American and European officials have quietly begun “delicate” discussions with Ukraine about potential negotiations with Russia to end the war, NBC reports, citing one unnamed current and one former US official. The conversations have included very general outlines of concessions Ukraine may need to make to reach a deal, the officials said.
The talks took place last month at a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which includes NATO members and over 50 nations assisting Ukraine.
According to the officials, the discussions are an acknowledgment of the dynamics militarily on the ground in Ukraine and politically in the US and Europe, NBC reported. According to the officials, these include worries that the war has reached a stalemate and concerns about sustaining aid to Ukraine. Biden administration officials also fear Ukraine is running low on forces while Russia has abundant reserves, officials noted.
Some US military officials have privately used the term “stalemate” and said the war may come down to who can maintain forces longer. Neither side is making major battlefield gains, which some officials now call a “war of inches.” Officials have privately told European allies that serious peace talks may need to start by year’s end.
There are also unease that public attention on Ukraine has decreased since the Israel-Hamas war began, which could complicate further aid for Kyiv, the officials added. This trend is exacerbated with Ukraine’s slow progress with the counteroffensive, stymied by dense minefields.
According to NBC, administration officials expect Ukraine to want more time to fight on the battlefield, particularly with new, heavier equipment, “but there’s a growing sense that it’s too late, and it’s time to do a deal,” the former senior administration official said. It is not certain that Ukraine would mount another spring offensive.
One senior administration official pushed back on any notion of the US nudging Ukraine toward talks. The Ukrainians, the official said, “are on the clock in terms of weather, but they are not on the clock in terms of geopolitics.”
President Biden is highly focused on Ukraine’s shrinking military, according to sources. “Manpower is at the top of the administration’s concerns right now,” one said. While the US and allies can provide arms, this person said, “if they don’t have competent forces to use them it doesn’t do a lot of good.”
Publicly, however, US officials have not referenced any negotiations. “Any decisions about negotiations are up to Ukraine,” said Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the US National Security Council, in a statement. Another administration official noted that the US is engaged in Ukraine’s Peace Forum meetings, which envision negotiations with Russia after it withdraws its forces and pays reparations, but said the White House “is not aware of any other conversations with Ukraine about negotiations at the moment.”