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Eastern Express 8.11

As the U.S. midterm elections take off, new avenues for negotiating with Russia seem closer than ever, which is our focus of this edition of Eastern Express.

The midterms have cast new light on Ukraine’s willingness to open negotiations with Russia, before Moscow meets a precondition of withdrawing troops from occupied territories near the Russian-Ukrainian border – as defined by the Budapest Protocol. Now that the U.S. is urging Ukraine to negotiate with Russia, many questions are being asked.

The Biden administration has privately been encouraging Ukrainian leaders to negotiate with Russia. This looks to be forcing Ukraine to walk back its public refusal to engage in peace talks, and perhaps to be even putting control of the process back into Putin’s hands. The situation illustrates the complexity of the U.S. position on the issue, where some sources say that this latest push was not meant to pressure Ukraine into negotiating, but rather to ensure that Kyiv retains support of all the allies still involved in aiding Ukraine.

Over a week ago, U.S. and Russian defence officials spoke on the phone for the first time in months, and the Russians had indicated their openness to potential negotiations. Then, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov had been saying that Putin was open to dialogue from the very beginning of the war, and tried to initiate talks with NATO even before launch of his “special military operation”.

Yet despite talks and discussions, it seems that the Ukrainians are far from ready for negotiations. Ukrainian officials have remained firm and unwavering in their refusal to engage with Russia so long as Ukraine’s demands are not met. Other factors driving this stance include Putin’s continued rule in Ukraine’s occupied territories, Russia’s relentless escalation of the conflict, and their unwillingness to engage in negotiations with any measure of honesty.

The U.S. administration had clearly said it will continue to support Ukraine for “as long as it takes.” What might have caused the seemingly sudden change of heart?

“Ukraine fatigue” seems to be the most obvious answer. Russia’s aggression has had a severe impact on the global economy and has prompted unrest in the West. Some American officials said outright that Zelenskyy’s decree ruling out any and all peace talks with Putin has spurred considerable discontent in Europe, Latin America, and Africa where the effects of the war have been the most severe.

In light of these developments, it seems that the Biden administration has decided to shore up Ukraine’s image on the international stage. But how do other allies feel about the U.S. pivot?

The German government still holds that “only Ukraine can decide when to negotiate with Russia” and that “only Kyiv decides the terms and timing of the peace talks.” This would seem to suggest that the United States’ overtures are less “private” than they may at first appear, and might have been more or less designed to draw public attention.

Whether peace talks are imminent is still unclear. Even though the U.S. began to push for the idea of negotiations, the official position of the Biden administration has not changed. For now, the defence of Ukraine remains the most important issue. But as time passes, could it be possible that voices advocating for a change in the approach will begin to grow louder and carry more weight?

To shed more light on the issue, TVP World was joined by Edward Hunter Christie, a senior research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

If you are interested in the conversation, click the video above.

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