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Skepticism remains high about the Russian leader’s intentions after he told Tucker Carlson that the war in Ukraine could be settled with a peace deal.
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“Despite Mr. Putin’s words, we have seen no actions to indicate he is interested in ending this war,” a National Security Council spokesman said of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.Credit…Alexander Kazakov/Sputnik
The Biden administration dismissed on Friday a call by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for negotiations to end the war in Ukraine, showing no sign that flagging political support for American military aid to Kyiv had made President Biden more inclined to make concessions to Moscow.
During his two-hour interview at the Kremlin with the former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who now broadcasts independently online, Mr. Putin offered long defenses of his invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 but said he was prepared to settle the conflict diplomatically.
“We are willing to negotiate,” Mr. Putin told Mr. Carlson in the interview, which was released on Thursday. “You should tell the current Ukrainian leadership to stop and come to the negotiating table,” he added, referring to the U.S. government.
The Russian leader spoke at a moment of apparent leverage, following the failure of a vaunted Ukrainian summer counteroffensive to achieve substantial gains and as the Biden administration is struggling to win congressional approval for desperately needed additional military aid for Kyiv.
It is not the first time Mr. Putin has expressed willingness to negotiate over the fate of Ukraine, and Western officials have long been skeptical of his intentions. But because it was his first interview with an American media figure since the invasion, his call for talks has extra resonance, analysts said.
U.S. and Ukrainian officials say that the best Ukraine’s military can hope for in the coming year, especially without more American aid, is to defend its current positions. Even so, Biden officials say they are not entertaining the idea of pressing Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to negotiate with Mr. Putin.
“Both we and President Zelensky have said numerous times that we believe this war will end through negotiations,” a National Security Council spokesman said in a statement. “Despite Mr. Putin’s words, we have seen no actions to indicate he is interested in ending this war. If he was, he would pull back his forces and stop his ceaseless attacks on Ukraine.”
U.S. officials had previously assessed that Mr. Putin had no intention of negotiating seriously until after the U.S. presidential election in November. Mr. Putin, they say, wants to wait to see whether former President Donald J. Trump might return to the White House and offer him more favorable terms.
In an interview last spring, Mr. Trump said the “horrible” conflict in Ukraine must come to an immediate end and that if re-elected, he would broker a deal to “end that war in one day.”
The Biden administration has supported Ukraine’s stated desire to reclaim territory that Russia has occupied since its invasion. Russia now occupies around 18 percent of Ukrainian land.
U.S. officials have also long insisted that, despite the more than $75 billion in aid the United States has supplied to Ukraine, it is not for Washington to dictate whether Kyiv engages in peace talks and what on terms. “Ultimately, it’s up to Ukraine to decide its path on negotiations,” the National Security Council statement said.
Many analysts were also skeptical of Mr. Putin’s intentions. Sergey Radchenko, a Russia historian at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said Mr. Putin should not be trusted.
Mr. Radchenko said Mr. Putin might be engaging in what during Soviet times was known as a “peace offensive” — an insincere tactical feint whose goal, he said, was “to present a reasonable face to the outside world: ‘Oh yeah, of course we want peace — it’s just the other side that doesn’t want to talk.’”
Some Western officials believe Mr. Putin may also have his domestic audience in mind when he talks about a negotiated end to the war. Polls in Russia have shown that Russian citizens would welcome a settlement to end the conflict that has shaken their economy and produced tens of thousands of casualties.
Talk of peace could also win Mr. Putin favor among nations in the so-called global south — nations in South America, Asia and Africa, including India and South Africa, that are unaligned in the Ukraine conflict. Most of those countries have suffered from higher energy and food prices caused by the war.
Mr. Putin seemed to be exploiting Republican opposition to Mr. Biden’s funding request for Ukraine, echoing critiques made in recent weeks by some conservative members of Congress. “You have issues on the border, issues with migration, issues with the national debt — more than $33 trillion. You have nothing better to do, so you should fight in Ukraine?” Mr. Putin asked.
Alternatively, Mr. Radchenko said, Mr. Putin might be willing to make some unexpected concessions for a peace deal that leaves Russia with a foothold in eastern Ukraine, “and then use that as a basis for either further aggression against Ukraine, or as leverage to force a preferred government on Ukraine.”
Samuel Charap, a Russia analyst at the RAND Corporation, said it was possible that Mr. Putin had been bluffing all along about talks. But he said it was worth engaging the Kremlin in private to determine Mr. Putin’s actual demands.
“Nobody knows for sure — and nobody can know for sure unless they try,” Mr. Charap said. He added that it was notable that Mr. Putin had not told Mr. Carlson that he had preconditions for talks, such as the removal of Mr. Zelensky’s government.
Mr. Charap also noted that Russia and Ukraine were already negotiating on a number of matters, including prisoner-of-war swaps and Ukrainian exports from its Black Sea ports.
Regardless of Mr. Putin’s intentions, analysts and Western officials say that a major obstacle to potential talks is the unwillingness of Ukraine’s public to compromise with an invader that has committed atrocities in their country.
“Zelensky is worried about the domestic political consequences of pursuing a different tactic,” Mr. Charap said.
“Barring a Ukrainian demand signal” for peace talks, “there’s unlikely to be a push from Washington,” he said.
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