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

Ukraine’s deliberate counteroffensive towards Russia has overshadowed discuss of a possible negotiated settlement within the battle, however some U.S. and European officers say the subsequent section of the warfare might create momentum for diplomacy.

It’s unclear how the officers will outline success within the counteroffensive, which might final many months, or how its end result may have an effect on their strategy. Opinions vary extensively amongst army strategists about whether or not Ukraine is prone to regain territory after greater than a 12 months of warfare.

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

And U.S. officers stay cautious of any requires an instantaneous cease-fire or peace talks, particularly these coming from China. Beijing persists at making an attempt to play peacemaker, regardless of its apparent strategic alignment with Russia. International 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 help to Ukraine, sending a message that battlefield good points 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 should proceed to achieve success in regaining territory that was seized by pressure by Russia during the last 14 months.”

Like Mr. Blinken, Mr. Cleverly didn’t point out diplomacy with Russia in any respect, as an alternative specializing in army help: “We have to proceed to assist them, no matter whether or not this forthcoming offensive generates large good points on the battlefield, as a result of till this battle is resolved and resolved correctly, it’s not over.”

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

Nonetheless, President Biden’s aides have been exploring potential endgames, making an attempt to determine an end result that may very well be acceptable to each Kyiv and Moscow if actual peace talks began, U.S. officers say.

“I do know that senior-level administration officers are commonly having conversations about what peace in the end would appear to be with our Ukrainian counterparts,” mentioned Consultant Adam Smith of Washington, the highest Democrat on the Armed Companies Committee, “whereas on the similar time having conversations about the way to arm them and win again as a lot territory as potential.”

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Mr. Biden’s aides and European officers say their finest hope is for Ukraine to make substantial good points in the course of the counteroffensive, which might give it extra leverage in any negotiations.

However 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 season, Mr. Putin should still consider he can win a warfare of attrition.

Avril D. Haines, the director of nationwide intelligence, mentioned in congressional testimony final week that whereas Mr. Putin was “scaling again his near-term ambitions” in Ukraine, the prospect of Russian concessions at any negotiating desk this 12 months “shall be low.”

One other 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 in the US, with former President Donald J. Trump the early Republican front-runner. Mr. Trump and several other Republican politicians have known as U.S. assist for Ukraine wasteful and harmful.

China has pushed for a mediator function because it unveiled a imprecise peace initiative in February. Although Mr. Blinken and a few prime European diplomats say they’re open to the opportunity of China taking part in a useful function sooner or later, they criticize Beijing for not publicly recognizing Russia because the aggressor within the warfare. They insist {that a} nation unwilling to do 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 acquired a medal from Mr. Putin.

U.S. and European officers are additionally suspicious of requires peace talks that don’t embrace 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 specific place on Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and U.S. officers say China and Russia may use the pretense of talks to freeze the entrance strains — and Russian good points.

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

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She added that “he could also be keen to say not less than a brief victory primarily based on roughly the territory he has occupied.”

Mr. Blinken not too long ago mentioned it was “a constructive factor” that Mr. Xi had lastly spoken to Mr. Zelensky final month, however he was “nonetheless undecided” China was keen to just accept that Ukraine was the sufferer. Annalena Baerbock, the German international minister, mentioned almost the identical factor on to Mr. Qin at a information convention on Tuesday: “Neutrality means taking the aspect of the aggressor, and that’s the reason our guideline is to make it clear that we’re on the aspect of the sufferer.”

The principle argument for a larger Chinese language 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 warfare has roiled the worldwide economic system, creating issues for China.

“As a matter of precept,” Mr. Blinken mentioned, “international locations — notably international locations with vital affect like China — in the event that they’re keen to play a constructive function in making an attempt to deliver peace, that will be a superb factor.”

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

The controversy in Washington over potential peace talks is amorphous and paradoxical. There are even competing arguments primarily based on the identical hypothetical end result: If Ukraine makes substantial good points, 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 hold combating.

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

“The dynamic will shift even when Ukraine makes marginal good points,” mentioned Mr. Smith, the Democratic lawmaker. After a number of extra months of warfare, he predicted, each side shall be exhausted.

However some officers and analysts in Washington warning towards such considering.

“There’s at all times been a want amongst some individuals in Washington to say, look, if Ukraine doesn’t make good points — or in the event that they do — it is perhaps time to have a dialog about Ukraine on the lookout for a settlement,” mentioned Alina Polyakova, the president of the Heart for European Coverage Evaluation.

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“I personally discover that stunning,” she added. “Territorial concessions would validate Russia’s aggression, which units a worldwide precedent for China and others that such means work. Two, it could additionally imply that the West must settle for the ethical implications — accepting warfare crimes and condoning continued human rights abuses.”

Amongst prime U.S. officers, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Workers, has been probably the most outspoken on the necessity for Ukraine and Russia to think about negotiations, arguing {that a} extended warfare would end in many extra casualties. Mr. Blinken has taken a unique place. “There must be some profound change in Mr. Putin’s thoughts and in Russia’s thoughts to have interaction in significant diplomacy,” he mentioned final week.

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

Not less than twice prior to now a number of months, Mr. Blinken has referred to the necessity for Ukraine to reclaim territory “seized by pressure by Russia during the last 14 months,” as he put it on Tuesday. However this warfare is a continuation of an earlier one: Beginning in 2014, Russia seized efficient management of lots of of sq. miles of japanese Ukraine and annexed its Crimean Peninsula.

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

Some U.S. officers have raised the opportunity of not less than forcing Russia to demilitarize Crimea, in order that it can’t be used as a staging floor for future assaults on Ukraine. However that end result may very well be nearly as troublesome for Mr. Putin to just accept. The Russian Black Sea Fleet is predicated on the Crimean metropolis of Sevastopol.

Mr. Blinken mentioned final week {that a} “simply and sturdy” peace plan “can’t ratify what Russia has accomplished, which is the seizure of a lot of Ukraine’s territory.” Nor can it enable Russia to “merely relaxation, refit and reattack six months later or a 12 months later.”

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

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