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As the fight in Ukraine falters, it becomes even more difficult to talk about negotiations

Stian Jenssen, chief of staff to the NATO secretary general, recently got a slap in the face when he commented on possible options for ending the war in Ukraine, which did not envision a total defeat of the Russia.

“I’m not saying it has to be like this, but I think a solution could be for Ukraine to cede territory and become a member of NATO in return,” he told a table. round in Norway, according to national newspaper VG. . He also said that “it is up to Ukraine to decide when and under what conditions it wishes to negotiate”, which is the standard NATO line.

But the damage was done. These remarks provoked furious condemnation from Ukrainians; a clarification from his boss, Jens Stoltenberg; and finally an apology from Mr. Jenssen.

Some analysts who have also been chastised say the setback reflects a closure of public debate on options for Ukraine just at a time when imaginative diplomacy is most needed, they say.

Western allies and the Ukrainians themselves had high hopes for a counter-offensive that could shift the balance on the battlefield, expose Russia’s vulnerability and soften Moscow in preparation for a negotiated end to the fighting. which lasted for a year and a half.

Even Ukraine’s most optimistic supporters did not foresee that Ukraine would completely push the Russian occupiers out of the country, an outcome that seems increasingly remote in light of the counteroffensive’s modest gains so far. .

Battlefield conditions raise questions of what might be done with them, these officials and analysts say, although neither side appears open to negotiations at this time. Others worry that too open a conversation could be interpreted by Moscow as a weakening of resolve.

But given that even President Biden says the war is likely to end in negotiations, Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, believes there should be serious debate in any democracy about how to achieve this.

Yet he, too, has been criticized for suggesting that Washington’s and Kyiv’s interests do not always coincide and that it is important to discuss a negotiated outcome with Russia.

“There’s a general and growing feeling that what we’re doing right now isn’t working, but there’s really no idea what to do next, and not a big openness to it. discuss. ,” he said. “The lack of success has not opened the political space for an open debate about alternatives.”

“We’re a bit stuck,” he says.

As the counteroffensive moves so slowly and US defense and intelligence officials begin to blame the Ukrainians, Western governments feel more vulnerable after providing so much equipment and raising hopes, said Charles A. Kupchan, professor at Georgetown University and former US official. .

The American hope, he said, was that the counteroffensive would succeed in threatening the Russian position in Crimea, which would put Ukraine in a stronger negotiating position. This does not happen. “So the political climate has tightened up,” he said, “and overall there’s still a political taboo about a senseless endgame conversation.”

Mr. Kupchan knows what he is talking about. He and Richard N. Haass, former chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote an article in Foreign Affairs in April urging Washington and its allies to develop “a plan to move from the battlefield to the negotiating table.” have been widely criticized for this.

These criticisms escalated considerably when the two men, as well as Thomas E. Graham, a former American diplomat in Moscow, had private conversations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov to explore the possibility of negotiations.

When these conversations were leaked, there was a major outcry. Even though the three men agreed not to discuss what was said, the reaction was telling, Mr Kupchan said.

“Any open discussion of a Plan B is politically heavy, as Mr. Jenssen has discovered to his cost, as are we trying to articulate possible Plan Bs,” he said. “We receive a storm of criticism and insults. What was somewhat taboo is now highly taboo.

If the counter-offensive is not going well, now is the time to explore alternatives, he said. Instead, he suggested, Mr. Stoltenberg and others were content to repeat slogans such as supporting Ukraine “as long as it takes.”

Of course, negotiations require two parties to talk, and at the moment neither Russian President Vladimir V. Putin nor Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky are ready to negotiate anything.

Mr. Putin’s forces appear to be maintaining their defensive lines, and most analysts suggest the West will tire of backing Ukraine. He can also hope that Donald J. Trump returns to the White House.

Mr. Trump has promised to end US support for Ukraine and end the war in one day. Even if he is not re-elected, he could be a strong voice to push the Republican Party to limit its support for kyiv.

But it is also not certain that Mr Zelensky, after so many Ukrainian sacrifices, would feel politically capable of negotiating even if Russia were pushed back to its positions at the start of the war, in February 2022.

“No one has a good idea of ​​what war aims are realistic,” Kupchan said. “But nobody tried to find out either, which is a problem.”

German officials are eager for a negotiated solution and are discussing how Russia might be brought to the negotiating table, but they are only doing so privately and with experts from trusted think tanks, Jana said. Puglierin, director of the Berlin office of the European Council on the negotiations. Foreign relations.

“They understand that they cannot push Ukraine in any way, because Russia would sense weakness,” she said.

Yet both Berlin and Washington do not want the war to continue indefinitely, she explained, in part because the political will to provide indefinite military and financial support to Ukraine is already beginning to wane, particularly among those on the right and extreme right. , which are gaining ground.

But for many others, the suggestion of a negotiated solution or a Plan B is too early and even immoral, said Constanze Stelzenmüller of the Brookings Institution. Mr Putin has shown no interest in talking, but the younger generation of officials around him are, on the contrary, even tougher, she said, citing an article by Tatiana Stanovaya in Foreign Affairs.

“So anyone who wants to articulate a plan B with these people on the other side is faced with a significant burden of proof issue,” she said. “Putin has repeatedly said that he will only negotiate on his own terms, which is the annihilation of Ukraine. There is no lack of clarity there.

Any credible Plan B would have to come from the major non-Western powers – like China, India, South Africa and Indonesia – which Russia relies on to tell Moscow it needs to negotiate.

“These are the countries Putin is betting on,” she said. “We can’t say, do or offer anything.”

Paris or Berlin’s eagerness to negotiate too soon will simply encourage Mr. Putin to manipulate that zeal, divide the West and seek concessions from Ukraine, said Ulrich Speck, a German analyst.

“Moving to diplomacy is both our strength and our weakness,” he said. “We are good at compromise and coalition, but that requires basic agreement on standards and goals. The shock in Ukraine is that it just doesn’t exist on the other side.”

nytimes Eur

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