January 26, 2024

Institute for the Study of War: Russian and U.S. officials deny Putin signaling openness to negotiations in Ukraine

Institute for the Study of War

The Kremlin and US officials rejected rumors about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s willingness to engage in meaningful negotiations amid continued indications from the Kremlin that Russia seeks nothing less than full Ukrainian and Western capitulation. Bloomberg reported on January 25 that two unspecified sources close to the Kremlin stated that Putin signaled to senior US officials through indirect channels that Putin is open to negotiations, including those that would provide “security arrangements” for Ukraine. Bloomberg reported that an unidentified intermediary “conveyed signals” to US officials in December 2023 that Putin may be willing to drop his insistence on Ukraine’s “neutral status” and even may ultimately abandon his opposition to Ukraine’s NATO accession. This report may refer to the same supposed backchannel communications reported by the New York Times in late December 2023 about Putin’s supposed interest in a ceasefire. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov denied Bloomberg’s report on January 26, stating that reports about Russian readiness to give up its demands that Ukraine not join NATO are “incorrect” and “untrue.” Bloomberg reported that US National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson stated that US officials are not aware of these alleged overtures, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated on January 19 that he does not see any indication that Putin is serious about looking for a way to end the fighting in Ukraine.

Putin and Kremlin officials have increasingly stressed in recent weeks that Russia has no interest in negotiating with Ukraine in good faith, that Russia’s maximalist objectives in Ukraine remain the same, and that Putin continues to pursue his overarching objective to weaken and dismantle NATO.  Former White House Official Fiona Hill told Bloomberg on January 26 that Russian actors want the West to create the idea of such a channel in order to scare Ukraine and frame the US as the only other relevant actor in Ukraine besides Russia. Kremlin officials routinely frame the Russian war in Ukraine as a struggle against the West in order to deny Ukraine’s agency in potential negotiations and to set conditions that seek to convince the West to ignore centering Ukraine’s interests in any negotiations.

Russian demands for Ukrainian “neutrality” and a moratorium on NATO expansion have always been and continue to be one of Putin’s central justifications for his invasion of Ukraine, and any hypothetical concession on these demands would represent a major strategic and rhetorical retreat on Putin’s behalf that Putin is extremely unlikely to be considering at this time. Russian calls for Ukrainian “neutrality” are demands that Ukraine amend its constitution to remove commitments to seeking NATO membership and to commit itself permanently not to join NATO or the European Union (EU). Demands for this ”neutral status” are a nested goal within Putin’s decades-long effort to demand changes to the NATO alliance that would weaken the alliance to the point where it would be unable to deter or defeat future Russian aggression in eastern Europe. Putin has long highlighted a permanent moratorium on NATO expansion as one of those goals, which would require a change in NATO’s charter that would, in turn, require a new treaty between member states and effectively grant Russia a veto over future NATO membership. Any Kremlin concessions on these demands would also amount to a significant Russian defeat, as Putin has increasingly used public appearances to reiterate that the invasion’s initial objectives remain the same and to frame the war in Ukraine as a larger geopolitical confrontation with the collective West. These concessions would also be inconsistent with the Kremlin’s apparent growing public confidence about Russian prospects in Ukraine and the attainability of Putin’s maximalist war objectives. Putin is highly unlikely to offer these concessions as he will not stop pursuing his objective to control Ukraine and weaken NATO, barring a decisive defeat.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Kremlin and US officials rejected rumors about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s willingness to engage in meaningful negotiations amid continued indications from the Kremlin that Russia seeks nothing less than full Ukrainian and Western capitulation.
  • Russian demands for Ukrainian “neutrality” and a moratorium on NATO expansion have always been and continue to be one of Putin’s central justifications for his invasion of Ukraine, and any hypothetical concession on these demands would represent a major strategic and rhetorical retreat on Putin’s behalf that Putin is extremely unlikely to be considering at this time.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated boilerplate Kremlin narratives that blame Ukraine for the war while also highlighting Russian forces in the Soledar direction.
  • The circumstances of the January 24 crash of a Russian Il-76 military transport aircraft in Belgorod Oblast remain unclear.
  • The European Union (EU) will provide Ukraine with an additional five billion euros to meet “urgent military needs” in the near future.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) continues efforts to expand Russia’s influence and subsume previous Wagner Group operations in Africa.
  • Russia reportedly imported $1.7 billion worth of advanced microchips and semiconductors in 2023, primarily from the West, skirting Western sanctions intended to deprive Russia of such technology.
  • Russian forces advanced near Avdiivka amid continued positional engagements throughout the theater.
  • Elements of Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin’s alleged personal private military company (PMC) may have deployed to Ukraine.
  • Russian opposition media reported on January 26 that Viktor Filonov, a Russian soldier in the 234th Airborne Regiment (76th VDV Division) serving in Ukraine, adopted a Ukrainian child from occupied Donetsk Oblast.

For full report:   https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-26-2024

Share the Post: