Monday 31 July 2023

Semi-official but deniable negotiations between Moscow and Washington

Washington, thank God, is talking to Moscow and attempting to find a way of ending the war in Ukraine, according țo this very interesting and encouraging conversation with a former US senior official, published in the Moscow Times. The problem is not the Russian government leaders, who never wanted the war and privately admit it is a mistake, but Vladimir Putin.  

From his vantage point, sitting across from senior Kremlin officials and advisers, it was apparent that the greatest issue was that the Russians were unable to articulate what exactly they wanted and needed. 

“They don't know how to define victory or defeat. In fact, some of the elites to whom we spoke had never wanted the war in the first place, even saying it had been a complete mistake,” he said. 

“But now they’re at war — suffering a humiliating defeat is not an option for these guys.”

“It was here that we made clear that the U.S. was prepared to work constructively with Russian national security concerns,” the former official added, breaking from the official U.S. line of squeezing Russia financially and isolating it internationally so as to prevent it from continuing its war against Ukraine. 

“An attempt to isolate and cripple Russia to the point of humiliation or collapse would make negotiating almost impossible — we are already seeing this in the reticence from Moscow officials,” he said.

“In fact, we emphasized that the U.S. needs, and will continue to need, a strong enough Russia to create stability along its periphery. The U.S. wants a Russia with strategic autonomy in order for the U.S. to advance diplomatic opportunities in Central Asia. We in the U.S. have to recognize that total victory in Europe could harm our interests in other areas of the world. 

“Russian power,” he concluded, “is not necessarily a bad thing.” 

On the subject of Russia's deepening relationship with China, the former official acknowledged that completely severing ties between Moscow and Beijing was unrealistic. However, efforts should be made to limit the extent of this relationship, he argued. Washington’s goal is to strike a balance that prevents an overwhelming consolidation of Russian power while fostering diplomatic opportunities in Asia, where Moscow plays a significant role.

“This does not mean we are abandoning Ukraine or Europe,” the former official was quick to note. “Rather, we want to find ways of guaranteeing Ukraine’s independence while bringing Russia back as a more creative player in European security.”

Both the U.S. and Russia should have used greater strategic imagination in the decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the official argued further. In recent years, Moscow has become especially resentful after the Biden administration did not prioritize efforts to rebuild strained U.S.-Russia ties.

The Biden administration thus realized — albeit too late — that Russia sought to be taken seriously, with its military build-up at Ukraine’s borders in 2021 a tactic to gain attention. 

Moscow Times is an English and Russian newspaper set up in 1989 by a Dutchman which is now only online. It was based in Moscow until last year when it moved to Holland.

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