moment,” an official said.
Fears that the conflict could drag on indefinitely – with mounting costs – have been reflected in the subtle shift in language and messaging by US officials in recent weeks.
But as an effective stalemate has settled on the battlefield, with Russia making further gains in the east and Ukraine claiming it is increasingly outgunned and outmanned, senior officials Westerners – including US President Joe Biden – re-emphasize that even with advanced Western countries armed, Ukraine’s prospects for peace will ultimately rest on diplomacy.
“As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, ultimately this war ‘will definitely end only through diplomacy,’ Biden wrote in a New York Times op-ed on Tuesday. “Every negotiation reflects the facts about the ground. We moved quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of weapons and ammunition so that it could fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table.”
The hope, officials said, is that the United States can support Ukraine long enough to lead it to a peaceful settlement rather than complete surrender.
“Wars are unpredictable,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday. “We were able to predict the invasion, but how this war will evolve is very difficult to predict. What we do know is that almost all wars end at some point at the negotiating table.”
But there is no indication yet that Ukraine is giving up or that Russian President Vladimir Putin will reverse what he is doing inside Ukraine, an administration official told CNN. There is also no indication that Putin is willing to negotiate in good faith to end the war.
“We just don’t know” what might change Putin’s mind, the official added.
Officials were careful to note that the United States is not pushing Ukraine to cede territory to Russia and said from the start of the war that the United States would avoid direct involvement in Russian-Russian negotiations. Ukrainians. A source said any pressure from the United States and the West on Ukraine to negotiate will erode Kyiv’s influence in future negotiations.
“It is not for us to decide or to have strong opinions [on] what Ukraine should or should not accept,” Stoltenberg said Thursday.
But some Ukrainian officials still fear the West will try to impose a deal on them, a Ukrainian source told CNN. Zelensky and his top advisers have publicly ruled out any territorial concessions to Russia.
“Those who advise Ukraine to give something to Russia, these ‘great geopolitical figures’, never see ordinary people, ordinary Ukrainians, millions living in the territory they are offering to trade for a peace illusory,” he said in a video address late last. month.
Longer conflict, higher costs
The war has settled into a crushing drudgery that intelligence and military officials say will last for months, if not years. Although the two sides could swap small swathes of territory on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, several officials with access to the latest intelligence told CNN they don’t expect whether Russia or Ukraine cross existing battle lines anytime soon. .
This led to a debate within the administration over the scope of the sanctions. Some officials worry that tough new measures — like imposing secondary sanctions on countries that fail to comply with U.S. restrictions on Russian energy exports — could further disrupt energy markets. And there is growing recognition that the sanctions will not be a “punch” for Russia, but rather a “grip” that could take years to produce meaningful consequences, a senior official said.
As the United States seeks to maintain its military and financial support for Ukraine and to isolate Russia for as long as it takes to reach a peace agreement, a key strategy will be to maintain the alliance of unified NATO. But already, sources say, cracks are appearing in NATO – Turkey refuses to allow Sweden and Finland to go ahead with joining the bloc, and diplomats have had to make an exception to Hungary under Europe’s recent oil embargo against Russia.
There is also the challenge of maintaining national support for funding Ukraine’s war. There has been mounting opposition among Donald Trump-aligned Republicans with every assist vote Congress has taken, a Democratic lawmaker noted. He added that there were concerns about the willingness of Congress in the future to fund a protracted conflict.
“We have some track by the end of the year,” the lawmaker said, referring to the $40 billion Ukraine aid package that Biden signed into law last month.
Another top priority will be to continue to procure enough sophisticated weaponry to fuel a high-attrition, high-artillery war without depleting American stockpiles. One option being considered is to restart the production lines of Soviet-era systems that Ukrainians already know how to use. But the United States also wants to transition Ukraine to NATO-compliant weapons systems, which are easier to produce and acquire than older Soviet systems. But even that comes with its own long-term challenge: The Ukrainian military will need more training to operate Western systems.
Still, US officials pointed to the more advanced weapons already on the battlefield, such as howitzers, which have significantly helped Ukraine halt Russian advances.
“I think we don’t see Ukraine’s defenses collapsing,” said Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for policy. “They’re hanging on, but it’s a tough fight.”
Stoltenberg put it succinctly on Thursday. “We just have to be prepared for the long term,” he said, “because what we see is that this war has now become a war of attrition.”